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Favorites of 2011
01/25/12 at 06:59 PM by danman
My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I wanted to make a collective list of our favorite albums of 2011. We each came up with our own, then combined them to make a list of our favorite albums of the year. We each wrote up a thing for 10 of the albums, I put who wrote each thing beside the album title. Here's what we got!

20. Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune [Dan]

The Dan Mangan that I was used to was always very stripped down and acoustic, but on his most recent release he embraced a much richer sound and full-on orchestral accompaniment. At first I was put off by it, but after a few listens this album really grew on me. First off, this guy’s voice is just awesome. Even the weakest songs on the album are made bearable because of how smooth his voice is. Second, he’s a great lyricist. His lyrics are not always the most profound or relatable, but they’re always interesting. The album opener is probably my favorite track. That song, along with “Post-War Blues”, gives me a strong Fun. vibe, and I’m a huge Fun. fan. He also handles the slower songs quite well; both “If I Am Dead” and “Regarding Death and Dying” are really moving, with the latter song being especially haunting. The album closer “Jeopardy” is a powerful – albeit understated – ending to the record, and “Oh Fortune” and “Starts With Them, Ends With Us” are a great couple of songs in the middle of it all. If you haven’t ever checked out this guy I’d highly recommend him.

Pick 3: 'Oh Fortune',' Starts With Them, Ends With Us', 'About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All'

19. Bayside – Killing Time [Dan]

Bayside has never been a band that I’ve really loved. I enjoyed their self-titled album quite a bit but nothing since then really held my attention. That’s why I was so surprised by Killing Time. Yes, the lyrics are still super over the top, but that’s to be expected. This record is a perfect refinement of everything Bayside has done in the past. It has the urgency of the older records with the pop sensibility of their more recent releases. “Already Gone” and “Sick, Sick, Sick” start the record off with a bang. They are reminiscent of older Bayside while also showing off how far the band has come. The following song, “Mona Lisa”, has become one of my favorite Bayside songs. The unending key changes and hook after hook make it a clear standout. Other highlights include the handclap-filled “It’s Not A Bad Little War”, the obligatory slow song “On Love, On Life”, and closer “Killing Time”. The last song is both insanely catchy and slightly hopeful. It’s a great conclusion to the best and most consistent collection of songs that this band has ever released.

Pick 3: 'Mona Lisa', 'Already Gone', 'Killing Time'

18. Marianas Trench - Ever After [Ethan]

Marianas Trench is the best band you aren’t listening to. Although their last two album have been reviewed on AP, they have yet to achieve anything in the US resembling their popularity north of the border. This is a travesty. In a post-Folie a Deux world, Marianas Trench is the bridge between Hot Topic and the top 40, managing to incorporate everything from dance synth, to Dave Grohl-influenced growls, to world music percussion, all the while displaying a knack for progression that should make Max Bemis jealous. The title track is less a song than a declaration. Marianas Trench are hungry, and every other band should be aware of them For good reason. “Haven’t Had Enough”, ‘By Now’, ‘Desperate Measures’ and ‘Fallout’ are Billboard-ready anthems, just begging to be covered by Glee’s New Directions. However the album houses notable risks. ‘B-Team’ casts off the standard verse-chorus-bridge formula with a percussion interlude, while ‘Truth or Dare’ is the best Michael Jackson tribute Patrick Stump never wrote. Finally, ‘No Place Like Home’ manages to combine all the aforementioned elements, displaying the expansive breadth of Marianas Trench’s vision. One can only imagine what they’ll do next.

Pick 3: ‘Ever After’, ‘Truth or Dare’, ‘Desperate Measures’

17. Mansions – Dig Up the Dead [Ethan]

Like any other year, 2011 was an assortment of highs and lows. But, while the highs were welcome and appreciated, they were also few and far between. I was down for 2/3’s of the year, and Dig Up the Dead is reflection of that. Christopher Browder has garnered comparisons to Brand New, Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine for his work as Mansions, and there are certainly elements of each on this record. Though it boasts only one ‘upbeat’ song, the fantastic ‘Blackest Sky’, Dig Up the Dead’s disillusionment rarely feels redundant. Browder’s songs are intricately layered, with everything from whispered background vocals (‘City Don’t Care’), to low-fi, nearly lost in the mix-rhythm guitar (‘Seven Years’). Of course, the songs were strong already. Browder is a songwriter’s songwriter. Most of the tracks are founded in basic chords and while the melodies aren’t revolutionary, they are memorable (‘Not My Blood’). The songs would sound great stripped down. Like the aforementioned Devine, Chris knows when to whisper (‘You Got Cool’) and when to scream (‘Wormhole’); and much like Brand New his use of distortion and feedback is great. Comparisons aside, Dig Up the Dead is a inspiring record. This industry needs artists like Mansions. I needed him, too.

Pick 3: ‘Blackest Sky’, ‘City Don’t Care’, ‘Seven Years’

16. Beyoncé – 4 [Dan]

Beyoncé’s “4” is easily my favorite pop album of the year. While other artists have adapted their sound to fit into the dance-pop craze that seemed to be so popular this year, Beyoncé didn’t go that route. This is an album that is distinctly Beyoncé and could not have been pulled off by any other female artist in popular music today. Highlights include the 80’s R&B influenced “Love On Top” and the quirky but huge-sounding “Countdown.” Both of these songs, along with most of the album, are all about love. Despite being a glossy pop album, Beyoncé still conveys the passion and honesty needed for all of these songs to really work. She just sounds happy, and this believability only makes the songs better. Another high point is “Best Thing I Never Had”, an “Irreplaceable”-esque slow jam that deserved to be a far more successful single than it turned out to be. Yes, there are quite a few slow songs, but they are all good and none are skip-worthy. This is the best pop album you’ll find in 2011 and a great alternative to the Rihanna and LMFAO-styled dance-pop that is dominating the radio.

Pick 3: 'Countdown', 'Love On Top', 'Best Thing I Never Had'

15. Into It. Over It. – Proper [Ethan]

Evan Weiss was a busy man this year. Aside from Proper, Into It. Over It. also released two 7 inches and another full length compilation, Twelve Towns. While this output alone is impressive, it is all the more so when considering its high caliber. Indeed, with each subsequent release Weiss’ craft becomes more finely tuned. Proper is a testament to this, offering up 12 tracks with next to no-filler. While elements of his previous efforts are apparent, the muddled production of ‘Embracing Facts’, the mathcore rhythms of ‘Fortunate Friends’, Proper seems intended to reintroduce Weiss. Only two songs consist of Into It. Over It’s standard live arrangement of Evan and his guitar (‘No Good Before Noon’ and the haunting ‘The Frames that Used To Greet Me’), and while strong, the full band songs are simply to good to be played solo. ‘Discretion and Depressing People’ needs it’s second verse bass groove. ‘Fortunate Friends’ needs its call and response guitar lines. You can’t tell me ‘Write It Right’ would sound better without it’s chorus harmonies. Like Chris Carrabba or Bob Dylan, Into It. Over It’s means have outgrown their ends. Proper’s noodling and distortion make it’s delicate moments all the more tender, in turn making the final result all the more remarkable.

Pick 3: ‘Write It Right’, ‘Where Your Nights Often End’, ‘The Frames That Used to Greet Me’

14. Thrice – Major/Minor [Dan]

I’m a huge Thrice fan so I was very excited to listen to Major/Minor, especially after how much I loved 2009’s Beggars. After hearing the album opener, “Yellow Belly”, I was slightly worried. That song is a bit too ‘radio rock’ for me and I’m still not a big fan of it. Luckily, the following songs don’t follow in the same vein. “Promises” is classic Thrice and “Blinded” would sound right at home on Beggars. The middle section of the album is very strong, with each song containing individual parts that really impressed me. With that being said, the album really takes flight during its final four songs. “Words in the Water” is long, but beautiful. It reminds me of something from the Alchemy Index and it would be a perfect companion to “Daedalus” off of the Air EP. “Anthology” is my favorite song on the record and one of my favorite Thrice songs of all time. It is the culmination of everything that I love about Thrice: it is both heavy but melodic, and Dustin Kenrue’s vocals soar. I’m very sad to see Thrice go but Major/Minor was a perfect sendoff after an already amazing run for the band.

Pick 3: 'Anthology', 'Disarmed', 'Words In The Water'

13. I Am The Avalanche – Avalanche United [Dan]

While you are listening to the album opener “Holy Fuck” for the first time, I dare you to not tap your feet or bob your head along. Now, I dare you to not sing along with it after you’ve heard it a couple times. It’s impossible. It’s so easy to get caught up in the sheer passion and energy of these twelve songs. The first three tracks are pop punk gold. The aforementioned album opener is both catchy and sincere, “Brooklyn Dodgers” has a nostalgic quality that I love, and “Amsterdam” features some of the best moments on the album. “This One’s On Me” is all about the importance of friends and family and is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard all year. You can tell that the band was actually enjoying themselves when they created these songs, and that sense of fun makes it all the more infectious. Also, “You’ve Got Spiders” is 2 minutes of the pure pop punk bliss and I imagine that it would tons of fun to see live. This is an album that you want to listen to while you get wasted in a good buddy’s basement, and for that reason I love it.

Pick 3: 'Holy Fuck', 'This One's On Me', 'Amsterdam'

12. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You My All and Now I’m Nothing [Dan]

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year ‘which pop punk album do you expect the most from this year?’ it probably would have been Suburbia. Initially I was slightly disappointed in the record because it didn’t include anything as classic as tracks like “My Last Semester” or “Logan Circle” from The Upsides. While this album doesn’t outdo their last, it’s still a great record that I’ve grown to really love. “Came Out Swinging” opens the album and proves exactly why TWY are one of the best bands in the genre. It ends with Soupy screaming the chorus out at the top of his lungs and it’s a great moment of passion that reminded me why I love this band so much. There are many other moments like that scattered throughout the album. Other notable highlights include the relentless “My Life As A Pigeon”, the ode to good friends and memories with them in “Summers in PA”, and the catchy-as-shit sing-along “Don’t Let Me Cave In”. Also, Soupy’s lyrics are as painfully personal and honest as always. It’s fantastic pop punk with heart, and that’s what makes it so great.

Pick 3: 'Came Out Swinging', 'Life Of A Pigeon', 'Don't Let Me Cave In'

11. Childish Gambino – CAMP [Ethan]

To paraphrase Brain Fallon (roughly), “People need music for Saturday nights”. While the Gaslight Anthem front man was referring to his own bands purpose with music, this quote applies to Childish Gambino’s CAMP as well. Though 2011 was full of albums that offered me a chance for self-reflection, CAMP wasn’t one of them. This album was like a grocery store gossip magazine for me. It afforded me an opportunity to ignore whatever was going on my world, and just indulge in someone else problems. Regardless of what this says about me, it speaks to the strength of Glover’s story telling, particularly in songs like ‘Outside’ ‘Bonfire’ and ‘L.E.S’. Though Pitchfork doesn’t understand, Gambino serves as an outlet for Donald Glover. Songs like ‘Backpacker’ ‘That Power’ and ‘All the Shine’ are clearly cathartic, and whether you think his problems are shallow or inconsequential, you have to respect Glover’s honesty. Furthermore, where ‘Freaks and Geeks’ had no noticeable hook, songs like ‘Heartbeat’ ‘Firefly’ ‘You See Me’ and ‘Sunrise’ show that Childish actually can write pop-hooks without sacrificing his wit or flow. While there are some missteps on the album (‘Kids’ and ‘Letter Home), the album generally takes what Gambino fans have come to love and expands off that. We couldn’t ask for anything more.

Pick 3: ‘Outside’ ‘Bonfire’ ‘Backpackers’

10. Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials [Dan]

This album is just gigantic. The production sounds huge, the chorus’ have massive hooks, and Florence Welch’s vocal performances are enormous. You listen to this album and you feel like you are sitting in some giant cathedral with Welch and an army of choir singers belting these songs out at you with everything they’ve got. As a Florence + the Machine newbie, I was taken aback by how powerful songs like “Shake It Out” and “Spectrum” were, with “Shake It Out” being one of the frontrunners for my favorite song of the year. Yes, they’re both totally melodramatic and completely over the top, but that adds to the appeal. No, there’s nothing as catchy as “The Dog Days are Over” from 2009’s Lungs, but you’ll quickly overlook that small flaw when you realize just how accomplished this entire album is. “Never Let Me Go” is the signature power ballad that Adele wishes she wrote, and “Only if for a Night” shows everyone in the music industry how to turn auto-tune into art. It really came as surprise to me but I can’t say enough positive things about this record.

Pick 3: 'Shake It Out', 'Spectrum', 'Never Let Me Go'

9. La Dispute – Wildlife [Ethan]

Few albums released this year were as polarizing as Wildlife, but the people who love it really love it, and for good reason. Few lyricists were able to hold a candle to Jordan Dreyer this year; and Wildlife is a testament to this, functioning more like a novel than merely a record. The fourteen tracks form a linear narrative examining the urban decay of the author’s city, which parallels his own despondency. While its overarching themes alone are remarkable, however, they are more so in that they don’t hurt the songs. Each track is passionate, and every part is intricate. There is no filler here. From the noodley leads of ‘Harder Harmonies’ and ‘Edit Your Hometown’ to toe-tapping bass and drum groove of ‘St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues’ or ‘The Most Beautiful Fruit’, La Dispute have clearly never been better musically. Brad Vanger Lugt’s drumming and percussion skills are particularly remarkable, often adding a much-appreciated emphasis to Dreyer’s stories (‘King Park’ ‘Edward Benz, 27 Times’). However, this album is a perfect storm and this can’t be attributed to single member or technique. Rather, Wildlife unabashedly explores the tragedy that often is human existence. This tragedy stems from our imperfections, which are something we can never escape. However, bleak as this sounds, Wildlife also suggests that it is this universal that will save us in the end (‘You and I In Unison’). By fighting our darkness we become stronger, we manage to keep the wilderness at bay. This was a reality I needed to hear this year.

Pick 3: 'Harder Harmonies', 'King Park', 'Edward Benz 27 Times'

8. Thursday – No Devolución [Ethan]

What can I say about this album that I didn’t already cover in our Double Feature? I’ve spent a lot of time pontificating about music and the state of the industry this year, and Thursday’s dissolution without a doubt exemplifies the worst-case scenario available to any band. However, Thursday’s situation is all the more bittersweet because they quit at the top of their game. They were essentially forced out of the picture due to all the extraneous bullshit associated with the machine. In the weeks that have passed since our Double Feature, I have begun to explore the band’s back catalogue and I can say that in terms of creativity, No Devolución was truly an expansive leap for the band. Tom Keeley and Steve Pedulla’s controlled, often-subtle guitar work had never been more tastefully applied (‘No Answers’, ‘A Darker Forest’), while Andrew Everding’s keys managed to become Thursday’s secret weapon, framing much of the album (‘Sparks Against the Sun’, ‘Empty Glass’). However, Geoff Rickley will always be Thursday’s focal point and No Devolución is no exception. Luckily, Rickley’s lyrics and vocals were as articulate and passionate as ever, if not more so (‘Stay True’, ‘A Gun in the First Act’, ‘Fast To the End’). But while this album is strong musically, it’s inclusion here is more a testament to another fallen front-line soldier. Thursday was these men’s lives for 15 years, and they never phoned it in. Rather, they seemingly got better with every release. While other bands were trying to find mass appeal, Thursday tried to remain loyal to their fan-base while also maintaining their artistic integrity. That they went broke doing so only further speaks to their passion. This industry needs people like Thursday, and I hope I someday care about anything as much as they cared about us.

Pick 3: 'Past and Future Ruins', 'Stay True', 'Turnpike Divides'

7. Bon Iver – Bon Iver [Ethan]

To this day For Emma Forever Ago is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful records I’ve ever heard. Justin Vernon’s unique blend of experimental and minimalist song writing found perfection in its imperfections, as Vernon exposed himself with nothing but his abstract lyricism to shield him. Such craftsmanship was uncontested in 2008, and today Vernon’s contemporaries are essentially students rather than peers. However, in the three year expanse separating For Emma.. and Bon Iver, something radical happened. Vernon abandoned his minimalist approach, surrounding himself with a full-formed band. While this sort of thing is by no means unheard of, for an artist of Vernon’s caliber this was an avant-garde decision, comparable to Dylan going electric or Springsteen recording on a four-track. In doing so, though, Bon Iver became something more. From the opening riff of ‘Perth’ to the fading synth of ‘Beth/Rest’ Bon Iver never relents. It’s as if Vernon had been working with charcoal only to experiment with watercolors. Examples of this abound with saxophone, steel pedal guitar and the aforementioned synthesizer permeating throughout the record (‘Minnesota’, ‘Libson, OH’, ‘Calgary’). Despite these garnishes, though, Vernon’s songwriting is as beautiful as ever; his melodies and subsequent harmonies are lush (‘Towers’, ‘Michicant’). His voice is truly one in a million. Furthermore, the instrumentation is never overwhelming but rather tactfully applied. For all of its strengths though, Bon Iver is especially remarkable because of its reception. Not only is this record beautiful, it is also been accepted by nearly everyone who has heard it with open arms. While the industry continues to slowly capsize, Bon Iver may just become the great equalizer. A Kurt Cobain, or a Bono. Not bad for a sad dude from Wisconsin.

Pick 3: 'Holocene', 'Towers', 'Beth/Rest'

6. Transit - Listen and Forgive [Ethan]

**Blurb thing pending. We forgot about writing this one up.

5. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie [Dan]

I’ll just get this out there right away: I’ve absolutely loved every Gaslight Anthem release. They are easily my favorite band and the ’59 Sound is one of my favorite albums of all time. With that being said, I may be a little bit biased, but this was an easy choice as my favorite album of the year. I don’t think anyone in music today can tell a story the way that Brian Fallon does, and he proves that once again on Elsie. From the opening tambourine shake in “Last Rites” to the eerily beautiful “I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together,” Brian and Ian Perkins treat you to some amazing storytelling. “Go Tell Everybody” sounds unlike anything found on previous GA records. Fallon’s voice shines on this track and the crescendo-ing final chorus brings the song to a triumphant end. “Ladykiller” and “Crush” are an amazing one-two punch in the middle of the album, with the latter being my favorite song on the record. Also, I dare you to find a moment of such pure passion, as seen at the midpoint of “Blood Loss,” on anything released this year. The album just bleeds nostalgia, and that may be what makes me gravitate toward Fallon’s music so consistently. It’s an album that you want to yell out in your car while you drive around in the middle of the night, an album that will make you think about every aspect of your life, and an album that will make you feel. It's basically everything that I love about listening to music.

Pick 3: 'Blood Loss', 'Crush', 'Ladykiller'

4. Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math [Dan]

After one listen through this album I already loved it. Going into it, I had simply hoped that Manchester Orchestra would be able to create an album that I enjoyed throughout, and on that account I was more than thoroughly impressed. The album is deeply personal, with lead-singer Andy Hull basically spilling the beans on the darkest time of his marriage. Opener “Deer” grabs you instantly. I remember hearing the line “you're probably too busy with your work, or am I just excusing you for leaving me alone?” for the first time. Lyrics like that aren’t generalizations that anyone can write, they’re insight into the mind of a man who is realizing he has problems and faults and who is trying to come to terms with that. The title-track is possibly my favorite song of the entire year. It talks about Hull wishing for the black and white truths found in math and science in moments as he struggles with temptation and cheating on his wife. It’s an absolutely beautiful song both lyrically and musically. “Simple Math” and the other three songs that bring the album to a close are probably my favorite stretch of songs from any album this year. Beautiful strings and orchestral arrangements aid these songs, along with the rest of the record. Despite that, MO still keeps much of the intensity found in their previous albums. “Pensacola” and “Virgin” are good examples. They are both great for different reasons, with the former being the catchiest song on the album and the latter the creepiest.

Pick 3: 'Simple Math', 'Leave It Alone', 'Pensacola'

3. Fireworks – Gospel [Ethan]

Despite the industry’s disarray, 2011 saw the continued expansion of the pop-punk community. While this scene brings to mind the Long Island scene of old, it is a different beast entirely. Though a little healthy competition never hurt anybody, there is almost no semblance of that within the group we are currently seeing. Rather bands, independent of label or stature not only influence, but also champion one another. While Fireworks are indisputably a product of this environment, they could very soon break away for greener artistic pastures. Although Gospels undeniably boasts a pop-punk sound, it is by and large the most creative take on the genre seen this year. Dave Mackinder’s lyrics have always been more Stump/Wentz than Delonge, and Gospels is no exception. That said, Dave’s lyrics have never been as consistently great as they are here (see the opening lines to ‘Arrows’ and ‘the Wild Bunch’ for proof). As well, each release finds Mackinder reigning in his Jordan Pudnik nasality, a result only attributable to the band’s constant touring. However, the benefits of experience are not lost on the rest of the band. Gospels makes clear that Fireworks is expanding in all departments. Chris Mojan and Brett Jones’ rhythms have never been so tight, nor their riffs as slick (‘We’re Still Pioneers’, ‘Paintings of Paul Revere’). While the two rarely stray from their distortion, the record does find diversity in the acoustic strumming of ‘I Am the Challenger’, and the lap steel of the aforementioned ‘Wild Bunch’. Tymm Rengers, though, is Fireworks secret-weapon. Although his drumming is often understated on Gospels, Rengers is often the group’s only tie to their pop-punk roots, subsequently allowing the other’s experimentation (‘Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old and Get Younger’). Like any good band, though, Fireworks is a sum of its parts, and that sum seems to indicate a wider scope than the ‘Defend Pop-Punk’ mentality. Am I saying Gospels is their Deja Entendu? Maybe, but stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Pick 3: 'Arrows', 'Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old and Grow Young', 'The Wild Bunch'

2. The Dangerous Summer – War Paint [Ethan]

It’s rare that I review an album without mentioning any of the songs, but for the Dangerous Summer I feel compelled to make an exception. With that said, this is a good album. You may even think it’s a great album. As listeners, we often find records that speak to us, but we rarely find ones that speak for us. I found that in War Paint, and in this sense War Paint is as much the Dangerous Summer’s record as it is mine. 2011 was an incredibly difficult year for me, which subsequently makes writing this ‘review’ all the more difficult. Amongst the scars I collected, there are also some wounds that haven’t quite healed. I’m not sure they ever will. But as my life became more and more capricious, War Paint became more and more of a constant. No matter how my day was going, this record was getting spins. Along the way it stopped soundtracking my day, and started soundtracking my month, my year. On paper, it doesn’t look significant, until you realize that between the months and days life was happening. For better or worse, this album has come influenced the way I think about life and the way I see the world. Furthermore, I will always love people who love this album because it says things about me that I never could. This album followed me into the darkness, but it also followed me out. It brought me closer to my friends, but also myself. Although what I lost can’t ever be completely recovered, when I play this record I feel closer to it. I feel closer to my memories, to her, and the catharsis that accompanies that feeling is a constant reminder of how living is an art. It’s a struggle, but you keep fighting because you’re left with something beautiful.

Keep fighting.

Pick 3: 'War Paint', 'Good Things', 'Siren', 'Everyone Left'

1. Charlie Simpson – Young Pilgrim [Dan]

It’s hard for me to write about Young Pilgrim because I don’t even know where to start. While Ethan and I disagreed on a lot of choices when we were compiling this top 20 list, one thing we didn’t disagree on was our love for this record. I don’t have time to talk about every song individually, so instead I’ll just say this: you owe it to yourself to go listen to this album right now. If you don’t believe me, go listen to either “Riverbanks” or “Thorns” and tell me you aren’t hearing something special. The former has a towering chorus unlike anything I’ve ever heard all year and the latter is just stunning in every sense of the word. Album opener and first single “Down Down Down”, with a final minute that is one of the album highlights, will quickly prove to you that this guy has got some great talent. The album’s intricate guitar and piano work, beautiful vocal harmonies, genuine lyrics, and perfect balance between down-tempo acoustic songs and soaring folk jams all add up to one of the most cohesive and powerful musical experiences of the year. Every song has a part to it that makes it stand out. Whether you’re listening to the Bon Iver-esque beginning of “Hold On”, the falsetto bridge near the end of “I Need A Friend Tonight”, the funky bass that ushers in “Cemetery”, the country-tinged harmonica in “Farmer and His Gun”, or the baby-making sing-along bridge in “Parachutes,” you’ll enjoy every single second of it.

Pick 3: 'Riverbanks', 'Thorns', 'Down Down Down'
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The Double Feature: Thursday + Florence and the Machine
01/08/12 at 02:40 PM by danman
My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I love to talk about music. We thought it'd be fun to each choose an album every week that neither of us had heard, listen to it, and post our thoughts in a blog for (probably) no one to read. There are really no criteria for what we choose other than that it's something new for the both of us. So here it goes, enjoy!

Week 5

Sometimes a hiatus is truly the best decision a band can make. Consider a basic supply and demand scenario. Midlevel band X has been releasing music consistently for the past 5-8 years, with each album getting about a year’s worth of touring and/or promotional support (billboards, commercials, adverts, etc.). Although every release has been solid, with critics and fans alike agreeing that the product is worth investing in, the band is having trouble breaking even. They scrounge up a few well-deserved opening slots, for more popular bands (normally their contemporaries) but don’t seem to draw enough people when headlining their own shows. As a result, their merch sales dip. Their albums aren’t selling both because a) they’re more expensive than larger commercial artists’ and b) the average consumer doesn’t buy albums anymore. The band is persistent, but the label’s not seeing a return for their investment so they have less money to put into the band. All of these factors culminate in the band having to work second jobs in order to fund their album and/or pay the bills.

Now, keep in mind; this is a band that has already broken through. They have a signed contract. Music is their job, but they’re forced into the daily grind to pursue their first line of work. How long could any one person maintain that lifestyle? Certainly not forever. Eventually the band calls it a day. This decision seems to come about in one of two ways. The band either graciously bows while acknowledging the realities of the industry or they are essentially forced out by any of the multiple factors working against them. This departure obviously cuts off the supply, but it also (usually) increases the demand.

People often take a band’s longevity for granted, especially if band X has been a constant presence in their scene. With bands like Thursday and Thrice, the impact they had became quite apparent with their departure. Fans were upset because they knew they were losing something special. It’s this reaction that has the potential to increase a band’s demand. Hiatus’ attract the attention of not only the established fans, but of the casual listeners: the kids who heard the one radio friendly single, the kids who saw band X when they were in the opening slot. If enough interest is piqued, the casual listener might check out band X’s last release in an attempt to understand the hype. And in doing so they might realize the ship they missed. If this happens, the band has increased their fan base simply by ceasing to exist. Although there is no immediate benefit to this per say, maybe the band can pay off debts and break even, the long-term consequences are important.

An effective hiatus can lead to an effective return to form. We’ve seen this happen again and again in the past five-ish years with varying degrees of success. Blink-182’s 2009 reunion made the unthinkable happen and helped the reunion movement gain momentum. Since then we’ve seen reunions from Yellowcard, the Starting Line, Something Corporate, Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends line up, the Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz, Glassjaw, the Early Novemver and the list goes on. Every reunion is unique, though, and different bands apply different approaches. Some record a full length while others do a one off show. Some reissue their back catalog on vinyl and some do a greatest hits tour. There is no guaranteed method of success. But the one constant seems to be that every reunited band comes back in a position more positive than they were situated before their break, either financially or personally. How this affects the art is another question, but it at least gives us a chance to appreciate we had. If only once before it’s gone forever. Thursday was a great band and both Dan and I missed a chance to share in their music. With a little luck, though, we’ll hear from them again sooner rather than later.

- Ethan

Florence + the Machine [Ethan's Choice]

Dan: I never listened to 2009’s Lungs but I had always kind of been curious about Florence + the Machine after hearing some of the singles from that album. With that being said, I don’t really see much similarity between what I (barely) heard in 2009 to the FATM of 2011. Yes, the big chorus’ and signature voice are still there, but it all seems a little bit darker. There’s nothing as cheeky as “Kiss With a Fist” or instantly catchy as “The Dog Days are Over”, but it’s got its own unique appeal. Because I’m generalizing the sound of Lungs based on a few singles, I could be completely off base but that was my first observation.

I love the first four songs on this album. On opener “Only if for a Night”, singer Florence Welch’s voice soars. “Shake It Out” comes next and it’s one of the best songs of the year. It features just about every instrument you can think of, all packed into the most rousing and epic 4-minutes of music released in quite some time. “What the Water Gave Me” is almost just as good. It features a multi-layered chorus that sounds like it’s being sung by a huge choir in an enormous cathedral. The end result reminds me of a more lightweight version of “Virgin” from Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math, but with Florence’s song coming out far on top. The fourth song, “Never Let Me Go”, is tied with “Shake It Out” as my favorite song on the release. Welch takes us to church in the closest thing to a straight-up power ballad to be found on Ceremonials. It’s both catchy and heartfelt.

The rest of the album is packed with more amazing music, with only a couple duds to speak of. “Breaking Down” and “Seven Devils”, while good, are not quite up to par with the rest of the record. “Spectrum” is another song that instantly stood out to me. Despite a quiet start, the song quickly turns into one of the most exciting songs on the album. From the second Florence begins with her typical vocal acrobatics, the song pulls you in and doesn’t let go. It quickly explodes into one of the biggest chorus’ on the record, and I’d be surprised if this wasn’t chosen as a future single. The album closes with “Leave My Body”. By the time I got to it, I wasn’t even surprised that it was as incredible as it is. It features just about everything that you’d want when listening to a Florence + the Machine album. There are the huge drums, catchy chorus, impeccable production, and the chanting background vocals to really send it over the edge. On top of that, if features an unparalleled vocal performance by Welch – especially in the final minute and a half of the song.

Ceremonials is a great record, and one that will easily make it into the ranks of my favorite albums of the year. It’s highly recommended and I insist you check it out.

Favorite Songs: Shake It Out, Never Let Me Go, Spectrum

Ethan: “Sooo hipster” – Dan Zajac

Florence and the Machine was a fairly unprecedented choice on my part, which is exactly why it was my pick for this week. As this experiment keeps snowballing, I want it to be a vehicle for expanding my musical pallet. Florence is something that I, much like my colleague Daniel, would normally write off for some arbitrary reason (i.e. being too ‘hipster’ – whatever the fuck that means). More and more, though, I’ve realized that if something is popular the odds are greater that I will like it, or that I could like it. This is true of everything, from Ugg slippers (so comfy) to Apple computers (so trendy) to Nickleback (so, I’m making a point…) or even Florence and her musical mechanism. Of course, discretion needs to be implemented. A herd mentality has never helped anyone, and Nickleback’s safe, radio friendly rock doesn’t necessarily satiate the hunger of the audiophile. But Ceremonials is a tremendous effort, which unapologetically urges Florence’s contemporaries to step their game up.

‘Only For a Night’ sets the tone for Ceremonials, introducing Paul Epworth’s expansive, intricate production and Florence’s dark lyrical themes. These two features are the foundation from which Ceremonials builds and like any good base they are strong enough to let the record experiment while remaining consistent. Although Ceremonials undeniably contains darker moments, it manages to veil a handful of these in upbeat music. Songs like ‘Lover to Lover’ ‘No Light, No Light’ or ‘Heartlines’ find Florence and company making heartbreak catchy and these tracks really help even out the records mood.

With that said, Ceremonials plays like a break up record. ‘What the Water Gave Me’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ are soundtracks for disillusionment. ‘Seven Devils’, though, is Florence at her most demonized and the track benefits from its melodies blues-ier moments and its layered chorus vocals. All in all, the vocals on Ceremonials are fantastic, the melodies are contagious and the harmonies are lush. Quite often, the verses are as good or better than the choruses. Both ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Shake It Out’ are examples of this, and are highlights of the album that manage to toe the line between light and dark perfectly. However, I should admit that some of the choruses are too sweet for my liking. The aforementioned ‘Heartlines’ exemplifies this.

Though Ceremonials is a great album, it still has a few missteps. ‘Breaking Down’s piano line sounds like an 80’s Christmas song, and I generally find the song’s chorus to be cheesy and the verses unremarkable. As well ‘Remain Nameless’ from the album’s deluxe edition earns it’s right as a B-side, seeming like a late 90s Madonna rip off. ‘Bedroom Hymns’ and ‘Strangeness and Charms’ counteract this trend though, and both songs make the deluxe edition worth purchasing, particularly ‘Strangeness…’. However, Ceremonials’ standard edition would have benefited from swapping out ‘All This and Heaven Too’ or ‘Leave My Body’ for either of the aforementioned songs, which would have helped the album end on a stronger note. However, these details are admittedly nitpicky since most will end up with Ceremonials’ deluxe version.

Ceremonials is not a perfect album, but it comes pretty damn close. Much like No Devolución the album gets more rewarding the more it’s played. Though, not (yet) as popular as contemporaries like Adele, Florence has surely erased all utterings of “one hit wonder” or “sophomore slump”. Rather, she takes both notions and turns them on their head. Though Gaga and Adele dominated the radio in 2011, neither artist’s recent release comes close to what Florence and co. have captured on this record. Ceremonials could very well be a definitive album. Unfortunately, only time will tell. But hopefully the dog days end will usher in the era of Florence and the Machine.

Favorites: Shake It Out, Seven Devils, Spectrum

Thursday – No Devolucion [My Choice]

Dan: Thursday had always been a band that polarized me. I’ve seen them live a few times and tried to get into them, but they’ve never really grabbed me. With their recent breakup and after hearing such rave reviews of this album I figured it was a good time to give No Devolucion a listen. I remember hearing “Counting 5-4-3-2-1” back in the day when I listened to nothing but The Used and My Chemical Romance and I now realize that they were maybe a little too post-hardcore for my embarrassingly emo taste in music. Taking time to listen to them now, years after I had given up trying to enjoy them, has allowed me to evaluate the band at a time when my musical tastes are drastically different from where they were years ago. Needless to say, Thursday’s No Devolucion really impressed me. It’s not only heavy and dark and complex, but it completely sucks you in to its entire atmosphere and doesn’t let go.

At over 50 minutes it’s no easy listen, but it is one that’s worth the trip. The song that truly sold me upon my first listen was “A Darker Forest”. Yes, the first couple songs are strong for their own reasons, but after the amazing – albeit short – outro to “A Darker Forest”, I was sold. The seamless transition into “Sparks Against The Sun” impressed me as well. SATS was a song that I didn’t instantly love, but it’s totally grown on me. The underlying piano is beautiful, and so is the chorus. It’s one of the songs that I keep on coming back to and it’s one of the most stunning pieces of music I’ve heard all year. The next two songs are great as well. “Open Quotes” is reminiscent of the Thursday I remember, while “Past and Future Ruins” is a perfect summation of where the band is today. “Past and Future Ruins” is a song that transports you to another place entirely. The band is somehow able to very subtly fit chimes (of all instruments) into one of the creepiest songs on the record, and it further emphasizes the huge attention to detail this band illustrates.

“Empty Glass” changes up the pace of the album. It’s depressing as a song can get, but it’s also stunning. Almost nothing happens, but nothing needs to. All you need is Geoff Rickly’s vocals and the deeply personal lyrics to make the song a true highlight. “A Gun in the First Act” comes next and it’s another one of my favorites. The band puts everything out on the table and leaves you with a song full of sheer energy and passion. After that, the last three songs on the album close it out on an equally amazing note. “Turnpike Divides” and “Stay True” are a more than worthy set of songs to close the album. So, with all that being said, Thursday have finally won me over. I love this album.

Favorites: Stay True, Past and Future Ruins, A Gun in the First Act

Ethan: Regardless of everything else that’s been said since their hiatus, Thursday was a great band. Although I am admittedly unfamiliar with their back catalogue, one needs look no further than No Devolución for evidence of this. As swan songs go, No Devolución is a striking testament to a band whose passion and talent had yet to peak. Although the album’s production is admittedly challenging at times, No Devolución rewards the listeners, as each listen reveals intricacies within an already strong batch of songs.

Opener ‘Fast To The End’ reintroduces Thursday, toeing the line between their post-hardcore roots and their recently discovered experimentalism. Though the song is undeniably heavy, it also is quiet atmospheric. This is particularly evident in Geoff Rickley’s vocals, as he ranges from a near whisper in the songs verses to an urgent growl in the bridge. ‘No Answers’ and ‘ A Darker Forest’ further expand the bands diverse pallet, opting to darkly brood rather than lash out. However, though the songs lack an upfront aggression the control displayed is more remarkable because it allows the music to speak for itself. Rhythm combo Tim Payne and Tucker Rule help direct the songs, and although their individual parts aren’t particularly flashy, their contribution as a whole carry the songs. In fact, this dynamic is apparent throughout much of the record.

No Devolución is undeniably a darker record, and the band implements tons of noise is conveying this. The guitar work is frantic and distorted regardless of tempo, and though the faster songs clearly benefit from this, it adds a depth to slower tracks like ‘Sparks Against the Sun’. However, ‘Past And Future Remains’ ‘Millimeter’ and ‘A Gun in the First Act’ are fervent songs displaying Thursday’s masterful use of dynamics and tempo. Both the former and the latter are tremendous songs, benefitting from Rickley’s upper register vocals. ‘A Gun..’ also makes use of both the trumpet and flugelhorn, displaying that Thursday’s experimentation has seeped into all aspects of the band’s writing. The resulting songs simply don’t sound like anything previously written by Thursday but any other band currently in the scene.

However, Thursday doesn’t rely on experimentation as a gimmick. Rather the band uses atypical instruments/production techniques to garnish songs. At its core No Devolución is founded in strong songwriting. Nowhere is Thursday’s vision clearer than ‘Magnets Caught In a Metal Heart’ and ‘Turnpike Divides’. Though the song’s structures are fairly straightforward, they encompass both their progressive nature but also their meat and potatoes strengths. ‘Turnpike Divides’ is the closest thing to a ‘Thursday song’ on No Devolución while ‘Magnets…’ exemplifies all that Thursday has become. Everything is so tight and in sync. Not only that, but the songs are catchy as hell.

If it sounds like there are few criticisms one can rally against No Devolución, it’s because in all honesty there isn’t much the record does wrong. ‘Empty Glass’ is a bit of misstep in that it’s a tad overdramatic. But it’s still a respectable risk. As well ‘Stay True’ is somewhat of a clichéd track. However, it comes from Rickley’s heart and I am not yet cold enough to shit all over it. It’s not a personal favorite, but I can respect the sentiment and musically it’s strong.

No Devolución is Spanish for ‘no returns’, and while this is undeniably an overarching theme for both the band and their album, one can only hope that it is not taken too seriously. Thursday is everything the music industry needs but doesn’t want. A band functioning as the sum of its parts, courageous enough to progress and yet managing to do so without alienating their fanbase or overdoing it. What more could you ask for but their quick resuscitation?

Favorites: Magnets Caught In a Metal Heart, A Gun in the First Act, Turnpike Divides
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The Double Feature: Wale + Passion Pit
12/08/11 at 01:31 PM by danman
My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I love to talk about music. We thought it'd be fun to each choose an album every week that neither of us had heard, listen to it, and post our thoughts in a blog for (probably) no one to read. There's really no criteria for what we choose other than that it's something new for the both of us. So here it goes, enjoy!

Week 4

* Author’s note: the following is but a skeleton of a body that would require pages and chapters to be fleshed out. This is neither the time nor place for that.

It is no secret that the music industry is in a transitional period. The major label business model, the foundation of how music is distributed and consumed, has essentially collapsed. More and more majors are folding, or forming conglomerates amongst themselves. These conglomerates are but a mere shadow of the fallen powerhouses of which they consist. Labels that used to house five or ten multi-million dollar artists now seemingly rely on one to three big names. Interscope records, for instance, houses LMFAO, Lady Gaga, the recently reunited blink-182 and U2. Capitol Records, on the other hand, have a guaranteed payday in Katy Perry and Coldplay. That’s it. The company’s worth subsides in two acts. They have many other talented bands, but the roster is fractured. Seemingly big name draws like the Beastie Boys don’t draw across demographics like they used to, and Radiohead (also on Capitol, apparently) have seemingly given up on major labels entirely. Now, you may be wondering the significance in all this.

The significance lies in the priorities of the major label in our current day. Gaga, Perry, Coldplay and to a lesser extent LMFAO are currently carrying the future of major labels on their backs. They are the ones dominating the Billboard and iTunes single charts, as well as radio. This is success is part of a feed back loop. The acts produce enough initial talent/success to earn some label attention. This success is then furthered by the aforementioned label assistance. The cycle continues and the bands get more and more attention, from both the label and general public.

Finally, the record label is essentially forced to focus on promoting these artists because they rely on their income to stay afloat. Smaller bands, being supported by majors, also rely on this revenue for their own promotion. But the major labels need to prioritize their superstars, again because they bring the profit. So Katy Perry gets to release 6 singles, consume billboard ads and present stadium tours where she makes the venue smell like cotton candy. Meanwhile, band X finds themselves no better off, or in some cases worse off, than band Z who is signed to a so called ‘indie’. It becomes harder and harder for small bands to get the support they need in order to become big draws, and eventually the defect either to an indie, or to their own recording space to find career satisfaction.
The ‘indie’ label is one of the few facets of the industry benefiting from this forced transition. Though there are plenty of benefits and costs to this growth, one interesting quagmire has emerged. Many of the notable bands, especially from our scene, are housed on ‘indie’ labels. Weezer and New Found Glory are housed on Epitaph. Jimmy Eat World announced today that they have no record label. Hell, even Nickleback is signed to Roadrunner, which is a subsidiary of WMG. In a way, the indie label is the new major label, at least for our scene. As well, it should be considered that there are a dwindling number of purely independent ‘indie’ labels. Many are now subsidiaries of larger entertainment conglomerates.

Now, none of this really applies to us. As listeners, we don’t really have to care about music labels as much as we have to care about the artists. But we use labels to define music. More and more we use the term ‘mainstream’ music or suggest that a new album is bad because an artist ‘sold out’. These terms are antiquated in the modern scene. Until we know what the ‘mainstream’ is, the term is subjective. If you want to critique music, don’t use the term. We need to become more thoughtful about how we describe sound. It’s hard. As well, let go of your stigmatisms concerning ‘mainstream’ music, or ‘pop’ music. Things can be terrible and still be popular (Nickleback). Or they can be good and popular (too many artists to mention). This week Dan and I chose to spin Passion Pit and Wale. Though both records contain a certain mainstream appeal, they are good records and worth hearing. Are they mainstream? I’m not sure. They’re good artists with occasional moments of brilliance. Nothing else matters.


Wale - Ambition [Ethan's Choice]

Dan: Okay I’m just going to put this out there right away: I didn’t really like this album. The 15 songs run at just over an hour, which is too much for any album in my opinion. Also, with great albums from Kanye/Jay-Z and Childish Gambino holding my attention in the hip-hop department, I’ve found it pretty hard to get into Wale’s Ambition.

With that being said, there are a few really great songs to be found on the album. “Don’t Hold Your Applause” opens the album in a good (if not slightly predictable) fashion. It’s the typical ‘I’m just trying to be the best rapper there is’ type of stuff. It’s a good song, but nothing particularly memorable. “Miami Nights” is probably my favorite song. For some reason it reminded me of “Roc Boys” by Jay-Z. It’s got impeccable production and just sounds like a fun track. “Double M Genius,” which comes before, is another standout. It gives me a Childish Gambino vibe, which is a good thing. However, a weird pet peeve I have with rappers is when they repeat their names in songs. ‘Wale’ is basically the chorus of the song, and it kind of irks me the wrong way.

After that the album is a total mixed bag. “Lotus Flower Bomb” features some guy named Miguel, and his hook is one of my favorites on the album. The song is a pretty effective mid-tempo jam but Wale’s verses didn’t really keep my attention. “Chain Music” opens with cliché hand snaps and quickly becomes forgettable. I was looking forward to getting to “Focused” featuring Kid Cudi because I’m quite a fan of his. I was left sorely disappointed. It’s a super boring song that doesn’t really go anywhere. “Sabotage” is another one of my favorites songs on the album; however, once again, it’s not due to Wale. Lloyd is featured on the track and he really owns the chorus. It’s a song that I can actually see myself coming back to voluntarily, and that’s a lot more than I can say for most of the album.

One of the songs that left me conflicted was “Illest Bitch.” I think he’s trying to go for a nice mid-tempo song about strong women, but the chorus of ‘Illest Bitch alive’ is the most annoying part of the whole album. There’s also an embarrassing spoken-word bridge set behind some piano that had me cringing. Immediately following that, however, was an awesome synth/sax instrumental sendoff that I absolutely loved. It was very fitting with the vibe he was trying to give off through the lyrics, but it was unfortunate that there were other parts of the song that were so weak.

Favorite tracks: Miami Nights, Sabotage, Double M Genius

Ethan: I first heard Wale on his acclaimed Mixtape About Nothing, which despite containing some filler, was a lyrical powerhouse. I still consider some of Wale’s verses/themes on Mixtape to be extremely inspired. Also, the use of Seinfeld as an overarching theme was fantastic and extremely creative. However, I didn’t follow Wale’s career after that. I downloaded Attention Defecit but I never listened to it. As such, I approached Ambition hoping Wale hadn’t lost his swag or ingenuity.

Unfortunately, it seems he as. At least, to some extent.

Wale is a lyrical powerhouse. I made sure to read his lyrics on RapGenius so I didn’t miss anything. In doing so, it became apparent what a talented wordsmith Wale is. His use of double entendre’s is superb. However, this talent is wasted because he rarely discusses anything inspired. Where Mixtape approached issues of race and the treatment of women (amongst other topics), on Ambition Wale’s three concerns seem to be Wale, Wale’s money and Wale’s overall success. So while his talent keeps me interested I can’t help but feel this album is Wale’s attempt at commercial expansion. I don’t hold it against him, but Kanye found popularity with ‘Jesus Walks’ proving it possible to be commercial while also discussing more thought provoking subject matter.

Normally I focus on a track-by-track breakdown but in this case, I’ll simply discuss the songs that work. “Double M Genius” is a huge track, with Wale oozing swag over a sweet horn based production. I’d be interested to see if this song translated live. This same horn production is found in ‘Miami Nights’ and while I enjoy the flow of the verses very much, the chorus kind of ruins it for me. It’s not as catchy as it thinks it is. ‘Legendary’ is one of a handful of Ambitions 15 tracks akin to Wale’s previous work. Though the subject of the song is, again, how great Wale is or wants to be, the hook is catchy and also shows some insight to fame in the present day. Though Wale wants to be successful, his definition of it is of grander scope than your average dime a dozen rapper. It’s refreshing. ‘Chain Music’ is also a great track despite it’s seemingly shallow subject matter. Though Wale is rapping about chains, he’s actually taking aim at the flashy, commerciality of rap and the type of fickle girls it attracts. Yes, that is the whitest possible way to describe the song, but don’t let it phase you. The chorus is catchy, and its minimalist beat works extremely well. Along with ‘Slight Work’ and the title track, ‘Chain Music’ is one of the album’s highlights. Where ‘Chain Music’ offers a simple production, ‘Slight Work’s’ production is extremely intricate. Interestingly Big Sean’s verse is arguably better than Wale’s on the track but both perform well and the song is begging to be a single. Interestingly, this track precedes ‘Ambition’ which is the grandest statement made by Wale on this output. This track deserves to be the title track, listen to it. ‘That Way’ closes the album and while it’s not a great way to close Ambition, its one of the few relationship oriented songs that works.

Overall, Wale’s 15 tracks cover a spectrum of great to mediocre. The mediocrity results from production, which at times can be off putting (Illest Bitch), subject matter (Lotus Flower Bomb), or Kid Cudi (fuck Kid Cudi). However, when Wale hits his stride, he is great. Furthermore, you can’t say the man isn’t talented. If he finds a way to trim the fat and avoid the thematic pitfalls of mainstream hip-hop, his legend may very well someday match his ambition.

Listen: Ambition, Chain Music, Slight Work

Passion Pit - Manners [My Choice]

Dan: I was really finding it hard to find a good new album that I was interested in choosing this week, so I chose an album from a couple years back. My girlfriend recommended Passion Pit to me, and after she showed me “Little Secrets” I was sold. With the recent popularity of bands like Foster The People or Young The Giant, I feel like this band has the potential to really blow up with their eventual follow-up.

“Make Light” opens the album on a very upbeat and energetic note. It sounds like exactly what you’d find if you were to walk into some sort of weird, hipster infested dance party. I love it and it sets the tone for the album perfectly. “Little Secrets” is the obvious single with its catchy synth riff, pounding drums and memorable back-and-forth chorus. It’s a song that you’re going to want to come back to many times over. The next song, “Moth’s Wings,” is another standout. I was at the movies last week and noticed that it was playing during the trailer to some ‘inspirational’ Disney movie about saving some whales. Imagine the type of song that would play over a trailer like that – something reminiscent of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” but with a more dance-y feel to it. Very epic and catchy, it’s a great song.

What follows these first three songs is somewhat of a mixed bag. “The Reeling” continues with the fast pace set by the prior tracks and is another fun song, but it doesn’t quite live up to the extremely high quality of what comes before it. “To Kingdom Come” is more moderately paced, and it has some nice parts (notably the last minute of the song and the ‘na na na’s in the chorus) but is not especially memorable. “Swimming in the Flood” is quite slow and is one of the low points on the album. The album picks up in quality again with “Folds in Your Hands.” It’s another very upbeat song with some fun instrumentation. “Eyes As Candles” comes next and it is another mid-tempo track; however, this one fares a lot better than the other slower songs on the album. The vocalist really carries this song and the chorus is one that will stay ingrained in your mind for quite some time.

“Sleepyhead” follows. This is the one song I had heard by Passion Pit prior to being recommended them, and it’s definitely one of the highlights. It has handclaps, and any song with handclaps gets instant awesome-points from me. It sounds like rock and disco and techno all jumbled up into one short song – and it all works perfectly. The last two songs are really just more of the same. “Let Your Love Grow Tall” is a pretty good song and the last one is pretty average. As a whole, I was rather pleased with Manners. It’s not an album that I would come back to all the time but it’s definitely an entertaining listen.

My favorite tracks: Moth’s Wings, Little Secrets, Sleepyhead, Make Light

Ethan: This week was an experimental one. Dan and I both chose records that in many ways were outside of our normal taste. This record in particular was an extremely interesting choice. Neither Dan nor I had ever really listened to Passion Pit. I’m still not sure how he even came across them. I had heard about them through my cousin but I had never heard more than Sleepyhead, and even then it was in a Hood Internet mash-up. I had liked what I heard, but it was out of context. I found myself approaching Manners with no expectations.

What I found was for the most part enjoyable, though at times this record can be trying.

‘Make Light’ is unfortunately not a great way to start the record. Mikael Angelakos’ vocals are an acquired taste. Like Anthony Green on Juturna, Angelakos has a tendency to sound quite feminine at times. While his voice is interesting, it is hit or miss. ‘Make Light’ is one of those misses. His voice is too whiney for my taste and while the track is solid musically, with a great bass line and ‘ba ba ba’s sprinkled through out, Angelakos brings the track down. I often skip this track in favor of starting the record with ‘Little Secrets’, which contains hints of everything I would come to love about Passion Pit. The opening synth, bass and drum groove is begging to be sampled again and again. Then the verses start and Angelakos’ finds his niche. His vocals seem less prominent in the mix, so while still in the upper register they are less in your face. Like much of the album, this song makes me want to both dance and learn how to remix dance music. ‘Moth’s Wings’ is akin to newer Coldplay in many ways, hosting an athematic piano line in the chorus, bells in the verse and big drums throughout. Like new Coldplay, it’s okay but kind of flavorless ‘The Reeling’ is a return to the electronic indie-dance sound of ‘Secrets’ but it’s got a serious 80’s vibe. While 80’s influences are hit or miss, the song works and the chorus is catchy if you ignore the lyrics, which I find terribly annoying. However, ‘To Kingdom Come’s” prechorus exemplifies the Pit’s knack for writing melodies. Though I originally though the song to be a highlight, with repeated listens I found I really only liked the prechorus. I hate ‘Swimming in the Flood’, although musically it’s interesting. However, the content is sappy and this is a track where Angelakos’ s is a hinderance. ‘Fold Your Hands’ and ‘Seaweed Song’ are not particularly memorable. Despite this, though, the album’s second half is it’s strongest. ‘Eyes as Candles’ ‘Sleepyhead’ and ‘Let Your Love Grow Tall’ are inspired songs and perfect examples of what works for Passion Pit. A lot of this strength comes synth lines. The former hosts a Japanese synth line that would make Rivers Cuomo hard and Sleepyhead builds perfectly to the chorus synth line. ‘Let Your Love..’ is another great example of P.P’s way to build. Nate Donmoyer’s drumming in particular makes ‘Let Your Love Grow Tall’ the best song on the album, though it was hard to pick between the three.

Overall, Manners is a fun album. Though lyrically it’s really not worth discussing, it doesn’t try to be something it can’t. This album is trying to make you dance, and it quite often succeeds.

Listen: Eyes as Candles, Sleepyhead, Let Your Love Grow Tall
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The Double Feature: Kevin Devine + Transit
11/30/11 at 05:37 PM by danman
My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I love to talk about music. We thought it'd be fun to each choose an album every week that neither of us had heard, listen to it, and post our thoughts in a blog for (probably) no one to read. There are really no criteria for what we choose other than that it's something new for the both of us. So here it goes, enjoy!

Week 3

Influences are an important facet to consider when analyzing art, particularly music. As the impersonal and rigid business model of major labels has continued to produce less and less profit, thousands of musicians have resorted to atypical practices to release their work. As such, the modern music fan has become a pilgrim within the vast expanse of the musical landscape, with more songs than ever to sort through, and potentially champion. On it’s own, this is a seemingly monumental task. Just how exactly do you sift through the ‘shit’ bands to find the ‘good’ ones? More and more the RIYL has become a point estimator, while conversely the notion of finite genres has fallen to the wayside. It is simply too hard to label bands within a one-size fits all genre in the modern era, especially when considering their influences or even their progression over time. For instance, my local Sunrise Records has All Time Low’s latest release situated within the Punk section. Hopefully this indicates just how useless, and subjective, genres have become. This weeks Double Feature exemplifies the rise of not only the RIYL but of peer recommendations as well. Dan was introduced to Kevin Devine through AP users, who were most likely turned onto him by Jesse Lacey. Dan in turn recommended Kevin to me, showing me Cotton Crush, featuring the aforementioned and often heralded Lacey. Years later, it was I, not Dan who chose Devine’s latest release for the Double Feature. Conversely, I had attempted to turn Dan onto Transit after Stay Home started received a healthy does of hype, with Blake Solomon’s review comparing the band to Lifetime and newer Crime In Stereo. Unfortunately, it didn’t take. I wasn’t able to persuade Dan to give Transit a solid listen. However, the AP hype machine seemingly swayed Dan, because he ironically suggested we give Listen and Forgive a spin for this weeks Double Feature. Although this occurrence seems fairly unremarkable, its un-remarkability is what makes it remarkable. Almost every true music fan has a story like ours, a fellow pilgrim showing us a particular lay of the land that we may or may not have ever discovered. This communication of tastes is the foundation of our community, for without our discussion we are nothing. This is true for all of us: listeners, industry insiders and the artists themselves. As the conversation continues, our pilgrim nation is able to further discover this great land in which we find ourselves situated. As Transit reminds us ‘We grow into those sadder songs, and we leave our love behind in every single line’. It’s as much about the journey as it is the destination.

- Ethan

Kevin Devin – Between the Concrete and Clouds [Ethan's Choice]

Dan: Like Ethan mentioned, I’ve been a fan of Kevin Devine for quite some time now. Since “Split The Country…” I’ve been pretty consistently impressed with his music. Most notably, I found that his 2009 album “Brother’s Blood” was one of my favorites of that year. It had everything that I had come to expect from a Kevin Devine album plus a new heavier, grungy sound. Songs like “I Could Be With Anyone” and the title track were just great. Coming into this album, I was hoping that Kevin would just go for that sound even more, but I was left disappointed. Sadly, “Between the Concrete and Clouds” is a step backward in my eyes.

The record begins with “Off-Screen,” a serviceable, if slightly underwhelming, introduction to the album. Yes, it’s got a fairly catchy chorus but it lacks anything that makes it truly stand out. “The First Hit” comes next and it’s more of a traditional ‘Kevin Devine’ song. It has an even catchier chorus than the previous song, and it reminds me of why I liked Kevin in the first place. “Sleepwalking Through My Life” is a weaker song that meanders along at a fairly uninteresting mid-tempo and is one that I rarely find myself coming back to. “Awake In The Dirt” is another song that I wasn’t particularly fond of. It’s in the same vein as “Fever Moon” (easily my least favorite song off of “Brother’s Blood), with a laid-back jazz-y feel that I really didn’t connect with.

I feel like I’m more of a fan of the second half of the album than the first. The title track is one of the highlights. It’s sharp and interesting lyrics show off the unconventional – and oftentimes quite interesting – nature of Kevin’s songwriting. “11-17” is one of the slower tracks, and I don’t find myself coming back to this one very often either. The last four songs are the best section of the album. “Wait Out The Wreck” and “A Story, A Sneak” are both very reminiscent of older Kevin Devine and are probably my two favorite songs on the album. They are nice, catchy, slightly up-tempo jams that I would recommend to any fan of his previous work. “The City Has Left You Alone” is another above-average song but it’s not one of my personal favorites. “I Used To Be Someone” is another one of the best. It starts off slow but finally builds into a “Brother’s Blood”-esque ending portion complete with crunchy guitars and ‘woah-oh’s.’ It is exactly the direction I had hoped Kevin would go in on this album. If more of the album had been like this, I would have been a huge fan of it. Unfortunately, I was left slightly underwhelmed. It is not a bad record by any means, but after releasing such a great record merely two years before, I was hoping for more.

Favorite tracks: A Story A Sneak, Wait Out The Wreck, I Used To Be Someone

Ethan:If Jesse Lacey is the Jesus of our post-Devil and God¬ landscape, then Kevin Devine is undeniably our Joseph. AbsolutePunk acclaim notwithstanding, Kevin Devine remains one of the most underrated artists in our scene, yet he has influenced not only the aforementioned Lacey, but also resident songsmith Andy Hull. Sadly, unless opening for Thrice or Brand New, Devine never seems to have much draw outside of the New England region or, seemingly, the occasional college crowd. Although, I am admittedly unfamiliar with his back catalogue, Kevin has apparently been releasing consistently good music since his debut in 2002. I can believe this when considering songs like ‘Brooklyn Boy’, ‘No Time Flat’ or his 2009 release Brothers Blood, the latter of which I thought lived up to it’s surrounding AP hype. However, for his consistency, Kevin is an artist that often gets lost in the shuffle. With his consistency comes the fact that he rarely wows. He came close on Brothers Blood, with the records second half in particular holding my attention. However, Between the Concrete and the Clouds is a step back. Despite its obvious grunge undertones, this album is quite subdued, lacking the bite found on Brothers title track or “Another Bag of Bones”. Although the guitars are distorted, the production is quite clean and Between the Concrete and the Clouds comes off as a straightforward indie rock record. Again, though, Kevin is a consistent artist and this album contains more than a handful of songs worth hearing.

Opener “Off-Screen” is a grower, displaying the aforementioned grunge influence in the Devine’s background harmonies, as well as hints of alt. country in the distorted lapsteel. Regardless, the song is catchy, with the chorus providing a pay off for the more subdued verses. “The First Hit” is reminiscent of older Devine, with wordy verses filled with a political/religious undertone. Again, though, the chorus is quite infectious. On this record Devine’s song writing is akin to Fountains of Wayne, albeit a rougher version of the quartet. This man simply knows how to write interesting, slightly atypical, pop music. This comparison holds for “Sleepwalking Through My Life”. However, there are a few missteps on Between. “Awake in the Dirt” is nothing particularly special, and “11-17” feels longwinded with its droning bass and swirling keys. However, “Wait Out the Wreck” helps the album return to form. Finally, the title track and “The City Has Left You Alone” showcase Devine’s brilliance, with the former toeing the line between Devine’s Cobain-esque pop sensibilities and clever but catchy lyricism. The latter is quite simply a great ‘Kevin Devine’ song, showing how at the end of the day Devine is a smart musician who knows is best when he doesn’t stray too far from the path. The bridge in particular is classic Devine, and is reminiscent of Brothers Blood b-side. Although this album’s staying power is debatable, Kevin is an artist who doesn’t necessarily need to wow on ever release. Rather, his legacy will lie in the good to great songs on every album, and whether these songs get attention in a live setting. I don’t doubt that live many of these songs would translate well. While every scene needs a firebrand (Brand New), every firebrand needs an influence from which to draw not only inspiration not only to progress but to continue. If nothing else, every band should hope to have a career like Devine’s. Nearly a decade in and he has yet to dramatically falter. Take that, Daisy.

Favorite tracks: Title track, The City Has Left You Alone, The First Hit

Transit – Listen and Forgive [My Choice]

Dan: Wow, I just love this album. As Ethan mentioned previously, he had tried to get me to listen to this band forever but I had never given them a chance. Maybe I should listen to him more often? Maybe….

The record opens with “You Can’t Miss It (It’s Everywhere).” From the get-go, I got a strong TAYF-era Taking Back Sunday vibe from this album and it lasted throughout. As mentioned in the staff review on this site, these lyrics are just begging to be posted as angsty Facebook statuses. The line, from the first track, ‘and it seems I only have two speeds, two much too soon, or not enough’ is a good example. I’m pretty sure I tweeted that line some night when I was feeling particularly angst-ridden….soooo ya. The next three songs are all great as well. “Listen and Forgive” is probably my favorite song on the album. I absolutely love the last half of the song with the back and forth vocals and the ‘just take it all in….’ lines. I would pay a lot of money to see just that one song live. “All Your Heart” is another great song. Patrick Stump shows up to make a cameo in the latter portion of the song and he helps to make it another standout. Yes, the lyrics aren’t particularly good or complex, but sometimes you just want some straightforward, catchy jams to sing along to.

The two weakest songs on the record, “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Cutting Corners” come next. It’s not that they are bad songs; I just love everything else so much more that I tend to skip these to get straight to the stellar last half of the album. “Skipping Stone” is the obligatory acoustic slow song and it fits nicely in the middle of the album. The next two, “I Think I Know You” and “Don’t Make A Sound,” are two of my favorites, with the latter easily being the catchiest song on the album. “1978” is sure to be a fan favorite, and it’s got some of the best Facebook-worthy lyrics of the whole thing. “Over Your Head” is another standout. The lyrics are very basic but super relatable and honest. Finally, “The Answer Comes in Time” ends the album on a relatively tame note. I expected something a lot more musically epic to close the album, but putting it last makes sense lyrically. It is a nice, if not amazing, send off to a great album.

Favorite tracks: Listen and Forgive, Don't Make A Sound, Over Your Head

Ethan: Although I had enjoyed Transit’s previous releases Stay Home and Keep This To Yourself, I found the band to be the Kevin Devine’s of the pop-punk revival; solid musicians, who knew how to write good songs with the occasional flash of brilliance. In my opinion, they didn’t have the ability to surpass more popular revival bands like Set Your Goals or Four Year Strong, who at this point were still considered ‘legit’ by the Warped Tour crowd. Nothing gold can stay, though. Set Your Goals released the disappointing Burning at Both Ends and attempted to start a Twitter beef with staffer Thomas Nassiff. Four Year Strong retooled their sound for a mainstream audience, in the end becoming little more than a Foo Fighters cover band. And so the pop-punk revival found itself short two flagship bands. It has become apparent though, that there isn’t a lack of successors. A new class has emerged. In particular, the same fans alienated by FYS and SYG have embraced Fireworks, Transit, and the Wonder Years. With Listen and Forgive, though, Transit has proved that they cannot fill the gaps left by Four Year Strong or Set Your Goals. Rather, they have surpassed the benchmarks established by either band and are destined for greater things.

Transit has a tendency to start strong and while “You Can’t Miss It” is by no means “Stay Home” or “Dear: Anyone:” it showcases how comfortable Transit is in the niche they’ve carved for themselves. Everything is perfectly in sync. I can’t even point out a specific pairing because the band is just so efficient. The next three songs help make the record’s first half a juggernaut. From the bittersweet harmonies lacing the chorus of “Long Lost Friends”, to the intricate guitar work and fantastic chorus on the album’s title track to the goddamn Patrick Stump cameo in “All Your Heart” every single song is fantastic, setting a bar that is not easily surpassed by the records latter half. However, the latter songs are quite strong as well. The imagery of a lost summer in “Asleep at the Wheel” verses shows the bands Death Cab for Cutie influence, as well as the bands ability to write mid-tempo songs. This is diametrically opposed by the pop-punky “Cutting Corners”, proving that Transit is able to apply their substantial skill to style that is often redundant.

As with any record, though, some songs are better than others. Though Dan seemed to really enjoy “I Think I Know You”, I find it to be an average song reminiscent of Keep This to Yourself’s though it has a couple good parts. The same can be said for “Don’t Make a Sound”. However “1978” ends this slump, and “Over Your Head” is a key track. Finally, although “The Answer Comes in Time” is no “Love…” Joe’s final words of “That’s just the story of life” make it apparent just how much this band honestly gives a shit about what they’re saying. This point is evident through out Listen and Forgive and while SYG and FYS have their sights set on crossover success, I can’t help but hope that Transit does nothing but continue to perfect their intricate, and extremely passionate style of music. As veterans like Thrice and Thursday bow out, the scene needs a shoulder to rest on, and Transit may very well be it.

Favorite tracks: Listen and Forgive, Lost Friends, All Your Heart
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The Double Feature: Jack's Mannequin + Ryan Adams
11/23/11 at 12:57 PM by danman
My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I love to talk about music. We thought it'd be fun to each choose an album every week that neither of us had heard, listen to it, and post our thoughts in a blog for (probably) no one to read. There's really no criteria for what we choose other than that it's something new for the both of us. So here it goes, enjoy!

Week 2

At first glance, these two records seem to be an odd combination. Jack’s Mannequin is synonymous with sun bleached piano pop-rock, while Adams lo fi approach dragged country through the dirt, consequently making him a pillar of the alternative country genre. Or so we like to think. In reality, these vague classifications stem from both artists’ extensive back catalogues. As such, an unexpected theme of this week’s Daily Feature was letting go of the past and embracing the present. Although this is a fallacy permeating all branches of art, it is quite apparent in the music scene, and it’s a pitfall that I feel our community should try to avoid. We as fans often become so immersed in an artist’s previous work that we fail to appreciate their progress. You miss the tour playing the new material only to realize a year later that so-and-so’s new album is fantastic. We’ve all been there. To analyze an album without preconceptions is a difficult task. It requires conscious effort. But doing so allows you, if nothing else, to formulate an unbiased opinion about the world around you. Along the way, though, you’ll hopefully find something new that you actually enjoy. We did.

Jack’s Mannequin – People and Things [Ethan's Choice]

Dan: Last week, Ethan and I chose albums by bands I had never heard before. This week, we each chose one by artists that I’ve loved for a long time. I consider “Everything In Transit” a pop masterpiece, and “The Glass Passenger” is still a good album in its own right. I was hoping that Andrew McMahon would be able to recreate some of the EIT magic but I was completely doubtful that it would actually happen. So, how’d he do?

The album kicks off with the first single “My Racing Thoughts.” On the first listen this song underwhelmed me, but after really taking some time with it it’s grown on me immensely. No one can paint a picture or tell a story quite like Andrew can, and from the get-go he brings you into his world and doesn’t let you leave. After hearing the beautifully layered vocals in the final chorus I was already convinced that Andrew had created something I’d really enjoy. “Release Me” is up next, and it’s another standout track. The chorus is really catchy and it would serve well as a single. There is a moment near the end of the song, right before the final chorus, where all the music cuts out and Andrew begins to belt out the last chorus. You can hear so much passion coming from his voice, and that’s something that most pop artists can’s accomplish. “Television” comes after, and it continues the streak of great songs. “Television” may actually be my favorite song on the album. It starts off pretty quiet and then slowly turns into an inspiring and powerful anthem. I absolutely love this song and think everyone would do him or herself a favor by listening to it.

After this, the record becomes a lot more inconsistent. “Amy, I” is a passable but average song. “Hey Hey Hey” suffers the same fate. It’s not that they are unenjoyably, but I don’t find myself choosing to listen to them over others on the album. “People, Running” is the other contender for my favorite song. This is the song where I think Andrew truly found that EIT magic. It has a section of superb (but short) back-and-forth vocals that stands out as my favorite moment on the album. The last five songs all range from good to above average, but they’re not anything amazing. “Amelia Jean” has a nice chorus and “Platform Fire” is a pretty great quasi-ballad. The only song I was truly disappointed in was “Casting Lines.” Andrew always ends his albums on a high note, but “Casting Lines” was really subpar in comparison to past classics like “Caves.”

I had the opportunity to see JM live a few weeks ago and it was a great show. The new songs were really able to come alive and I think I appreciate them more because of it. There are some amazing songs on here and some average ones, but it’s definitely one that is worth checking out. It is very possible that this could sneak into my top 10 at the end of the year.

Favorite tracks: Television, People Running, Release Me

Ethan: Jack’s Mannequin is a band that I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with. Everything In Transit is one of my favorite records of all time, but I really wasn’t able to enjoy much of the Glass Passenger. I found it to be a forgettable record. The worst part was that I really tried to like it. I WANTED to like it. Andrew McMahon is the kind of musician I root for in this industry. He has an unabashed passion for music, and while the active roster of Warped Tour alumni has begun to whittle down, Andrew seems set for the long haul. After the Glass Passenger, my expectations for the next Jack’s release were non-existent; my hopes had been deflated. But again, I was rooting for Andrew. So I decided to give People and Things a try. After one or two listens, I had the disappointing realization that this album was not Everything In Transit. In fact, I have decided that Andrew will most likely never write an album as personal as EIT ever again. In this revelation though, I found a freedom. All my preconceptions of what a Jack’s Mannequin record should sound like disappeared. It was only then that I could appreciate People and Things.

This record is nothing like Everything In Transit, but it is still fantastic. By my fifth or sixth listen I had found an appreciation for Andrew’s vision, and better yet I was enjoying it. My Racing Thoughts is a solid opener, nicely bridging the time that’s passed since Passenger’s release. However, Andrew’s growth is apparent even here, particularly in the chorus’ synth line. Release Me is a driving rock track that really centers around Bobby Anderson’s guitar work, but with a chorus that is vintage McMahon. Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die), while catchy was a grower for me. The opening line seemed cheesy, but I got over it. Surprisingly, my least favorite song is Amy, I. APers seem to like it, and Andrew himself seems to enjoy it but I find it bland. However, People Running more than makes up for that. It’s as if Bruce Springsteen wrote a Jack’s Mannequin song. The bridge, while minimalist, is one the album’s highlights. This is followed by Amelia Jean, which boasts one of the albums best choruses and really exemplifies how good Andrew’s more abstract lyricism can be. Platform Fire and Hostage help make the album’s second half the better of the two. Restless Dream is the most unprecedented song on People, featuring no Piano. Surprisingly, it works well. This was the song that actually helped me first appreciate Andrew’s progress, and it’s one of my favorites along with People Running and Television. The latter is the best song in the set, combining elements of U2 and 80’s synth pop to form a song that is stadium ready. Finally, Casting Lines has been heralded by anamericangod. Though, I don’t totally understand his love for it nicely ties together an album filled with artistic risks to remind us that at the end of the day, Andrew McMahon knows how to write a pop song. Despite all his progression, some things will never change.

Favorite tracks: Television, People Running, Restless Dream

Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire [My Choice]

Dan: I’ve never loved a Ryan Adams album even remotely as much as his debut solo album “Heartbreaker.” Every time I listen to something of his that has come out since then I find myself pretty disappointed. Even “Gold” and “Love is Hell,” two of his other more acclaimed albums, have been very inconsistent in my opinion. I was hoping that “Ashes and Fire” would break that trend but sadly I was left feeling the exact same way.

The first thing I thought when “Dirty Rain” started is how nice his vocals sound. The organ was nice and the entire song was really…nice. Maybe I expect more from Ryan Adams but I was slightly underwhelmed by the song as the opener. “Ashes and Fire” kicks in afterward and it’s in the vein of the quality that I know he is capable of. It is one of the more upbeat songs on the record, with catchy verses and a memorable chorus. “Come Home” is next. This song was pretty cheesy. It sounds exactly like any stereotypical ‘teenage movie make-out song’ and a million other songs you’ve already heard.

“Rocks” is a relatively strong track. The ‘rocks’ metaphor, which in theory could be quite cliché, actually works. The falsetto chorus proves to be one of the most memorable ones on the album. “Do I Wait,” the album’s best song, comes next. If you don’t take into account the increased production value the song would fit very nicely on “Heartbreaker.” The end of the song has a beautiful part where Ryan repeats ‘Do I Wait?’ over increasingly loud instruments. It sounds amazing and is one of the few completely inspired moments on the entire album.

“Chains of Love” and “Invisible Riverside” are both completely disposable. Thankfully, the last four songs are better. “Save Me” is another song that I like, but it’s not particularly memorable. I’ve always liked Ryan Adams best when he’s sad, but “Save Me” gives off the impression that he’s just being sad for the sake of it. Lyrically, it just talks about needing someone to save him, but from what? Maybe you don’t need any reason for saving other than that you are unhappy, but I couldn’t really connect with the song because it seemed too directionless. The next three songs end the album in an above average fashion; however, none of them are especially gripping. Yes, “Kindness” and “Lucky Now” are pretty good songs, but with all the good music coming out this year I don’t find myself coming back to them very often.

So there you go, I’ve found another Ryan Adams that I enjoy, with a few very strong songs, a few weak ones, and a lot that are just ‘okay.’ With all of the great music I’ve heard this year there’s no way this album will make it into my top 10 list at the end of it. But, if you’re a fan of Ryan Adams and have enjoyed what he’s done in the past, you will enjoy “Ashes and Fire” to an extent.

Favorite tracks: Do I Wait, Ashes and Fire, Lucky Now

Ethan: I really haven’t listened to much Ryan Adams. At Dan’s insistence I downloaded the critically (and AP) acclaimed Heartbreaker. As an angst ridden 20 something, I enjoy that record. Ryan displayed an ease and self-awareness that was refreshing. He was a fucked up miserable and entirely badass rock star, who’s song writing was founded in folk music. It was a lethal blend. Apparently, though, Adams has grown up in the past 11 years. His angst has all but disappeared on this record, and really all that remains is his folk roots. For a long time I didn’t like this record. It seemed boring and safe. It wasn’t until I took a walk in the rain that I figured out why it’s great.

This album is NOT an album to drive to. You could maybe listen to it while riding the bus. At best, if you want to experience this album in motion, take a walk. Adams has a knack for writing music that soundtracks your life. It’s more about feel than what he’s actually saying. For a lyric fanatic like myself, this seemingly should be the kiss of death for any album. This isn’t the case. At least not for Ashes and Fire. This album is for Friday evenings spent with a bottle of red or Sunday mornings spent dozing in bed. There are very few upbeat rock songs. The title track and Chains of Love are about the closest you’ll get to Heartbreaker here, and they sound next to nothing like Heartbreaker. Nevertheless, they are both great songs. Ashes and Fire in particular would work nicely in a Wes Anderson flick. Chains of Love with its string section doesn’t really flow with the album, but its production is great. The soul of this album, though, is in the slow and midtempo jams.

Ashes and Fire has the ability to do one of two things, depending on your current relationship status. If you’re taken, it gives you the ability to get drunk as hell and spend an evening slow dancing in the living room with your significant other. If you are single, it has the ability to break your heart as you lay in bed wishing you were dancing. Do I Wait and Dirty Rain are both good examples of this. They can break your heart in one context or be extremely comforting in another. This is also true of I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say, which is a particular highlight of the album and proceeded to make me extremely sad on my rainy stroll. Then of course there is lead single Lucky Now, which sounds single-y. It’s a good song, it’s no To Be Young, but it’s good.

While I enjoy the album I have made a point of not discussing the lyrics. They’re pretty bland or cheesy (I’m looking at you Come Home), and they were the reason I originally thought this record was little more than fodder for the OC-esque closing scenes. However an interesting progression arising in the time between Heartbreaker and Ashes is Adams upper register vocals, which are reminiscent of Neil Young; in a good way. Dude’s got that white man folk soul, and just as his first album suggest, he can (and probably will) break your heart.

Favorite tracks: Ashes and Fire, Do I Wait, I Love You But I Dont Know What To Say
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The Double Feature: Mutemath + I Am The Avalanche
11/01/11 at 04:25 PM by danman
My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I love to talk about music. We thought it'd be fun to each choose an album every week that neither of us had heard, listen to it, and post our thoughts in a blog for (probably) no one to read. There's really no criteria for what we choose other than that it's something new for the both of us. So here it goes, enjoy!

Ethan's thoughts can be found here.

Week 1

Mutemath - Odd Soul [Ethan's Choice]

Mutemath is a band that I had never listened to, but was one that I'd heard tons of praise about. When Ethan chose this album I was pretty excited, as they're a band that I had been telling myself to check out but never actually did. It definitely takes a few listens to digest (at over 50 minutes it’s no quick listen), but once you do, you realize the album is quite good.

I’ll start off by saying that the first three tracks are all great songs. “Odd Soul” is an energetic track that gives the listener a pretty good idea of what’s about to come. The chorus is extremely catchy and it’s a song that I keep coming back to. “Prytania” is the next song and it begins with interesting drumming that immediately impressed me; in fact, the drumming throughout the entire record is always quite strong. “Prytania” is easily one of the standout songs. First single “Blood Pressure” follows, and it is a gem. It has an amazing bass riff and catchy chorus. It is basically the perfect single.

“Allies” is another one of my favorite tracks. For some reason I picture it as the perfect ‘soundtrack song’ to the coolest movie I’ve ever seen. It would make a great single, and it’d be extremely fun to see live. “Equals” is another strong track, and along with “One More” it supplies a strong one-two punch near the end of the album. “Equals” leads seamlessly into “Quarantine,” a 7-minute epic that is oddly placed as the second-last song on the album (it would have been a fitting closer with its extended instrumental outro). The band instead chooses to close with “In No Time,” a song that is unique as it is the one ‘slower’ song on the album. It’s refreshing to hear the band try something different, and the chorus is actually quite calming and beautiful. It is probably my favorite track.

The weaker tracks include the unmemorable “Sunray,” “Heads Up,” and “Walking Paranoia.” One of my main flaws with this album is the extent to which the songs all sound relatively similar. On the first few listens, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the songs as you are getting through it. Those three songs, in particular, bring nothing new or exciting to the table. With an album as long as this, all three of those songs could’ve been demoted to ‘b-side status.’

As a whole, I was really impressed with Odd Soul. I’m not too sure where it will rank at the end of the year compared to the rest of the albums I have heard, but it is definitely worth a listen if this type of music if your thing.

Ethan's favorite tracks: Allies, Odd Soul, Quarantine
My favorite tracks: In No Time, Blood Pressure, Allies

I Am The Avalanche - Avalanche United [My Choice]

I had also never listened to I Am The Avalanche before, but Drew Beringer’s review on this website got me interested. After a few weeks with it, I can confidently say that this is one of my favorite albums of the year.

The record begins with “Holy Fuck,” and after my first listen I was already hooked. The buildup in the bridge that leads into Vinnie screaming the final chorus just sounds so huge. “Brooklyn Dodgers” follows, and it has one of the most instantly memorable chorus’ of the record. There’s no way you won’t be singing along to the ‘hey, hey’ part in the bridge, and there’s no way this song won’t be stuck in your head long after you listen to it. Next up is “Amsterdam,” which is one of my favorites. The bridge that leads into the guitar solo is probably my favorite part of the entire album. It just sounds so passionate and it’s exactly the type of thing I look for when listening to this type of music.

Other album highlights include “I’ll Be Back Around,” “This One’s On Me,” “You’ve Got Spiders,” and “Casey’s Song.” “This One’s On Me” is all about the importance of friends and family and is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard all year. The cheers that accompany the opening bass riff make you think the band were having tons of fun recording it. “You’ve Got Spiders” is 2 minutes of the pure pop-punk (emphasis on the punk) bliss, and I imagine that it would tons of fun to see live. Closer “Gratitude” is another strong song and it ends the album on a high note. The last minute of the song, for lack of a better phrase, is epic as shit.

The album is not without it’s faults. “Dead Friends” is not particularly memorable, and even a cool guest-vocal from Anthony Raneri (of Bayside) doesn’t save “The Gravedigger’s Argument” from mediocrity. “The Place You Love Is Gone” is another relatively weak track. With that being said, I wouldn't consider any of the songs bad. I find still find myself enjoying even the weakest songs on the album to an extent and I rarely skip anything.

So, despite those flaws, I was extremely impressed with Avalanche United. There's no doubt in my mind that it's going to rank among my favorite albums of the year and I'd highly recommend it.

Ethan's favorite tracks: This One's On Me, Brooklyn Dodgers, Amsterdam
My favorite tracks: Amsterdam, This One's On Me, You've Got Spiders
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