After Thanksgiving: Two Albums

The week after Thanksgiving is never a pleasant one. It means back to work or back to school for most folks. It means leaving the comfort of family and the delights of copious amounts of food. I found myself dragging quite a bit these last two days, but then miraculously, not one but two much-needed miracles landed in my lap. Or in my ears. Or something.

I’ll preface this very briefly by saying this: I love live recordings. I love session recordings of music that’s already been released. I especially like when these are done not only well, but fantastically well. These recordings give you an insight not only into how the band sounds when they come out of the studio, but also what songs sound like after a band or artist has had the opportunity to sit with them for a year or two or four and let them gently evolve.

The two “miracles” that were released this week are, as far as I’m concerned, two of the best releases of the year.

The first is the iTunes session release from The Head and the Heart. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this band, and this release does not disappoint. It combines new recordings of some of their best songs (Rivers and Roads, Down in the Valley) with alternate versions of tracks from their debut album, as well as a pair of new releases. All of it is phenomenal, and a must have for fans of The Head and the Heart. If you aren’t already a fan – I suggest you buy their debut album, soak in all of its delights, then purchase this iTunes session and appreciate it in its entirety. For your convenience, I’ll even include the link to both their debut album and the new iTunes session!

The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

The Head and the Heart – iTunes Session

The second album, which arrived today, is one of the most astonishing live albums to be released this year. Joe Pug, one of the most entrancing young singer/songwriters around right now, released a live album recorded in Chicago at Lincoln Hall in April. It spans the majority of his discography, with the added bonus of an incredible cover (Tex Thomas) and a wonderful guest appearance (by Strand of Oaks). The most amazing part of this album is the opportunity to listen to live, intimate performances of tracks that Pug has had in his repertoire for 4 or 5 years now, I believe. Hymn 101, Nation of Heat, and Hymn 35 are all performed with such care, such deep commitment, and such understanding that I found myself in tears driving home in the dark. Yeah, that beautiful. Also, whoever recorded this did a phenomenal job, as it is one of the best live recordings I’ve heard in years. If you don’t know who Joe Pug is, or you just haven;t had a chance to hear this album yet – take a trip over to his website (www.joepugmusic.com) and check it out. Oh, did I mention this 17 track live album is only $5? Yeah, head on over and pick it up – you absolutely won’t be disappointed.

I hope these take you through the post-Thanksgiving doldrums and lead you happily to the rest of the holiday season!

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Thanksgiving: The 5 Albums I’m Most Thankful For (2011)

So, it’s Thanksgiving, and prior to feasting on copious amounts of food and seeing family and friends I wanted to look back at this year and use this opportunity to highlight the 5 albums that really meant the most to me this year. We saw a lot of new releases from bands across the spectrum since January, so picking five has truly been a labor of love.

(These are in order, from best to well, fifth best.)

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

As a follow-up to the breathtaking debut album For Emma, Forever Ago this record absolutely proved that Justin Vernon can take Bon Iver wherever he wants – the sky’s the limit. Where For Emma was lonely and painful and a perfect winter album, this album is a soaring, expansive endeavor into an ethereal summer journey, and proved to be undoubtedly my most listened to album through the summer months.

Standout tracks: Holocene, Hinnom, TX, and Towers

2. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

This long awaited follow-up to Fleet Foxes’ debut album does not disappoint. From the opening track, it is very clear that while this album is still very much a Fleet Foxes album, it stretches boundaries, takes extraordinary risks, and expands the core Fleet Foxes sound into uncharted territory. On top of all those things, it’s just downright fun to listen to. Like, really, really fun. I wasn’t sure this album could live up to the expectations, but it met them and surpassed them.

Standout tracks: Sim Sala Bim, Helplessness Blues, Lorelai

3. City and Colour – Little Hell

There’s not a whole lot to say about this album. It’s Dallas Green doing what he does best. Passionate, deeply resonant, well written songs and Green’s grittily beautiful voice giving each song exactly the weight and tone they deserve. It’s clear that Green put his heart and soul into this album, and then took the time to make sure it was perfect. A must have from this year, no doubt.

Standout tracks: Little Hell, O’ Sister, At The Bird’s Foot (vocal)

4. The Decemberists – The King is Dead

For most of the year I truly believed this would be knocked off my top 5 list. At first listen, I felt a bit like I was getting a watered-down Decemberists, so intent on making a “successful” Americana album that they lost the joyful spirit that made them so enjoyable in the past. As months passed, however, I found myself coming back to this album over and over, finding new, exciting moments in each listen. It has become abundantly clear to me that this album has a staying power that I didn’t initially anticipate. It earns it’s place as an album representing a new chapter in The Decemberists’ phenomenal career.

Standout tracks – Down by the Water, June Hymn, This is why we Fight

5. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

This was probably the most complicated decision, but this album earned this spot against all odds. It’s a genre I rarely listen to (dream-pop/electronic), from an artist I had never heard of, and it’s essentially an ambient music album, but it’s just SO good. This is probably the second easiest album of the year to turn on track one and forget what you were doing until the last moments of the outro. It’s beautiful, it’s magical, and it transcends the limits of electronic-pop in a way that astounds me – the only contemporary comparison I can draw is to James Blake. Anyway, It’s a phenomenal album and deserves a place on this list.

Standout tracks – Just listen to the album straight through.

Honorable mentions:

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Feist – Metals

If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing these albums yet this year, you still have a month left! Go out, eat your turkey and stuffing, come home and buy some new music!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Lumineers

I occasionally acquire music in such a flurry that I forget to listen to all of it. As I was scrolling through my Ipod yesterday, I came across one such band that had slipped past me in the midst of a furious downloading spree from Daytrotter. (If you haven’t checked Daytrotter out, you should – more on this in a later post.)

So, when I noticed The Lumineers on my Ipod, I figured i should give ’em a shot; I needed something new to listen to. From the first chords of “Flowers in Your Hair” I was absolutely hooked. I’m a sucker for clever, passionate lyrics – throw two talented vocalists behind said lyrics and you have the beginnings of a recipe for addiction.

The Denver based band lists influences ranging from the Cold War Kids to Fleet Foxes, and their unique sound reflects their willingness to engage different elements of all of their influences. The final product is a joyful amalgamation of folk, rock, and foot-stomping Americana.

While their first full-length doesn’t arrive until early next year – check out their Daytrotter session (The Lumineers), and this fun video of them playing a house show in Colorado.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

Welcome to my new home!

So, as some of you may know, I’ve been writing blog posts about music for a bit now – but it’s been in a bit of an unorganized and unpublishable way. I hope to change that here. I’ll be starting to transfer over old stuff, as well as posting new stuff, and hopefully along the way you might find some new music that means as much to you as it does to me.

Here goes nothing!