December 31, 2012

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2012

Another year of music has come and gone, dense with wonder and goodness. I can’t possibly articulate the qualitatively-best albums of the year, but I can mentally categorize into my favorites (something that has been a hot discussion topic this week with my musical friends). These are my favorite albums that were released in 2012 — tallied in a scientific manner of how long it took me to take the record off repeat. When I love something, I tend to love music furiously and unrelentingly, listening to it on repeat for weeks and months until I get sick of it. I’m not sick of any of these wonderful records yet, and in fact they keep getting better the more I listen.

Here are my favorite ten albums of 2012, in alphabetical order by artist. Take a listen: there are some wonderful things here you might have missed.



FUEL/FRIENDS TOP TEN FAVORITES OF 2012

Like a fire that consumes all before it…
Adam Arcuragi (Thirty Tigers)

Ohhhh, this record. This is a strong, rootsy, growly record that is also stunningly beautiful. Philadelphia “death gospel” musician Adam Arcuragi sings from the very base of his guts, with his head back and his heart forward. Singing along with him and his Lupine Chorale Society (from lupo, the latin word for wolf) during their chapel session, with my head back and heart forward as well, was a highlight of the year for me in terms of the soul elevation, something that this music has in loads. This was definitely one for much-needed replenishment this year.

Oh, I See – Adam Arcuragi



Break It Yourself
Andrew Bird (Mom+Pop Records)

Andrew Bird has made a spry, elegant record, full of darting violin, freewheeling gypsy stomping, lugubrious plucking, and his famous whistling in true virtuoso style. It is also a complicated record: best listened to as a whole, complete with the interspersed short musical interlude songs that pepper through the larger orchestral numbers. It feels like a journey. Songs like “Lazy Projector” soundtracked long hot summer nights for me, and into the winter this record has continued to be one I reach for often.

Lusitania (feat. St Vincent) – Andrew Bird



Barchords
Bahamas (Brushfire Records)

Afie Jurvanen cut his musical touring teeth with Feist and the Broken Social Scene kids, and is now on his second record of his own songs. This record is brimming with charm and a sort of playfulness that draws on old Sun-Studios session sounds, lots of golden space and reverb in the room, and so hard not to move your hips back and forth. Afie’s voice is so warm and honeyed (he’s on the super-shortlist for Chapel Sessions in 2013) that this record is completely irresistible.

Lost In The Light – Bahamas



I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Cold Specks (Arts & Crafts)

This feels like a hard-fought record, wrought by a voice who deserves to be around for a very long time. Al Spx’s voice is transfixing, and resonates with this timeless gospel weight that seems to know more than her 24 years should allow. Her video for “Holland” is one of the most perfect things to happen in a long time, visually weaving together the decay and the growth, the chaos and the intention. There is immense power in this record. When she sings: “I am, I am / I am, I am a goddamned believer,” it’s as if she is trying to convince herself, maybe. Sometimes it is hard to be a believer, goddamit. She gets it.

Blank Maps – Cold Specks



Maraqopa
Damien Jurado (Secretly Canadian)

There is a ghostly swing to this record, the twelfth (depending on how you count) from the insanely talented and insanely prolific Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado. It’s haunting and flawless all at once, with the echo of rain on the roof and children singing in chorus – it is as unsettling and it is perfectly incisive. Another Jurado collaboration with Richard Swift, this record is so full of goodness (“I want you and the skyline / these are my demands.” ??? COME ON) that it is almost too powerful some days.

Museum of Flight – Damien Jurado



Field Report
Field Report (Partisan Records)

One summer night at 3am, I found myself sitting up with Field Report around my kitchen table, talking about songwriting and art and intentionality (and reading this Annie Dillard essay aloud – thanks, Jonathan). The more I heard Chris Porterfield talk about his songs, giving even small insights into them, the more I decided that this record resonates with the way my brain sees stories unfold in the world. It’s breathtaking. This album feels, to me, like an insistent wrestling with fever dreams, the small failings that slice at us, and the things we wanted and meant to do, but somehow got lost along the way. The words unravel for me like rich poems, to roll over and over in my head, hearing new things each time. Field Report is an anagram of Chris Porterfield, a Wisconsin musician who was once in the band DeYarmond Edison with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and the Megafaun guys, and he has now crafted a record of his own. These songs took him years to wrestle out, and I am so glad he kept fighting.

(Watch for the chapel session in a week or so!)

Fergus Falls – Field Report



The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple (Clean Slate / Epic)

Man, this record. The piece of writing I worked out about it earlier this month says exactly what I want to say:

What I hear when I listen to this record is a ragged bravery, a loose-knuckled grip on any sort of stability, and a gorgeous musical honesty. It’s a complicated, outstanding record. Fiona wheels and rages and turns her scalpel alternately fiercely in on herself and outward on a lover (who she calls out by name, more than once). It feels much more raw and bloody than previous records, as she continues to push forward with letting classical prettiness go. I think that notion alone deserves a slow clap, in a society that tends to prefer our ladyfolk a bit more decorous and docile.
[more]

Werewolf – Fiona Apple



Isaac Pierce EP
Isaac Pierce / Ten Speed Music (self-released)

This humble, perfect record landed softly on my ears on Easter morning, as the world was waking up. Isaac Pierce crafts songs out of Seattle that meander and drift, thoughtfully probing before landing perfectly where they need to be. He is a songwriter who taps into the exact same navigation my brain steers by, and this EP is deeply satisfying. “We get to be alive / sleep on your porch tonight / with certain distant songs playing, remind me to thank you for bringing us out here just in time…” All bruises heal.

Isaac is playing a house show for me THIS Wednesday, on January 2, with The Changing Colors (chapel session alums from early on) and Mike Clark (whose “Smooth Sailin’” track started and titled my Summer 2012 mix). You really, really should come.

Warm Bruise – Isaac Pierce



Lonesome Dreams
Lord Huron (IAMSOUND)

This is a slowly-building, warmly calescent record that totally took me by surprise by how much and how quickly I adored it. I think this record is what a roadtrip might sound like across the West Texas desert if I brought Fleet Foxes along in the bed of my pickup truck, and added some warm Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms.

Time To Run – Lord Huron



Tramp
Sharon Van Etten (Jagjaguwar)

This is an album of heft and grief, but also of a hovering loveliness. You don’t often get those two together because the one usually crushes the other. Sharon balances both. This record strips and excoriates me, which sounds terrible but is the exact opposite: the type of brave catharsis that is so exquisitely and purely crafted that it makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Her songs wrestle with the desire to love as new as she can, despite her scars, and often start quiet and thoughtfully but crescendo into a hurricane. This is a tremendous, tremendous album.

All I Can – Sharon Van Etten



TWO OTHER THINGS:

Most Important Song of 2012:
“Same Love,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Because of this:



New Artist I Am Most Excited About in 2013: Night Beds

Because of a voice like this:

In the old tunnels off Gold Camp Road in Western Colorado Springs, Winston Yellen of Night Beds (debut record out February 5 on Dead Oceans) covered 1950s chanteuse Jo Stafford last night, illuminated by the car headlights.

The first Fuel/Friends Tunnel Session, and a pretty damn good way to end 2012.

September 19, 2012

Win tickets to Ben Howard and Michael Kiwanuka

Two absolutely phenomenal shows from the Communion Records family in London are coming through Denver a day apart from each other at the end of September, and Fuel/Friends is excited to get to give away a pair of tickets to each!

Ben Howard is playing the gorgeous Boulder Theater in a (sold-out) show on September 29 with Marcus Foster. He was on my spring mix with the glorious, slow-building warmth of “Old Pine,” and also added his unique spin on that cover of “Call Me Maybe.”

Michael Kiwanuka is playing the next night, September 30, at the Fox Theatre with Bahamas. All of these things are good on so many levels; Michael Kiwanuka blew me away at SXSW this past March, and he was on my summer mix. That new Bahamas record has been on constant rotation (and I also love his first album, still listening to it regularly).

WIN TICKETS! Please leave a comment on this post with an interesting fact about something cool. Also indicate which show you are entering for! I will pick a random winner for each concert sometime in the middle of next week.



As a reminder, here is what happens when all these folks make music together. Communion Records is so squarely in my wheelhouse, just curating some of the best music out there lately:


(Filmed at Cacophony Recorders, Austin TX during SXSW Communion Records artists Michael Kiwanuka, Ben Howard with his band, India and Chris, Ben Lovett, The Staves and Johannes from Bear’s Den jam to John Martyn’s ‘Over The Hill.’)



And a feature from NME about the ethos and philosophy behind Communion Records with founders of the label: Kev Jones (who took me out for lovely pints in London in November) and Ben Lovett from Mumford and Sons.

You might want to check out Communion’s New Faces record, to see what other goodness they have waiting in the wings.

March 11, 2012

my SXSW shortlist & top picks

In addition to apparently torrential rain at SXSW Interactive this week (which my hair is SUPER EXCITED ABOUT), the torrent of people are already flooding into the city in preparation for our annual music sleep-away camp.

The music portion starts on Wednesday, and I’ll be heading down tomorrow for my panel on Tuesday morning at 9:30m (Man vs Machine: New Music Discovery).

I always try to brace myself with a shortlist of bands that I’d like to try to see in all the wonderful madness; here are my personal picks for SXSW 2012, if you are culling through the listings too.



WATERS
The new band from Port O’Brien‘s Van Pierszalowski, whose last name I almost just spelled right without googling. This band is freshly melodic but also with enough grit and winsomely awkward rock to make me feel like I am back in high school, in the best possible way. Pretty sure Van also loves Pavement and Violent Femmes like I do.



Imagine Dragons
Because: stomp/clap.



You Won’t
I am overdue a full post about these guys, because I’m gaga over their debut album. Some days lately I just stream it on repeat, in anticipation of springtime exploding for real. Reminds me of Deer Tick sitting in front a dusty piano, in sunny Sunday morning church, in 1960.



Cold Specks
I wrote about this Canadian artist (on Arts & Crafts/Mute) in December and was thrilled over the sounds of the few clips I could find. I just listened to her full debut album last week and HO-LY CRAP; it was everything I’d hoped for. A formidable new talent, raw and perfect.



Frank Turner
One of my favorite albums of last year, I yelped in delight when I found out last week that England’s Frank Turner is going to be in Austin, and make me sweat and yell along and all will be right in Austin for an hour.



Sharon Van Etten
Her new album Tramp is devastating and smart, wry and rich, and almost too potent to listen to. All the best things.



Pickwick
My friends from Seattle should take over the world with their sweet soul music, even just based on the merits of Galen’s voice — before you even add in how fantastic the rest of the band is.



The Allah-Las
Produced by the dynamic Nick Waterhouse (and having a downright fantastic band name), these dudes make old-school, straight up surf music that should be exceedingly fun live.



Alabama Shakes
Because:



Of Monsters & Men
When I first wrote about this Icelandic band, I said “Imagine if Sigur Ros and Arcade Fire made babies, and sent them to live in that big house in Portland with Typhoon.” How could anyone NOT want to see that live?



Bahamas
Afie Jurvanen’s new record is this radiant, warmly glowing gem, and he’s playing at midnight in a church. Sold.



Let’s do this.

April 27, 2011

every night when i lay you down

Bahamas is the musical name of Afie Jurvanen, and I fell for the sweetly anachronistic tint to this performance that could have been pulled out of a night that happened two generations ago. It’s M. Ward’s slow-burn warmth meets the swaggery drawl of Jason Collett.

Hockey Teeth (live on Southern Souls) – Bahamas



His bluesy, understated album Pink Strat is out now on Brushfire Records, and features both Leslie Feist (he was her guitarist, she sings on two tracks) and members of the Great Lake Swimmers. Cover love! Feist is fond of covering his “Sunshine Blues,” and the album closes with this cover of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” — also where he took his band name from.

“Maybe she’s in the Bahamas…”

Whole Wide World (Wreckless Eric) – Bahamas



BAHAMAS TOUR DATES
w/ Noah & The Whale

May 24 – San Deigo Women’s Club, San Diego, CA
May 25 – El Rey Theater – Los Angeles, CA
May 26 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
May 27 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
May 29 – Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR
May 31 – Biltmore Cabaret – Vancouver, BC
June 2 – Club Sound – Salt Lake City, UT
June 3 – The Fox Theatre – Boulder, CO
June 4 – Bluebird Theater – Denver, CO
June 6 – Santa Fe Brewing Co. – Santa Fe, NM
June 8 – The Parish – Austin, TX
June 9 – The Parish – Austin, TX
June 10 – Club Dada – Dallas, TX
June 11 – Fitzgerald’s Upstairs – Houston, TX
June 13 – One Eyed Jacks – New Orleans, LA
June 15 – Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
June 16 – Lincoln Theater – Raleigh, NC
June 17 – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC
June 18 – Irving Plaza – New York, NY

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. If you represent an artist or a label and would prefer that I remove a link to an mp3, please email me at browneheather@gmail.com

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