December 17, 2010

watch the circles take you home

admiral fallow

I have two musical items that I would like to share with you tonight related to Admiral Fallow, a sextet from Glasgow that I’ve just been introduced to. This band couples winsomely intelligent, sharply evocative lyrics with ambling orchestral builds — starring both clarinets and foot-stomping in equal measure.

admiral fallowThere is an immediately warm similarity to countrymates Frightened Rabbit, and in fact the two will be sharing the stage on several dates this spring. The Admiral Fallow debut album Boots Met My Face will be re-released in March 2011. It’s spun together both fine and real.

Squealing Pigs – Admiral Fallow

You’ll probably be singing along with that song after two or three listens, like I was. You can stream the whole album on Bandcamp; I am particularly captivated by their songs “Subbuteo,” and “Taste The Coast,” — even though the latter may have been written about a cold northern sea five thousand miles from my home near the coast of California, I feel the same way they do about the salty air. The clever simile-lover and poetry-reader in me also stopped short over the song “Dead Against Smoking,” in which a woman with skin the color of a violet golden sky, and inspires this striking chorus:

You’re like gasoline.
You’re like the willow tree.
You’re like a split screen.
But you’re the green in me.

I’m a sucker.

Second item of note: Admiral Fallow frontman Louis Abbott (below in the stripes) recently took part in this rad mini-movement in Glasgow where the city’s finest folk musicians do “wee jaunts,” playing a number of short shows en masse in completely unlikely places, like restrooms, subways, and stairwells. This made me laugh in utter delight; they sound so joyous covering Bon Iver, with their voices reverberating all around them.

I’m on my seventh eighteenth time watching it.

For Emma (Bon Iver) – Admiral Fallow & Blochestra

November 25, 2010

broken hearts and dirty windows

broken hearts and dirty windows

I started my morning with a hearty sing-in-the-shower rendition of “Angel From Montgomery” (those acoustics!) in the sticky warmth of Florida, and am ending it tonight back in the ten degree weather in clear cold Colorado. My sister asked over coffee what song I had been singing, and a discussion on John Prine followed. John Prine has stuck in my mind today, all his perfect lyrical constructions and simple folk truth, and was the soundtrack to my flight home this evening (while I finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and openly cried fat hot tears on the plane, but hey that’s another story).

If you own an old pickup truck (or can borrow one) to traverse some dusty roads in the countryside, this year’s Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows compilation of John Prine covers sounds especially good. The title of the album comes from the 1972 song “Souvenirs” (“Broken hearts and dirty windows / make life difficult to see”), and I’ve been meaning to mention this comp for months. The whole record is obviously rich because of the fodder to work with and the superb gathering of artists contributing, but I think Conor Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band contribute my favorite cover of the bunch:

My car is stuck in Washington and I cannot find out why
Come sit beside me on the swing and watch the angels cry
It’s anybody’s ballgame, it’s everybody’s fight
And the streetlamp said as he nodded his head
It’s lonesome out tonight

Stylistically this absolutely fits in with the rollicking twang of their own compositions on 2008′s Outer South, and Conor’s caged, restless energy shines through brilliantly.

But there are so many great tracks on this collection, from the Avett Brothers singin’ about blowing up your TV and moving to the country, to Josh Ritter’s “Mexican Home” (which I got to see him perform live in Telluride), to My Morning Jacket’s “All The Best” (reminiscent of the golden buoyancy of the track they contributed to the I’m Not There soundtrack). Add to that a glowing Justin Vernon, the pensive Justin Townes Earle, the heartbreak of Deer Tick, then pin it all together with Prine’s first-rate songwriting and I am sold.

Stream the whole thing and buy it over on Bandcamp for just ten bucks. They’ve got it tagged with classifications of “indie, Nashville.” Sounds about right to me.

My only frown came from the fact that no one covered “Speed of The Sound of Loneliness,” my favorite Prine tune. Luckily Amos Lee did a perfect one in 2003:

Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness (John Prine) – Amos Lee

April 14, 2010

Come on ease your worried mind


Monday night I ran smack into some musical magic, that kind that keeps me going and replenishes me.

After a kinetic supernova of a house show at the Team Gigbot HQ House with the guys in These United States, I skittered on over to the Megafaun show at the Larimer Lounge. Since I got sidetracked up on rooftops on the way over there, I only caught the last few songs of Megafaun’s set. These former bandmates of Bon Iver rock the same lumberjack/Deliverance chic, resonating with beautiful songs like this one:

Worried Mind – Megafaun

It’s a timeless song, like campfires, or gospel. They performed “Worried Mind” for the final encore, extinguishing out all the lights and joining us off the stage in the audience.

I didn’t get any postable video because it was black as night, with just the twinkling Christmas lights strung around the stage. But what made it remarkable was how everyone in the venue sang along loudly and confidently, growing in volume each time we circled back through: “Come on ease your mind, ohhhhh come on ease your mind…” It did, in fact, ease any worries I might have had ricocheting around in my brain — there always seem to be a few.

gather form and fly - megafaun I knew the words to sing from last year’s chill-inducing video of Megafaun performing it with Bon Iver in a Hollywood cemetery at sunrise, but this was an unexpectedly visceral experience — all mine, ringing in my ears and all around me.

Their second album Gather, Form, and Fly is out now on Hometapes Records.

Apr 15 – Tractor Tavern – Seattle, Washington
Apr 16 – Media Club – Vancouver, British Columbia
Apr 17 – Mississippi Studios – Portland, Oregon
Apr 18 – Sam Bonds Garage – Eugene, Oregon
Apr 19 – Sophia’s Thai Kitchen – Davis, California
Apr 20 – The Independent – San Francisco, California
Apr 21 – The Echo – Los Angeles, California
Apr 22 – Hotel Congress – Tucson, Arizona
Apr 23 – The Sail Inn – Tempe, Arizona
Apr 24 – Low Spirits – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Apr 26 – Hailey’s – Denton, Texas
Apr 27 – Emo’s Inside – Austin, Texas
Apr 28 – Rudyards – Houston, Texas
Apr 30 – Bottletree – Birmingham, Alabama
May 1 – The Earl – Atlanta
May 7 – Cats Cradle – Carrboro, North Carolina

Oh! Bonus! While googling for related videos, I turned up this amazing clip of Megafaun and The Tallest Man On Earth covering Bon Iver:

PS – best comment on the page? ” I love that The Tallest Man On Earth is the shortest person in the video.”

[link to FB photos above from the These United States house show by the talented Sarah Law]

September 28, 2009

and in the morning i’ll be with you (but it’ll be a different kind)

As the sun cracked up over the California horizon Sunday morning, I lay cuddled under a warm blanket a few states over, but amidst the palm trees and the eerie fog, my friend Dainon sent me a cell phone snap and then stood in the grey morning light filming this opening number in a Hollywood cemetery:

I’ve been watching every video I can find of Bon Iver‘s sunrise show, which surely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can’t think of an artist I’d rather hear while wrapped in a sleeping bag, sleepily smiling through thick fog as the sky turned pink (watch the rosy color change from the beginning to end of “Skinny Love”). It’s enough to give me all kinds of chills.

Dainon ends his review with recounting:

“How about we do this all again sometime?” Justin says, pausing. After some thought, he follows with: “No, how about we never do it again? How about that?” If he sealed his band’s fate with those words, you know? That’ll do.

EDIT: This is magical, especially the end.
(more wonderful vids)

Worried Mind – Megafaun

[full review]

Tagged with , .
July 12, 2009

Blinded, I am blindsided :: Bon Iver and The Wheel in Denver last night


I’ve never heard the Ogden Theatre held so tightly under a blanket of silent reverence as it was last night for the Bon Iver show, with Denver’s marvelous The Wheel opening. Some said you could have heard a pin drop at the sold-out show, on one of the most sweltering nights of the summer so far.

There is pure, unfettered, urgent, honest magic in the music of Bon Iver, there is no denying that. For an album that some think of as hushed acoustic woodland grieving, there is also a lot of potential for a live show that rages like a howling river. First off: the man travels with two drummers. That alone is enough to win my heart completely. The songs grow and explode live, and knock you off your feet. Justin excoriates with his guitar freakouts, and pounds on his keys. It’s a cavalcade of something intensely real.


Taking the stage with fluffy longer hair that grows even more majestic when illuminated by golden spotlight from above, Justin sat down and the crowd was immediately silent, waiting. He started the set the same way the album begins, with the opening strums of “Flume”: I am my mother’s only one. It’s enough. Thirty seconds in and we already have a lump in the throat here — that’s one of my absolute favorite lyrics he’s written, for quiet personal reasons. From there, he led into an extended, experimental intro to “Lump Sum,” and as the meandering faded away, the familiar, pulsing melody drew us back and it felt so right.

Flume (Daytrotter version) – Bon Iver
Lump Sum (MOKB/Laundromatinee version) – Bon Iver (via)

After a jawdropping, electrified ending to “Creature Fear,” someone down front with me yelled, “You’re a genius!” to which Justin quickly shot back, “You’re drunk,” as he smiled. But I would agree with gentleman #1 in the audience — it was an exceptional, gorgeous show. I knew what to expect, I’d been exposed to his music live before, and he still blew me away, absolutely.

With only one album and an EP to draw from, Justin laughingly promised as he tuned his guitar between songs, “We’re gonna play all the songs we know tonight, let’s put it that way.” And they did – as well as “Brackett, WI” from the Dark Was The Night compilation, and a Jayhawks cover, among others.

In a moment of humble and unaffected loveliness, the Jayhawks song they covered was “Tampa to Tulsa” (from their 2003 album Rainy Day Music) during the encore, with the band sitting around a single center microphone. Watch what I saw:

The night ended with  the loudest singalong I’ve ever personally been a part of, of “Wolves (Part I and II)”. By that point I was standing in the back near the fresh air and relief from the sweltering heat inside. Usually, the back of the club is where the talkers and chatty drinkers congregate, but as Justin urged us to sing along to “what might have been lost,” I looked around and every single person I could see was singing their heart out into the humid darkness, many with eyes closed. That song crests like a huge wave, and as both drummers pounded their hardest, each beat shot like an electric jolt into my chest.

It was the most beautiful moment I reckon I’ll see in concert for a while, and everything I want to be a part of.


Openers The Wheel were playing to a hometown crowd, but nonetheless got the loudest prolonged-cheer reception I have heard for any local band in a long time. Their intricate, melancholy songs are steeped in goodness and ready for a larger stage. The band is magnetically led by the wry, exceptional voice of frontman Nathaniel Rateliff (Born In The Flood) who in the oddest coincidence that you ever think could sound good, vocally evokes a young and impassioned Neil Diamond minus the glitter. The technicolor songs pack a punch, yet sounded timeless through a symphony of strings, aching harmonica and guitars, piano, intuitive drumming, and vocal harmonies that cut through the venue and held everyone’s attention.

If I were voting for my favorite Denver bands, say, for a local music festival competition, I might put The Wheel in the top 5. Hypothetically. Check these guys out.

Just For Me, But I Thought Of You – The Wheel (I love this so much)
My Hanging Surrender – The Wheel





[all my photos here]

July 8, 2009

what might have been lost

The other night I was talking to my friend Mundi about seeing Bon Iver this Saturday in Denver, and as I told her about this moment above (the last time I saw him), I realized that my face was glowing from recalling what felt like magic.

Under the cypress trees of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, I saw Bon Iver for the first time at Outside Lands ’08, and on “The Wolves (Act I and II)” he invited the crowd to sing along with him — “What might have been lost.” This video is otherwise largely unremarkable but for the way it captures that moment around the 2:30 mark when (almost) everyone in the audience started singing wholeheartedly. For an acoustic song, he gets furiously powerful at the end, and I cannot wait to see it on Saturday. For Emma is still an album I think I will be listening to for, well, maybe the rest of my life.

I’m just newly committed to Outside Lands again this summer as well (thanks Southwest super air sale!) and am excited about many artists in the lineup, including The National, The Avett Brothers, M.I.A., Blind Pilot, The Dead Weather, Lucinda Williams, and The Beastie Boys (I think last time I saw them looked like this). Oh, and…Tom Jones? Bring extra panties, I suppose.

Single day tickets and passes are now available.

May 31, 2009

Riffing on Sasquatch

Fuel/Friends’ good friend Dainon from Utah went to Sasquatch Festival in Washington with my neighbor from across the street in Colorado. Go figure. I stayed home — but he reflects on his weekend well-spent in a special guest post.


Riffing on Sasquatch
by Dainon Moody

There’s a difference between the casual concertgoer and someone who attends a music festival. Well, several, in fact. Here’s a start. One’s looking for something to bump and grind to on a Friday night. The other has to plan for cheap airline tickets, a steady diet of free Beef Jerky samples and dried cherries for three days, carpooling in the back seat of a cramped Jetta for five hours in a row, overzealous country cops, 82 degree sunshine without the shade and, on top of that big pile o’ goo, which bands to see and which to leave far behind because, let’s face it, you just can’t see them all, no matter how hard you try to manage it.

I’ll go ahead and allow you to decide which is which.

See, the festivalgoer is not unlike a bird watcher in his or her dedication. I mean no offense to those who watch birds. I know little of the sport. I can chalk up my entire bird watching experience to seeing Blue Jays run smack into my grandma’s big Missouri sliding glass door time after time after mostly hilarious time. But, stay with me on this. There’s a real commitment involved in festivals. This is the hobby we have chosen. And there are parallels to consider. We may not be able to manage very believable whippoorwill birdcalls, but we’ll scream our lungs raw in appreciation when the guitar solo hits our ears right. We may not use binoculars to seek out whether or not, say, there are black speckles on a robin’s breast, but we’ll bone up on reviews and listen to your band’s songs weeks ahead of time in hopes of identifying one in your band’s onslaught of the hopefully familiar.

There’s more. We’ll take a barrage of photos of you as you perform, no matter how far away we are, no matter how dark it is; we never give up hope for the one blessed unblurred shot. And, if we’re really lucky, we’ll try to take them with us included and we’ll act as casual as we can manage standing next to you (with varying results, sure). We’ll even go about attempting to grab video of the songs in your catalog that we really, really like, avoiding the sing-a-longers standing nearby and pretending as much as we can that we don’t have shaky hands in the process. It all adds up to dedication. Let’s face it—in another line of work, we’d make for excellent peeping toms. As it stands, we’re simply superfans. We might even take a bullet for you if you catch us on the right day.

The ironic part of this is that, while we do have to commit to a lot and plan like crazy, we never have to commit to a band for very long once we get there. This definitely speaks to the single kids, as well as those adults who can’t make a decision to save our lives. If you’re not as good live as you are on CD (I’m looking at you, Passion Pit), we’ll know in a song or two. We don’t need to stick with you an hour. We can wander off to a new discovery or to a more tested-and-true kinda musicality. TV On The Radio and Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver win our devotion, easy. Santigold in the sunshine? The Gaslight Anthem doing a Pearl Jam cover, from the Singles soundtrack no less? We’ll stick around for gems like that. Nine Inch Nails? Eh, not so much. Hey, it is what it is.

Sadly, not everyone goes for the music at a festival. About half of the guesstimated 75,000 attendees at Sasquatch were using the music as a soundtrack to their $9 beer dranking and hours-long naps and apple bonging (it’s exactly what you think it is). Sometimes they were ingenious enough to sneak alcohol into the festival inside a flask shaped like binoculars or a hollowed-out loaf of bread even. Some just wanted to draw magic marker tats on one another. And still others were just around to see exactly how many sloppy, slobbery kisses and such they could get away with in the midst of wide-eyed onlookers (and it was a whole, whole lot, it really was). The rest of us? We were the bird watchers. We were the grizzled prospectors. We were sifting through the gravel, picking diamonds out of the rough stuff. We sought and found.

I can only speak for these eyes and these ears. For the curious, here’s a smattering of my findings.


Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele out of Mississippi? Both a surprise and a revelation. He was like Jens Lekman with an even better sense of humor. Maybe Elvis Costello with more of the boogie woogie infused into his tunes? The glasses and slicked hair cast him as a total geek of a guy, but he found my smiles. I mean, he had background singers manipulating the female doowop sound! He had a ukulele and he knew how to use it! One song was so good, you just wanted to hear what would come next. And then the next after that. It was easy to buy that album. It was one of the easiest sells I can recall.

The Decemberists? Need to buy the new album, pronto. Passion Pit? Need to listen to the album instead of the concert.

M. Ward was solid as a rock, he was. He’s a real pro at what it is he does. He knew he only had an hour to give us a show, so he took just seconds between songs, barreling from one to another so quickly, his set was just a cough away from being one long, beautiful melody. It pains me to write it, but Zooey wasn’t much needed.

It was good to fight for the spot that allowed us to see Bon Iver from just 20 feet away. It’s just unreal how good Justin Vernon sounds live, but he does. He just does. Whether he’s doing songs from his first album, the new EP or even throwing in a Kathleen Edwards cover to appease the pot smokers, he’s on top of his game. I think he knows it. There were sound snafus and it didn’t much matter in the end. He saw past them and showed his stripes. Hearing and watching his little crew do “Creature Fear” with enough ferocity to break his strings at the end of it all? That sealed the deal for me. That set opened me wide and made me a bigger fan than I already was.

VIDEO: Bon Iver at Sasquatch, w/ Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond – “Flume”

Heartless Bastards? I just love you. The Dutchess & The Duke? Thank you so, so much. Grizzly Bear? You done did what I thought you’d do. That band needs a bigger hug from the public, sure, and maybe it’ll happen with the new album. But you can get lost inside their harmonies pretty easily. It’s exactly what the band wants, too, so just let it happen.

There were more, but that ought to do, right? I’m running a bit long as it stands.

Biggest regret? Missing the Builders & The Butchers out of Portland. Scamper away and take them in because you’ll hear something just fantastic in them. Believe it. And The School of Seven Bells! Why’d you have to play while The Avett Brothers were? You intrigue me, but the Avetts stole my heart out from under me. I hope they make and sing their solid brand of country songs for the rest of the years I am alive. Then—and only then—will it be enough.

VIDEO: Avett Brothers @ Sasquatch – “Murder In The City”

You can only take so much festival. Sometimes two-and-a-half days’ worth is your breaking point. And you know it means missing Girl Talk and Explosions in the Sky and Erykah Badu but, you know what? You put your arm around Annie from St. Vincent. You left with an autographed copy of Grizzly Bear’s latest. You saw the lead singer of Monotonix perform so hard, he earned a flesh wound for his art … and, despite the blood coming out of his head, kept on going. You heard enough songs and saw enough good, solid bands to last you, what, a good month or two? Perhaps.

VIDEO: Monotonix drumming in the Sasquatch crowd

The mind wants more, maybe, and the miser in you wants to get the most out of what was a gifted ticket anyway (it’s the principle of the thing!), but there’s a time to retreat to your own bed, stop loving on the perfect 80 degree sunshine and give Sasquatch a kiss on the mouth goodbye. It was good, so crazy good, but goodbyes are inevitable. You can only take so much.

Still. Thanks, Sasquatch. I’ll remember you well.

February 9, 2009

Monday Music Roundup


Ah, Radiohead, you win.

I did in fact watch most of the Grammys last night in between sorting mail and promo CDs and going through bills. It was that riveting. And just like when I cried last year when Kanye started singing ’bout his mama, I also cried this year when Jennifer Hudson sang (so sad), and just like last year I was also left largely disaffected by the pop music industry in general. Except Radiohead. I actually yelped –out loud– during their performance of 15 Step, watching the faces of the USC kids pound their big drums so ferociously. That is easily the single most electrifying performance I’ve seen on the Grammys. And now I want to travel somewhere, anywhere, and see Radiohead again. Bless their hearts. [watch and listen]

That, and I couldn’t help but noticing in the Memorial montage that a guy named Pervis died this year and I really feel that should be the new hipster baby name because it’s awesome.

La musica nuova:

The Vox Jaguars

These kids play with, well, a swagger and a band name that sums up what it’s like to be 19 and bursting with confidence. I heard The Vox Jaguars over on Some Velvet Blog, all fuzz and scowl and garage rock, replete with fake British accents asking, “wot?”. They’re also from the coastal town of Santa Cruz, just over the hill from where I grew up. Two are in high school still, which I guess means they go to San Lorenzo Valley or Harbor High. Weird. They have an EP out tomorrow on Anodyne Records, home to the Meat Puppets — and they show fun and promising verve.

bon-iverThe Park (Feist cover)
Bon Iver

There’s a sensual and spine-tingling mournfulness in this cover (from a live session on Triple-J radio in Australia) that reminds me so very much of Jeff Buckley taking on the sweet and mournful sorrow of Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine.” It’s unexpected, and uncanny.

illinoisMissing Piece

This unadorned song sounds like someone sitting up at an old piano on your grandparents’ sunporch, the honeyed notes floating through the air and swirling around with the dust motes. Evocative very much of Ben Kweller’s prettiest numbers, our protagonist wonders here if he is someone’s missing piece. I guess you never know until you try. Illinois is still not from Illinois, but they are giving away all kinds of free music leading up to their new album The Adventures of Kid Catastrophe on May 5th. Check out the other goodness.

Laura Gibson

Redolent with a richness in her warble that feels more at home in the 1930s than today, Laura Gibson‘s music feels very grounded and a bit otherworldly all at once. I’d like to see her play with Elvis Perkins in Dearland because they are some sort of soul siblings and might not know it yet but omg. She is actually on tour in the coming months with Juana Molina and also Fuel favorites Blind Pilot (but only for the SLC stop!). Her new album Beasts of Seasons is out February 24th on Hush Records.

tourart1940 (Submarines cover)
The Morning Benders

Berkeley’s Morning Benders bring their pleasing super-sunny pop harmonies to Denver next Saturday, and in a charming little gesture with their tourmates The Submarines, they’ve each covered one another’s work and released it for free to the adoring fans. I like the way this song takes a minute to get its training wheels straight and rolling on the merry way, with the hints of Sixties psychedelica throughout.

February 5, 2009

Dark Was The Night / New National

Curated by brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National, the Dark Was The Night compilation (Feb 17th, 4AD) is so stuffed full with amazing covers and duets and original songs from so many of my favorite artists, it’s almost ridiculous. The double-disc album benefits the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS.

The one track on here that I’ve been most itchin to hear is the new one from The National (although the Dessner brothers’ musical contributions reach further throughout the album, with collaborations with Bon Iver/Justin Vernon above, and Antony heartbreakingly covering Bob Dylan). “So Far Around The Bend” sounds like a time warp to me, like it foxtrotted in from some other era. It is almost jaunty, but with that rich gray undercurrent swirls, and drums thump like a pounding heartbeat.

The Gillian Welch/Conor Oberst duet on “Lua” is absolutely murdering me right now (listen in about a week on the MySpace player, it will rotate through to its day in the sun), and Jose Gonzalez and The Books covering Nick Drake? Really? Sigh. It really is an exceptionally high-quality and eminently listenable collection; the full tracklisting is here.

Aaron Dessner writes more about the process of how this album came to be, and the end results:

As we invited friends and peers to contribute, our collective social awareness became apparent: anyone that had the time was willing to donate their time and their music to the Red Hot cause. But there were many different stories behind each song: some we had heard live and knew had to be on the record (The Books “Cello Song”, My Brightest Diamond’s “Feelin Good”); close friends whose arms we knew we could twist enough to give us special tracks (Arcade Fire, and Sufjan Stevens); bands we asked who were too busy but had solo projects or side projects they could include (Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio and Jonsi Birgisson of Sigur Ros); songs we had always imagined certain artists singing (Cat Power’s “Amazing Grace” and Antony’s “I Was Young When I Left Home”); and dream collaborations (David Byrne and The Dirty Projectors, Feist with Grizzly Bear and Ben Gibbard, and my own song with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver).

In the end, there was enough great music to produce two discs–one dark and homegrown with almost classical arrangements of folk themes; the other more bright and evocative of the best of independent rock music at the beginning of the 21st century. “Dark Was The Night” and the Dore illustrations for Milton’s Paradise Lost, which make up the art imagery in this booklet, evoke a “fallen” world of struggle, but also the capacity of art to inspire us to rise above the obstacles put in our path. Our nights may be dark, but music gives us inspiration and hope of brighter days to come.

December 12, 2008

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2008

Another year packed with music has come and gone. Music is a language I can’t create myself but it does me good to know that every hour someone out there is humming a snippet of a melody, returning to their seat at the bar with a head full of lyrics that just occurred to them, or tapping out a drumbeat on their leg in the car. People everywhere are trying to get it right, to get the music out just so they can be. I am glad that they do.

2008 was full of fantastic (and varied) music from all corners of the world for me. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the quantity of music and the subjectivity that swirls around the ones that make it vs. the ones that no one ever hears. I wish I’d had more hours to listen to (and properly digest) more songs this year. As it is, these are ten albums (plus two EPs plus one carryover from last year) that affected me on a gut level in the past twelve months. These are the ones I listened to over and over, that knocked the wind out of me and made me glad I have ears.

These aren’t “the best.” These are just my favorites.


Nada Surf
I’ve been surprised by the intensity with which I’ve listened to this album in 2008. I guess it’s tapping into the introspective moments of my year as it pertains to “grown-up life,” which Caws sings is like “eating speed or flying a plane — it’s too bright.” The album cover hints perfectly at the feel of the music; the moment where it’s still warm from the sun but the gorgeous pinpricks of light are starting to shine through. I talked today about the cascades of glory on this album, a blazing meteor from this band that’s been around so long. I saw Matthew Caws perform solo last night and he said, “We feel blessed to have a second story,” (post-mid-Nineties buzz band). “It’s the story we always wanted anyways.” I’ve listened to this album a hundred times this year and it still affects me deeply, makes it okay to be fragile — and to be on a vector up.
[original review, interview]

Beautiful Beat – Nada Surf

Midnight Organ Fight
Frightened Rabbit
(Fat Cat)
Coming from Scotland with their hearts held out for the offering, these two brothers plus two bandmates have crafted an album that is not for the fainthearted, but excellent for the honest. Over gorgeous melodies and with a thick and wrenching Scottish brogue, Frightened Rabbit guttingly dissect the moments of bravery and moments of weakness that go with a relationship ending. Peter Katis (The National) produced this lilting, rocking piece of perfection — unflinching in its intimacy.
[original review, interview]

Backwards Walk – Frightened Rabbit

For Emma Forever Ago
Bon Iver
I didn’t know when I started 2008 just how much I would need this album. Justin Vernon recorded this achingly vulnerable album in the Wisconsin woods in the dead of cold winter as he recovered from a breakup. The name he adopted means “good winter” in French, and I think the name fits the music as well as that ice-encrusted window on the cover. In winter, things move a little slower, but with more crisply defined edges, and the first time I heard this something was scraped loose inside of me. His music is wrapped in a thin skin but a current thrums powerfully under the surface. This is an album that I am unable to shake.
[watch: still one of the most perfect things I’ve seen this year]

Skinny Love – Bon Iver

Stay Positive
The Hold Steady
I think the thing that gets me with the Hold Steady, this year or any past year when they’ve released an album, is that they are unabashed in their belief in rock and roll. Craig Finn is a modern day prophet who flails and explodes with the force of the catharsis of these fantastic sounding songs that they must get out. The lyrics trace some of the most intelligent, evocative stories you’ll hear with characters I feel I know by now (they might as well be breathing). This is an immense album, with the pounding piano that crashes across the songs and the brass instruments slicing through. Gorgeously grand and subversively hopeful.
[original review]

Constructive Summer – The Hold Steady

The ’59 Sound
The Gaslight Anthem
(Side One Dummy)
If the Hold Steady filter their love for Springsteen through a lens of kids raised on punk and The Replacements, Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem play with an urgency and passion of a pre-Born to Run Bruce, young and hungry. Lead singer Brian Fallon grew up in a home four blocks from E Street, and this band is crafting songs that hold up as well when howled out ragged as they do stripped down to their bare acoustic bones. There’s a wisdom and sometimes a resignation beyond their years.

Great Expectations – The Gaslight Anthem

Ode To Sunshine
Delta Spirit
Delta Spirit was formed in San Diego when lead singer Matt Vasquez was busking loudly by the train tracks and he met with Brandon Young at two in the morning. The honesty and sloppiness that bleeds through at 2am is captured well on this authentic album with a vintage feel. It basks in the warmth of the surf guitars, the singalongs and handclaps and banging on trashcan lids, the tinkly last-call piano over glasses clattering.
[original review]

Trashcan – Delta Spirit

Dual Hawks
Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel
The cinematic desert beauty and chugging fuzz-rock found side-by-side on this dual album swooped in late in the year to win me over. I saw an acoustic video of Will Johnson, who helms both bands, performing “I, The Kite,” from an album I’d passed over too quickly the first time around. Both bands are Will’s and explore different dimensions of his music — Centro-matic electric like the heat in the air even as the Texas August sun has just begun to rise, whereas the more muted, spacious South San Gabriel has tones of evening and fireflies. This album was written and recorded fast and pure in a handful of days in the studio, and has a feeling of distilled essentials.

Counting The Scars – Centro-Matic

Oh! Mighty Engine
Neil Halstead
(Brushfire Records)
Taking six long years from his last solo release Sleeping On Roads, influential British musician Neil Halstead (Slowdive) comes quietly back with a humble album of acoustic folk melodies that rewards the listener for their patience. This is a slow grower for me, and I find that more hues in the songs are revealed to me the longer I sit with it — a task I am eminently willing to take on. Halstead sings about trying to get the colors right, and with these unassuming tunes I think he does.

Paint A Face – Neil Halstead

The Great Collapse
Everything Absent or Distorted
This Denver collective does things full tilt. They play with seemingly all the instruments they can find, in order to squeeze the earnest beauty out of every melody and every rhythm. They fearlessly meld incisive lyrics with a resilient hope, like on “Aquariums”: “We are aquariums — left outside, but we hold life and a bright light in our glass walls.” With eight official members (and up to 15 on stage) EAOD is a joy to watch, and that joy transmits onto this smart album of sweeping scope. Amidst banjos and casio keyboards, trumpets and pots and pans, this band is ready for a larger stage. Literally.
[original review]

A form to accommodate the mess – Everything Absent or Distorted

Little Joy
Little Joy
(Rough Trade)
It’s as simple as this: Little Joy just makes me happy. Their thirty-minute debut album is short and occasionally rough, it’s kitschy and danceable with Brazilian influences. I like the quiet Technicolor flicker of songs like the Portuguese “Evaporar” as much as the jerky fun of “How To Hang A Warhol,” and all the shades in between. Binki Shapiro’s vocal contributions on this album are especially charming, as she croons out of my stereo like an old-time Victrola.
[original review]

No One’s Better Sake – Little Joy

HONORARY TOPS (should have been on last year’s damn list):

In Rainbows (physical release)

Because I was overwhelmed and ignorant at the end of 2007, and didn’t give this my undivided attention until someone sat me down in a darkened room and made me really, really listen to it.

And come on Heather. Come on.

Last Flowers To The Hospital (bonus track) – Radiohead


Second Gleam EP
The Avett Brothers
(Ramseur Records)
Scaling back from their potently explosive live show of punk bluegrass, the Avetts showed again this year that they can also craft devastatingly simple ballads relying solely on acoustic guitar, strings, and their pure voices that blend and compete as only brothers can. [original review]

Murder In The City – The Avett Brothers

The Confiscation EP, A Musical Novella
Samantha Crain
(Ramseur Records)
Also from the excellent Ramseur label, 22-year-old Oklahoman Samantha Crain has Choctaw Indian roots and a dusky earnestness to her alto voice. The five songs here tell a cohesive story (a musical novella indeed) with shimmering, unvarnished truth.
[original review]

In Smithereens, The Search For Affinity – Samantha Crain

LISTEN: Once again this year, I’ll be appearing on NPR’s World Cafe with David Dye on January 1st to talk about stuff from this list! We have a lot of fun. You should listen (online, or via your local station that carries the show), and tell your mom to listen too. I know mine will be.

[top image credit tim!]

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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. Rock on.

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