January 1, 2011

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2010

sound wave

And so, another year marches to a close — another fantastic, adventure-filled, technicolor year. It’s the time when all of us start kicking around our neatly-bulleted lists of bests and worsts. For me, the more I read these lists, the more I feel that I missed more albums and artists than I heard this year.

The stats are staggering: in 2002, about 33,000 albums were released. In 2006 that number was 75,000. Last year close to 100,000 albums were released, with only roughly 800 of those albums selling more than 5K. It’s tough out there — to be heard, and to feel as a listener that you have adequately given a shot to even a fraction of a representative sample of one year’s offerings. I always feel this keening bittersweet regret at the end of each year, as so much more music was released than any one human woman can possibly digest or invest in.

That being said, I had a fairly simple time picking what my personal favorite albums were for 2010, of the ones I heard. I absolutely loved what Carrie Brownstein wrote on her NPR blog about these year-end lists.

She muses: “So I’ll admit that I’m not quite certain how to sum up an entire year in music anymore; not when music has become so temporal, so specific and personal, as if we each have our own weather system and what we listen to is our individual forecast. I’ve written a lot about music bringing people together, fomenting community, and many albums still did act as bonfires in 2010 . . . but many of us are also walking around with a little lighter in hand, singing along to some small glow that’s stuck around long enough to make us feel excited to be alive.”

That is exactly, precisely what I feel. And really, what is any top ten list but an assessment of those songs, those artists, those albums that have hit us square in the solar plexus exactly where we are sitting?

These are the albums that lodged deep and sharp into my red heart and made this year richer, smarter, harder and easier, sharper, sparklier, and all the more brilliant. And some of them seriously made me dance.



(Nonesuch Records)

This is just one of the coolest albums released all year — maybe all decade. And I mean the kind of cool that is quintessential, untouchable, badass, just strutting down a sunny street with-your-own-theme-song type of cool. It blends their trademark swampy, bluesy, fuzzed-out guitars with crisp sharp beats that sliced right through that weight the first time I put this album in, on my roadtrip to Missouri. I think I listened to it on repeat through at least two (long, loooong) states and it was love at first listen from that point on.

Additionally – if there is a sicker breakdown all year than what happens here at 1:02, I don’t wanna know about it.

The Go Getter – The Black Keys


dan mangan

(Arts & Crafts)

This album from the Canadian side of the verdant Pacific Northwest was an unexpected discovery this year, recommended to me by a friend who helps arrange the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (another favorite thing of this year, but hey we’ll get to that). Dan Mangan has made a dense, thoroughly gorgeous album, heavy on the intelligent lyrics, his oaky-warm voice weaving in amongst a whole orchestra of instruments. This album is beautifully arranged and well-crafted, one you can swim deeply in during rainy days all winter long (although I discovered it in August and it sounded just as good in the sticky warmth).

Basket – Dan Mangan

(Amigo/Amiga Records)

Drew Grow and his band The Pastors’ Wives hail from Portland, making music that easily straddles and jumps across genres to create something marvelously rich and endlessly interesting. The sound production throughout feels like an old, warm, crackly album (tip: get it on white vinyl while you can) with something urgent to say. From those fuzzy, sexy, pleadingly plaintive blues jams like “Company” to the aggressive push-and-tug of the rowdy “Bootstraps” and the dulcet golden ’50s croon of songs like “Hook,” this album has pleased me completely. Every song is a favorite.

The opening “Bon Voyage Hymn” sets the tone for this album (if it has one) of a sort of rough-hewn, honest, rock gospel as Drew howls, “Sing a shelter over me / With a mighty chorus, slaves set free.” And by that I mean the oldest spirit of gospel, in community and a shared love of singing, with our heads thrown back and our feet stomping — but while the guitar squalls and the dirty drums crash. At the house show they played for me in November, it was like the best kind of church, a jaw-dropping explosion of goodness.

Company – Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives

N.B.: Drew also has a stunning new acoustic EP.



From the first evening back in early summer when I streamed this Seattle six-piece’s songs on my tinny computer speakers, I was reeled in hook line and sinker. The song sang about something that sounds like a hallelujah, the sheer delight of embracing with all of your heart and both your dancing shoes, and no band this year has given me more of that musical enjoyment – whether in a parking garage very late at night, or in the living room of an old house. Amidst the warmth, the uncanny wisdom, and undeniably catchy musical & rhythmic foundations of this band, there is magic. We will be hearing a good deal more from them in 2011, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Sounds Like Hallelujah – The Head and The Heart


(XL Recording)

This is, simply put, a kinetic album. Jónsi blends his native Icelandic language with forays into English, creating the dizzying effect of running fast through a dream forest, not exactly understanding what is being said and not needing to. He’s made an intricate, joyful album of grandeur that is uplifting and challenging without being overly twee or silly. It is a delicate balance to strike. The paint-spatter of colors on the album cover precisely depict what this explosive album sounds like – purple, yellow, deep red, shot through with sunlight.

This album was completely unlike anything else that I heard this year, and made me simultaneously smile widely and furrow my brow. It’s the most imaginative album I’ve heard all year, perfect at evoking things like riding the back of a jet-black dragon over canyons. Yes, and yes. Please.

Go Do – Jónsi

Addendum: I also just laughed very loudly for a good minute and a half after I just connected the mental dots to the possible inspiration for this album, or at least this song.



(Pytheas Records)

I’ve said before that I think Josh Ritter is one of the most important and talented songwriters of our generation; this album is a stellar example of why. Through these thirteen sprawling songs, Josh demonstrates to me again exactly why I love the way that he sees the world. When I interviewed him this summer, he said he admires those who “see what everybody else has seen, think what nobody else has thought.”

Josh pens incisive, piercing, widely-varying folk songs with the comfortable intelligence of one who is in no hurry, yet is passionate in pursuing his muse and getting his stories out into the world. Highlights here like “The Curse,” “Folk Bloodbath,” “Another New World,” and “Lantern” are jaw-dropping. Josh has a remarkable way of teasing out truths about the world (seen and unseen), and poking into the human conditions in my own heart with a greater acuity than most out there.

Lantern – Josh Ritter

That song also contains one of my favorite lyrics of this entire year: “So throw away those lamentations, we both know them all too well / If there’s a book of jubilations, we’ll have to write it for ourselves / So come and lie beside me darlin’ — let’s write it while we still got time.”


(Fat Possum)

From the first time I heard Lissie’s soulful, immensely evocative voice earlier this year on her song “Everywhere I Go,” I was riveted. Who was this slight, freckled blond gal with the echoes of an entire fifty-member church choir in her lungs? Originally from Rock Island, Illinois, Lissie has harnessed both the brilliance of the sunshine of her new California home on her debut album, as well as all the gnarls of her roots. Bluesy, confident melodies and goosebump-inducing howls are here in scads — this is a notably substantial first album from a woman to be reckoned with.

Record Collector – Lissie



(Attitude Records)

“We could start tonight, slide back the deadbolts…” Matt Pond suggests at the beginning of this autumnal album with rich hues that gave me endless listening pleasure this year. I was glad I took him up on the invite. I’d admired the work of the Brooklyn songwriter in spurts and starts over the past few years, but this is the first album of his that I have really immersed myself into his uniquely lovely, thrumming view of the world.

There is a sort of expansive, wide-eyed glow in this album that seems to invite transcendent things to happen. From the specks of silver he sings about in the evening sky and the illumination all around us, I love the way things look like an adventure when I am listening. “First hips, then knees, then feet – don’t think anymore,” he sings. Good idea, Matt.

Starting – Matt Pond PA


(4AD Records)

This is a decimating, gorgeous, elegant album, much like Boxer was but with additional hints of weirdness and unsettled edges that I like. I was ridiculously excited about this album (in a sort of masochistic way, since I know full well what The National are capable of), devouring every word I could read about it before it came out. The single best definition I heard came from Matt Berninger himself when he said they wanted it to sound “like loose wool and hot tar.” In that regard, they completely succeed – their music is dark, burning, sticking to your skin and all your insides.

This is an incredible album full of terse, razor-sharp observations on the worries that wait in the shadows for me and gnaw when they get a chance: I think the kids are in trouble… you’ll never believe the shitty thoughts I think… I was less than amazing… I tell you terrible things when you’re asleep. But I won’t lie when I say I found some of the strongest redemption of my year in this music as well, with the closing track “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” — singing along with lines “all the very best of us string ourselves up for love / man it’s all been forgiven, swans are a-swimmin…” The honesty of the darkness shot through with these glints is what keeps drawing me back to these guys, fiercely.

Conversation 16 – The National


(Dead Oceans)

Kristian Mattson slays me – there are no two ways about it. When he sings on this album, “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” it is almost comical because nothing really seems further from the truth. Mattson’s songs have the kind of heft and intricacy that make me certain his music will be around for a very long time after him. His guitarwork is sparkling, impassioned, and inspired. The words he selects and the way he delivers them are pointed and deliberate. I can’t tell if his lyrics are so sharp in spite of the fact that English is not his first language, or because of it – as if perhaps he can see more clearly through our muddy sea of language to pick out the iridescent rocks from the river.

Also: it’s worth noting that his EP released this year was equally good – serious brilliant work.

King of Spain – The Tallest Man On Earth


cataldo - signal flareCATALDO – SIGNAL FLARE
(self-released, 2008)

I cannot stop listening to Eric Anderson, as evidenced by the fact that I have put him on just about every mix I made in 2010, and listen to this album most days lately on my walk to work. After a chance encounter with his music on a college radio show of a friend, I’ve been smitten by his earnest, unvarnished, incredibly catchy way of looking at the world that simultaneously makes me smile and breaks my heart. You know me. I like that.

He’s got a new album “Prison Boxing” coming out in 2011, according to Facebook. I plan to be substantially more on top of that one.

Signal Flare – Cataldo

Burning Stars – Mimicking Birds [link]
Tell ‘Em – Sleigh Bells [link]
Safe and Sound – Electric President [link]
Six O’Clock News (Kathleen Edwards cover) – Paul Jacobsen [link]
If A Song Could Get Me You – Marit Larsen [link]
Second Mind (live at the SF Independent) – Adam H. Stephens [link]
Fuck You – Cee Lo Green [link]
Carry Us Over – Kelli Schaefer [link]
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub [link]

Bringing Jeff Buckley’s music to a new life through Shakespeare [link]
Talking to my Italian musical hero on the Santa Monica Pier [link]

My forays into presenting house shows:
Drew Grow and The Pastors’ Wives with Kelli Schaefer (Nov 4, 2010)
The Head and The Heart (Nov 9, 2010)

Andy Clockwise at SXSW (March 2010)

Joe Pug house show (February 28, 2010)

Tallest Man On Earth (May 19, 2010)

Megafaun and their in-the-crowd rendition of “Worried Mind” (April 12, 2010)

Telluride Bluegrass Festival, holy mackerel.

This one.


I started 2010 with a Polar Bear Plunge and a vow that this year was gonna be ours, a year of intentionally acquiring adventures and memories that would make me smile when I was old and withered.

I think we did it, and these were the things that soundtracked it all.

[Sound Wave” sculpture at top by Jean Shin]

September 8, 2010

Short-order music


Philadelphia band Dr Dog announced today that they would be making a handful of new tracks (written since Shame, Shame) available for free download to their fans via their Facebook page over the next few weeks. The first offering, “Take Me Into Town” is an unhurried bluesy treat:

STREAM: “Take Me Into Town”

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Scott Hutchison from Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit blogged Monday about how he recorded a cool, collaborative EP of songs with folks from Twilight Sad, Idlewild, and others in a remote house in Perthshire (with “plenty of fruit wine”) and lickety-split, two songs were available now for free download (quite good ones, all broguey and anthemic). The Music Like A Vitamin supergroup is raising money for Scottish mental health, which of course you need after you submerge yourself in the marvelous misery of Frightened Rabbit for too long.

STREAM: I Forgot The Fall – Music Like A Vitamin (download two songs here)

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And then of course Tallest Man on Earth and Sufjan both dropped EPs on us from out of the blue (bam! available now!), Josh Rouse put together a free EP of live cuts and remixes from El Turista last month, and current Fuel/Friends favorite Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives made a name for themselves by releasing a steady stream of 7″ singles in the Portland music community over the past year, coming out in advance of their full-length, as they wrote and recorded them.

This trend I see gaining steam among indie musicians this summer is one that I love. I call it “short-order music” — not to imply a lack of quality (some of those diner omelettes whipped up in three minutes can be the best thing you eat all week) but rather a visceral, vibrant, of-the-moment transmission direct from the artists you love into your eardrums.

Arguably, we are becoming an impatient, on-demand culture whose attention span is brief and flickering. Nowhere is this more true than in the music community. One is reminded of Veruca Salt (who wants it NOW, Daddy) in our insistence to be constantly sated and titillated, and I am no different. But perhaps musicians can also harness this constant hunger to work in their favor.

In an age where the anticipation of a full album (and the inevitable leaks) can severely quell a musician’s financial gain from new music, this seems like a possible temperance. The guerrilla approach to releasing new songs via digital EP seems to encourage the immediate, bite-sized purchase of new music. At a few bucks per pop (or as Scott Hutchison blogged, “only six fucking quid!!”), it is more financially palatable for fans who are often used to getting, well, everything for free. There also is the perception of less risk – with only five songs, it’s less likely you’ll be getting that 12-minute art rock jam instrumental at the end of the disc. Unless you like 12-minute art rock jams.

While of course there will always be a place for us to fall in love with the well-crafted, cohesive, full album, I also welcome the willingness to mix things up a bit during the in-between days. Let me see what you’ve been up to since the tour ended. Surprise me with four new songs from the summer when I wake up tomorrow. Yeah?

September 7, 2010

sometimes the blues is just a passing bird


In the early pre-dawn hours of this morning while I was floating through dreams of swimming pools and apples, the folks at iTunes were busy activating the sale of the newest Tallest Man on Earth EP, which no one knew was coming.

Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird contains four new songs and a reworked version of “Like The Wheel” – originally a bonus track from his latest full-length album The Wild Hunt. The original version shone a darker radiance, with doleful piano instead of the intricate guitar construction it has become on the new EP:

Like The Wheel (original piano version) – The Tallest Man on Earth [from this post]

Like The Wheel (new EP version) – The Tallest Man on Earth

I couldn’t be more pleased to hear this song again. This was a standout from the first time I heard Kristian perform it live back in May. It held me rapt when he closed his rather earth-shaking set with it.

In those shining, final moments of the night, the crowd fell quiet as he played this song. It took me by surprise with the visceral tug, as he’s honest with all the uncertainties he’s parsing through.

…In the forest someone’s whispering to a tree now
this is all I am so please don’t follow me
And it’s your brother in the shaft that I’m a-swinging
please let the kindness of forgetting set me free

And he said oh my Lord…
why am I not strong?
like the wheel that keeps travelers traveling on
like the wheel that will take you home

And on this Sunday someone’s sitting down to wonder,
‘Where the hell among these mountains will I be?’
There’s a cloud behind the cloud to which I’m yelling
I could hear you sneak around so easily

And I said oh my Lord…
why am I not strong?
like the branch that keeps hangman hanging on
like the branch that will take me home …

Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird will be released in physical form on Dead Oceans on November 9th, and Kristian is on tour all over this Fall. His show remains one of the most captivating and rich that I have seen.

May 20, 2010

I grow a diamond in my chest :: The Tallest Man on Earth in concert

Tallest Man 087

I don’t know much about the principles of electricity, but I do know that there is something ephemeral and hard to contain about the blue-white volts. As I watched Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, last night at the Bluebird Theatre, I thought of lightning and static, and how I could almost hear the electricity humming in the air around his tightly wound, wiry, small frame.

Matsson writes some of the most intricately plucked, passionately thought-out songs in my ears these days. His voice is insistent and pressing, enunciated and piercing. You can’t detect any accent from his native Sweden; in fact his rough voice actually does sound akin to the troubadour he’s often compared with (Dylan — not hard to see why). Watching him captivate the crowd, I wondered how anyone could think all folk music on an acoustic guitar was sleepy and rosy. Matsson powerfully channels the urgency of the best folk music of a generation past, comfortable in the soundtrack of today.

Tallest Man 056

For as jovial and talkative as Mattson was, during the songs he was unable to stand still. Each one seemed to be working its way out through his very skin, as he rocked back and forth and locked eyes with folks in the crowd, sitting down for a second only to stand right back up again. It was a kinetic experience. Josh Ritter has a similar undiluted enthusiasm for the crafting of his songs in a live setting, but where Ritter seems to joyfully birth each lyric with a palpable joy, Kristian’s songs feel hard-fought and sharp edged. There is an urgency behind each story he needs to get out. He roils and paces, struggling to let the muse and the melody pass through him authentically to the audience. Standing sometimes like a bird, his skinny legs would tuck and fold one on the other, perching.

The songs were nothing short of gorgeous, even as their words ran me through. Matsson is a master guitar player, inflecting subtle musical variations into the finger-picking patterns of the songs. The bluesy notes seemed to often hang golden and round in the air, practically visible in their radiance. There was a camaraderie there down in front by the stage, like we all knew a secret (while many at the back bar of the sold-out club talked loudly over him, the opener). He played several requests and acknowledged the requesters, hugged two fans pressed up against the stage, and leaned in amongst us every chance he got – dripping sweat.

Tallest Man 102

His music flows beautifully organic, rife with imagery of levees of stars, rivers and snow, and sparrows and bluebirds. But – there’s a dark and sometimes sinister undercurrent to the way Kristian sees the natural world. He’s not writing about the jasmine because it smells good, he’s writing about how it thrives based on the body buried beneath it. The secrets that we keep. The jealousies we foster.

It hit me as I watched him play just how damn much I have fallen in love with his music. As each song started (The Gardener, Where Do My Bluebird Fly, Love Is All, Pistol Dreams, Drying Of The Lawns, an exquisite King of Spain…) I kept feeling frissons of joy inside, thinking, “ooh! I love this song!” After the seventh time, I realized what I meant to say to myself is that I really just deeply love him , and appreciate his music. When I met him after the show, he gave me one of the tightest hugs I’ve yet gotten, and I swallowed hard and thanked him for making my life richer and my heart fuller. I know – cheeseball. But I’ve never claimed to be otherwise, and his music does do that for me, every time.

Tallest Man 019

Now you must listen. He closed his set with a fairly unknown new song, a bonus track from his new album The Wild Hunt (one of the best albums of 2010 so far, out now on Dead Oceans). And yes — holy heck, it stripped me bare and held me fixed.

Like The Wheel (bonus track) – The Tallest Man on Earth

…In the forest someone is whispering to a tree now
this is all I am so please don’t follow me
And it’s your brother in the shaft that I’m a-swinging
please let the kindness of forgetting set me free

And he said oh my Lord…
why am I not strong?
like the wheel that keeps travelers traveling on
like the wheel that will take you home

And on this Sunday someone’s sitting down to wonder,
‘Where the hell among these mountains will I be?’
There’s a cloud behind the cloud to which I’m yelling
I could hear you sneak around so easily

And I said oh my Lord…
why am I not strong?
like the branch that keeps hangman hanging on
like the branch that will take me home …

I am loving the album version above, but last night’s closing rendition was acoustic and simple with a guitar instead of the piano, and it possesses a separate kind of beauty:

Like The Wheel (live in Portland 5/11/10) – The Tallest Man On Earth

Other highlights? How about him bringing out his marvelous, wrenching cover of Paul Simon’s Graceland? (which I just learned Simon once said was the best song he’d ever written).

Graceland (Paul Simon) – The Tallest Man On Earth
(as if I didn’t know that…)

…and I still think –especially after seeing him do this one live last night– that the lyrics here remain my favorites of any of his songs:

I Won’t Be Found (Daytrotter version) – The Tallest Man On Earth

The Tallest Man on Earth has something to say. I think we should be listening.

Tallest Man 089

[all pictures over on the Facebook Fuel/Friends page]

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]

December 16, 2009

I’m gonna float up in the ceiling, I built a levee of the stars


Swedish folk songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth (Kristian Matsson) has been slaying me since springtime with his song “I Won’t Be Found,” my immediate favorite of all his music so far. With vivid storytelling ability, there is a yowly, authentic soul behind this intricate finger-plucking guitar melody — a song like staccato rain on a summer roof and itinerant wanderers, walking away down a grassy path.

But then I heard this bitterly wistful version, accompanied by that slow piano, and it kicked my legs out from under me — kind of like the way that Ryan Adams’ “Avalanche” did the first time I listened to it, one dark night on my car stereo:

I Won’t Be Found (Daytrotter version) – The Tallest Man On Earth

Deep in the dust forgotten gathered
I grow a diamond in my chest
and I make reflections as the moon shine on
turn to a villain as I rest…

I’m gonna float up in the ceiling
I built a levee of the stars
and in my field of tired horses, ah
I built a freeway through this farce

Since I’d missed the original Daytrotter session in October, I first stumbled onto this on the Music vs. Misery blog (where you need to get the original version, terrific in its own way). After I listened to it a good half-dozen times in a row, feeling all sorts of unmentionable melancholy bubble up inside of my chest, I knew I needed to repost it here.

The Vancouver-based author of Music vs Misery (Megan) is one of my favorite, truest voices in the music blog world these days, and one that I connect with completely as she wears her heart right out there on her sleeve as I do. The fact that her blog is named for a Nick Hornby quote (from a book I am currently re-reading) doesn’t hinder my affections either. Go spend some time there, and while you’re at it, sit with this version of the song for a while. Stuff percolates up when you do.

(Oh — and if Kristian Matsson’s folk legacy aura wasn’t already apparent enough, you should listen to the rugged backwoods banjo deliciousness of his cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Want You” on the Daytrotter session. Similar to the way I feel that Joe Pug’s music is important and laced with immense potential, I am so excited to see where Matsson goes next as an artist, how he develops.)

October 15, 2009

Win a Yellow Bird Project indie rock coloring book!


If you haven’t spent any time around little people lately (kids, not midgets) perhaps you’ve forgotten how deeply calming it is to pick up a marker or a crayon and just spend some time coloring.

Your friends at the most excellent Yellow Bird Project have not forgotten this truth, and in the spirit of creating more awesomeness in this world, they’ve put together an Indie Rock Coloring Book that is suitable for kiddos or creative grown-ups.


Color in the whimsy of Andrew Bird’s whistling, or shade in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s crazy carnival — we’ve got a couple to give away.

The YBP are the folks that have all our favorite musicans design original artwork for t-shirts (I have and love The National shirt — and you should check out the new Ra Ra Riot one!) with all the funds going to charity. This new coloring book is no different, with all the proceeds going to good causes. I met these fellas at Outside Lands in SF this year, and they are making some positive change in the world despite being younguns. Idealism works sometimes.


A Field of Birds (YBP theme) – The Tallest Man On Earth

And oh, yeah. They have a theme song written by Swedish folk-wunderkind Tallest Man On Earth (!!). I *so* want a theme song.

April 13, 2009

Monday Music Roundup


I hope that your Easter looked as good as that one. We got heavy wet snow and I wore my Easter dress anyways, out of defiance (yes, I still try and get a new Spring-y dress every Easter). I am glad to report the usual arsenal of Cadbury Creme Eggs and no Peeps.

Several songs in these past days have set my blogger heart ablaze in the best way. My friend Dainon pointed out that I am on a sky kick lately when it comes to song lyrics, and I was surprised to realize that he is absolutely correct. Lately I can’t get enough of the clouds, the stars, and the atmospheric explosions.

Something in the endlessness, I think.

scoreSleep All Summer
(Crooked Fingers cover)
The National & St. Vincent

Start with the song that I’ve listened to the most these past few days, probably close to a billion times. Matt Berninger opens with the lyrics, “Weary sun, sleep tonight, go crashing into the ocean… Cut the line that ties the tide and moon, ancient and blue,” his voice vulnerably cracking just a little on the high notes. The National and St. Vincent pair up to cover Denver’s Crooked Fingers (of Eric Bachmann, Archers of Loaf), and wistfully wrench at my heart in the best way. The songwriting here made me run immediately to go research Crooked Fingers. I am thoroughly impressed with how much exceptional material Merge crammed onto their newest 20th anniversary covers bacchanalia SCORE! (and oh, it is). You can stream the full album here for a limited time, featuring folks like Ryan Adams, The Shins, Mountain Goats, Okkervil River and Bright Eyes.

I Won’t Be Found
tallestThe Tallest Man On Earth

The influence of Bob Dylan on countless young American musicians is well-worn, and almost genetically hotwired into entire generations by this point, but to find a young Swede who sounds so convincingly authentic in his folk howls and sweeping lyrical songscapes — that’s something that excites me. Kristian Matsson performs as The Tallest Man On Earth and grew up listening to rock and punk in faraway Scandinavian lands, but through Dylan he “just fell into the ocean of American folk-blues.” On this song he sings about the Serengeti, levees of stars, and growing diamonds in his chest. His album Shallow Grave is out now, and also check the twangy theme song he created for the excellent Yellow Bird Project t-shirt site for charity (I’m a happy owner of that National one).

moodyThe Sound
Human Highway

There is an effervescence and simple joy in this number from Nick Thorburn (of Islands & The Unicorns) and Jim Guthrie (Canadian musician who was also in Islands, and is Woody’s grandson). Human Highway was named after the Neil Young song (or maybe the movie), and their album Moody Motorcycle was recorded in Guthrie’s Toronto apartment over a span of two weeks. It has a spontaneous feel to it, full of humble guitar picking and familiar-feeling harmonies that would make the Everly Brothers turn their heads. It was released last summer on my birthday, but I am just discovering it now — a little burst of last summer in the final gasps of winter.

Hallie and Henry (unreleased demo)
say-hiSay Hi

There are several reasons that I can deconstruct liking this unpolished demo from Say Hi‘s Eric Elbogen, ranging from the way his slightly ragged, earnest voice reminds me here of Pete Yorn, or that restrained pulse of the guitar. But mostly? If we’re gonna be honest, I think I like this song because the intro practically begs you to bust out with “Josie’s on a vacation far away, come around and talk it over.” TRY it. Say Hi has released a fabulous album called Oohs and Aahs on Barsuk, and is currently on tour with Cloud Cult.

Layout 1Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (Leonard Cohen cover)
Lemonheads & Liv Tyler

This vocal pairing is something I can totally picture occurring in the break room of Empire Records after Rex Manning leaves, Evan’s golden hair falling over his eye as Liv puts aside her studying for a few minutes. Harvard can wait. Starlets who sing can be a very bad idea, but Liv Tyler actually has a dusky, delicate singing voice she can be proud of. Here she joins with Evan Dando’s golden, malleable croon to cover one of Leonard Cohen’s bittersweet gems of a relationship’s twilight (“let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie”). The results join covers of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons and Linda Perry on the forthcoming Lemonheads covers album Varshons (due June 23 on The End Records). Kate Moss also sings. The concept could go terribly awry, but I enjoyed the last Lemonheads album so much that I hold out hope.

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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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