Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The People's Key by Bright Eyes

The People's Key by Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes will release The People's Key on February 15th 2011 on Saddle Creek. The People's Key--the band's seventh studio album--is the eagerly awaited follow-up to 2007's acclaimed Cassadaga. Since 2006 the once revolving cast of Bright Eyes players has settled around permanent members Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, with additional musicians joining them in the studio and on tour. Fully realized and bursting with charisma, The People's Key is an assured and accomplished album, artfully arranged and filled with the engaging and mesmeric songwriting for which Oberst is renowned. The first 50,000 copies of this CD will come in limited-edition packaging:
6-panel tri-fold die-cut digipak, printed on iridescent foil. Includes O-card, full color CD inner sleeve and 20 page booklet.

Conor Oberst and the band has found within themselves a new energy, a new arrangement of thought, peppered with the Rastafari Movement and an awareness of I and I and the One Love shared by and within us all (that is,the power is within us all to awaken and be on a positive path to an enlightened future). This album is a rich, balanced culmination of Conor's musical journeys, and there are audible hints indicating inspiration from Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer's "Pinkerton," from 80's synthesizer energy to the late rock aesthetics. This is a solid album, bridging the band's soul-searching double release in '05 and the spiritual journey of Cassadaga from '07 into this new message of enlightenment and universal truths.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Diamond Mine by King Creosote

Diamond Mine by King Creosote

Diamond Mine features lyrics and vocals from King Creosote (Fence Collective member and Scottish music wellspring) with music by Jon Hopkins (composer, studio wizard and Eno collaborator). It's a true labor of love, recorded over several years, whenever Jon and KC could get together. The result is a suite of emotion ranging from cracked despair to patched-up euphoria. Described by King Creosote as a "soundtrack to a romanticized version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village, the record weaves in slices of life, bike wheels, spring tides, tea cups and cafe chatter."

You may sense some frustration and impatience creeping in here but is it not time that all glad receivers of great music at last pay their dues and respect to "King Creosote' AKA Kenny Anderson? Having loved last years very polished "Side Show" by The Burns Unit consisting of nearly all the great luminaries of the East Nuek musical community in Scotland that is the Fence Collective, and Anderson's previous solo outing 2007's delightful pop epic "Bombshell" (check out "Nooks" and "Home in a sentence") it is becoming wearisome to keep stressing his talent. Yet he deserves to fill academies around the country and the Atlantic and also be lauded as a very special songwriter. This new album "Diamond Mine" has been seven years in gestation and sees our Scottish favourite teaming up with top keyboardist Jon Hopkin who has played with Brian Eno and that little know beat combo led by C. Martin and known as Coldplay. The album is described by Anderson as a "soundtrack to a romanticised version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village", and what is fascinating is that the sounds and noise of this backdrop are threaded into the music. Thus the record opens with the lovely piano instrumental "First Watch" recorded over the backdrop of the voices of local people gently clanking of cups and plates in a church tea in a Fife village. It works perfectly as a sort of Scottish Thomas Newman style soundtrack and segues into the equally wonderful acoustic strumming of "John Taylors Month Away" where we encounter the plaintive vocal style of Anderson. It is infused with his gentle Fife accent that tells the tale of a conversation he had with a local fisherman in his tiny village home of Crail in the North East of Fife who Anderson admits "shattered every romantic notion I'd ever had of a life at sea". He did not shatter however Anderson's fine song craft and the song fades out over almost Radiohead style synths and euphoric voices. One would think all this beauty difficult to top but on the truly brilliant highlight "Bats in the attic" Anderson and Hopkin achieve this feat. It is ostensibly a song about the onset of middle age where Anderson regrets the "silver in my sideburns" and a "diet which is going to be the death of me". We find his heartbreaking tenor centre stage accompanied by lovely support from a female vocalist and Hopkins note perfect piano backdrop. As the song fades out with the repeated lines "its such a waste of all that we have" you feel the passing regret and genuine emotion. It is followed by the six minute plus of gentle melancholy set out in "Running on fumes" which demonstrates Anderson's way with words and fine acoustic picking guitar style.

The albums last three songs include "Bubble" which is infused with almost James Blake style effects and Hopkins comes into his own with lifting piano soundscapes which build to the songs crescendo. Penultimate song" Your own spell" is possibly closest to some of the balladry on "Bombshell" and contains an authentic Scottish feel to its glorious 3 minutes. Lastly the rather unsettling "With your young voice" repeats a refrain throughout and if truth be told is the one weak point on an otherwise glorious and concise album consisting of a suite of songs which screams out texture and depth. Music as an art form can often transfer the essence of place into sound more vividly than a picture or photo. No one who listens to "Diamond Mine" will fail to notice its inspiration or origins but more importantly you will come away enthralled by this luminous music. Well done Kenny and Jon, a true diamond.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

James Blake

James Blake

2011 debut album from the runner-up in the BBC's 'Sound Of 2011' poll. The London-based Dubstep artist's album reflects his famously eclectic style. Featuring a blend of electronic production and more traditional recording techniques, this fusion is most obvious on Feist cover, 'Limit To Your Love', which is also the album's first single. Blake is heavily influenced by artists such as The XX, and claims their success has made it easier for others to understand his music.

James Blake is a precocious talent and arrived with a large splash following his stunning cover of Feist's beautifully elegiac "Limit to your love" included here in all its slow burning glory. As an artist he is a disciple of the "less is more" school with this debut album characterized by a predominant sparsity in certain songs often stripping out layers of instrumentation in favour of voice, bass loops and synth (and in the case of Lindisfarne 1 a straight vocoderised acappella)

The album soulful opener "Unluck" does remind of Bon Iver's "Woods" from last years "Blood Bank EP" with its use of vocoder style vocals but ultimately differs with its deep clicks and an minimalist intensity. It is followed by "Wilhelm's scream" a song that has been distributed freely on music blogs and one that has spent so much time on my PC speakers it could claim squatting rights. The huge debt, which Blake owes to dubstep, is revealed and builds to a digital intensity around the continual refrain of the lines "I don't know about my love anymore/all I know is I'm falling". This should be the starting point for the curious listener. "I never learned to share" is again based around a repetitive lyric but with all sort of electronic shenanigans going on in the background almost suggesting a church like ambience.

Blake's debut is often an introspective and moody piece of work, which can make The XX look like the Beach Boys in the fun stakes. But this is not a criticism; with some songs drifting along at a snails pace it can lead you to think that they may have finished, yet it gives the album a Sinatra like "wee small hours" quality. This will mean that Blake's debut will primarily be a late night feast. It is an album, which evolves through its slow revealing beats, and has a deeply intricate core based around sonic landscapes and truly extraordinary songs. The glacial "To care (like you)" is a duet that feels that Blake is just about keeping the ball rolling. Yet with its beautiful quivering auto tuning and double micro beats it is a stellar highlight. The debt to Bon Iver re-emerges on the albums closer "Measurements" and it is a testimony to the youthful brilliance of Blake that he can evoke the atmosphere of 2008s best album "For Emma" and yet carve out a distinctive niche, which solely belongs to him. The liquidly percussive loops of Lindisfarne 2 could seem repetitive to some but sit down and really listen to its underpinning beauty.

Blake has been criticized in some quarters as the acceptable face of dubstep, yet as someone who loved and reviewed one of 2010 best albums Scuba's "Triangulation" an LP of Berlin influenced beats, I would argue that the genre is big enough to have many strings to its bow. There are also echoes here of great artists such as Lewis Taylor, David Sylvain, Anthony Hegarty, Burial and Panthu de Prince (the towering "I mind" would have sat beautifully on his recent "Black Noise" album"). I wager that Blake's debut will be a true Marmite album loved by some despised by others, thus a warning - if you seek music pumped full of adrenalin and sweaty excitement avoid this like the plague. On the other hand if you want an album by an artist taking on board and developing a range of influences, trying to do something different with them and largely succeeding then this if for you. Blake has created a template for new music in 2011 with this startling debut and for once the BBC New Year predictions turn out to bang on.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Logitech Squeezebox Radio Music Player with Color Screen

Logitech Squeezebox Radio Music Player with Color Screen (Black)

Listen to infinite music, news and sports from every corner of the globe with this easy-to-use, all-in-one Wi-Fi music player--all without a computer
Start listening to free Internet radio stations, online music services, and your personal iTunes collection in minutes--connects easily to your home network via Wi-Fi
Bring full, high-quality sound to any room with an ultra-compact design that fits easily on your night table or kitchen counter
Just turn the dial to browse radio stations, music tracks and even album art, displayed on the full-color screen
Recommend music to Facebook friends instantly right from your Squeezebox
Your all-in-one Wi-Fi music playerÑno computer, no clutter, and no limits.
The compact Logitech Squeezebox Radio works with your Wi-Fi network to stream a world of crystal-clear music to any room you want. Just plug it in and turn the dial to connect to an underground rock station in Amsterdam, talk show in Sydney, sports coverage from Boston or BBC news from London. Discover millions of tracks from online services like Last.fm and Pandora. With its built-in high-fidelity amplifier and speakers, you'll enjoy room-filling soundÑall from a little music player that fits easily on a corner of your kitchen counter, bedroom night table, or desk in the den.
High-quality audio with built-in premium speakersÑbig sound in a small package
You only need a little space to fill any room with rich stereo sound. This ultra-compact Wi-Fi music player is as small as a clock radio. But it's designed with big audio technology. Support for high-resolution encoding captures the wide range of details that make your digital music come to life. And the integrated high-definition tweeter and long-throw subwoofer make sure you enjoy a full sound experience, from crisp, clean high notes to warm mid-range and deep bass.

Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

2011 album from the critically adored British singer/songwriter. Let England Shake was recorded in a 19th Century church in Dorset, on a cliff-top overlooking the sea. It was created with a cast of musicians including such long-standing allies as Flood, John Parish, and Mick Harvey. What is remarkable about Let England Shake is bound up with its music, its abiding atmosphere and in particular, its words. If Harvey's past work might seem to draw of direct emotional experience, this album is rather different. Its songs centre on both her home country, and events further afield in which it has embroiled itself. The lyrics return, time and again, to the matter of war, the fate of the people who must do the fighting, and events separated by whole ages, from Afghanistan to Gallipoli. The album they make up is not a work of protest, nor of strait-laced social or political comment. It brims with the mystery and magnetism in which she excels. But her lyric-writing in particular has arrived at a new, breathtaking place, in which the human aspects of history are pushed to the foreground. Put simply, not many people make records like this.

Kate Bush and Nick Cave had a baby. They named the baby "Let England Shake." This is absolutely brilliant. Last night, I listened to it for the first time with the headphones on. It was so mindblowing, I actually had to take them off and stop for a while. So much subtlety and grace. This album is simply beautiful. This album is simply horrifying.

It seems to me that, beyond being an album about war and an album about England, it is an album that is about death. It is about death and how responsible we humans are for it much of the time. To know that you are mortal, that your time is finite, yet to still construct rationales and to still be beholden to animal lusts that cut that already unfathomably precious time even shorter...for what? Staggering.

I've seen a lot of conservative comments, lacking vision, that feel Ms. Harvey is not the Ms. Harvey of old, that she has lost the fire of the 1990's. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ironic that the ravages of time and the descent into bitterness that are reflected upon in this record are echoed in the negativity of some of the reviews. But I suppose that's to be expected as the war of life drags ever on.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Strange Mercy by St. Vincent

Strange Mercy by St. Vincent

St. Vincent, the nom-de-stage of "playful chanteuse [and] fearsome shredder" (NY Times) Annie Clark, releases her second album for 4AD, Strange Mercy. The record's 11 tracks showcase Clark's gift for fusing the cerebral and the visceral, her melodically elegant arrangements packing hefty emotional punches. Clark reunited with producer John Congleton and recorded the album in her hometown of Dallas, TX. Strange Mercy finds St. Vincent redefining the idea of the guitar hero, utilizing the instrument as a pointillist artist might wield a brush.

I will freely admit that I hadn't heard of St. Vincent until the Onion's A.V. Club told me that her 2009 album, Actor, was good and that I should listen to it.
Since learning of and thoroughly enjoying that album, I have been eagerly awaiting Annie Clark's latest release, Strange Mercy.

At first listen, the lead single, "Cruel", struck me as a bit mainstream compared to the majority of the previous album, but after listening to it in the framework of the rest of the album as a whole, I began to understand that this was not the case at all.
Strange Mercy, while less dense and involved than Actor, has a wonderfully experimental quality to a lot of it, with Clark placing herself in situations we have yet to see, which is always exciting and refreshing.
While this album is the most sparse we've seen from her (I don't consider her first album, Marry Me, sparse so much as dull), the choice to not go with typical instrumentation really pays off and creates a unique sound.

One aspect of St. Vincent's music has not changed on Strange Mercy and that is her guitar which still sounds like it's made of wasps and Stylophones. It has the ability to shock its way through the dreamy vocals and syrupy keyboards and keep the attention of the listener.
The combination of the warm, soporific elements and the bracing, unflinching electricity is compelling.
Add on top of that Clark's malleable and incredibly expressive vocal style which can be as piping and sharp as Bjork (as on the album's trance-inducing opener, "Chloe In The Afternoon") and as smooth and smoky as Fiona Apple (as on the quiet, bitter "Champagne Year").
Her voice allows us to feel the fear during the cacophonic climax of "Northern Lights", which features Clark shrilling repeatedly: "I saw the Northern Lights/Convinced it was the end of time".
"Neutered Fruit" is equal parts lighthearted, meandering stroll through a sunny garden and smoldering unrequited-love ballade ("Did you ever really stare at me/the way that I stared at you?"), again due to the versatility of her vocals.
The title track tells the sad tale of a mother and wife whose husband is in jail, the mood of the lyrics reinforced by some synths pulled straight from a rainy afternoon in the 80's.
The end of "Surgeon" also borrows a bit from the 80's...the funky part of the 80's.

One of my favorite tracks is "Cheerleader", which stands out with its smug yet confessional verses and angry, declarative chorus; the former is made up of a litany of high school-caliber sins set to the subtle strums of tentative guitars ("I've had good times with some bad guys/I've told whole lies with a half smile") while the latter is accompanied, first by a huge, buzzing drumbeat, then the full voice of both Clark and the rest of the band ("I don't want to be a cheerleader no more/I don't want to be a dirt eater no more").

The album isn't as epic or cinematic or welcoming as Actor; it takes more effort to completely enjoy, but, for some at least, it'll be worth it.
Personally, I enjoy Actor more than Strange Mercy, but the depth and innovation of the music here will surprise the listener.
I'm finding that this album goes right along with the image I've constructed in my mind of Annie Clark/St. Vincent through her music: she's timid, yet forceful, both unsure of herself and overconfident, one quality usually overcompensating for the other. Her music paints her as that one girl you know who is smart, funny, attractive and yet doesn't seem to know it and can never really find happiness because of her second guessing. Hopefully, this is not the case with the real Annie Clark, but, for the purpose of her art, I think the more problems she has, the better and more interesting the journey she brings us on will be.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker

Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker

* Clear, detailed sound brings your music to life
* Connects wirelessly to your mobile phone, tablet or other Bluetooth® device
* Compact and lightweight-fits in your bag or backpack
* Built-in cover protects system and unfolds into stand for instant music anywhere
* Rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides up to 8 hours of non-stop music
Share the music on your mobile phone with sound quality unlike any other Bluetooth speaker. The SoundLink speaker works wirelessly with your iPhone, Android, Blackberry, tablet or laptop—and goes wherever you do for music whenever the moment calls for it.

Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li

Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li

Wounded Rhymes, is one of the most tremendous records you will hear in 2011. Channeling the demise of The Shangri-La's Leader of the Pack, women under the influence, ladies and gentlemen of the canyon, a Kung-fu Marianne Faithful, and an armed Nancy Sinatra on peyote, Lykke Li has created an eleven song album that sounds like no other. The record is packed full of pounding, voodoo drums, girl group gang vocals, sparkling guitar lines, woozy keyboards, love unrequited, hope reignited and her own very powerful voice, sounding bigger and bolder than ever before. From the hazy 60's organ driving opener "Youth Knows No Pain" to the sparse toe-tapsolo- guitar-swing of "Unrequited Love" to rollicking single "Get Some" to the dense drums of the propulsive "Jerome," Wounded Rhymes is a testament to Lykke Li's brilliant musical voice, one unlike any other.

If Lykke Li's consistent (yet commercially underwhelming) debut record was any indication, she had a lot more to offer us than eclectic musical compositions with hooks that tend to stick. And that promise is certainly recognized on the supremely excellent "Wounded Rhymes", her sophomore record, and one that should solidify her place amongst todays' best independent artists. A record of this sort will perhaps never be a million-seller; and probably won't even reach a fraction of the audience that fellow Swede Robyn did last year with her stupendous "Body Talk", but as a work of art it is virtually flawless. The only flaw, if one can call it that, is that it is somewhat short in length.

The theme of the record, as indicated by the cryptic album cover, is love and loss. What is interesting about Lykke Li, is that she doesn't really seem to care so much about love, but rather seems more focussed on consequences of it. An interesting take, but this leads to some great songwriting - the lyrics here seem straightforward but are in fact rather indecipherable at times - and the music more than appropriately backs it up.

The standout track (amongst an album full of standouts, one might add) is the riveting "I Follow Rivers" - which is literally overflowing with metaphor and meaning - the glacial overtones of the instrumentation were not lost on the director of the music video to this fascinating piece of music - and it encapsulates what the entire record is all about. The same can be said of the slow-burner "Silent my Song" - a track that reveals itself in stages and only upon multiple listens. Throughout the album, there is a sense of open space & Nordic wilderness - a running theme through Lykke's records in general - but more so in this one. This gives it a chance to sonically 'open up' in ways that can be experienced best on only a hi-fi music system. On the flipside, there are things about it best experienced on headphones - the stark difference between playing this on a huge system and on a minimalist system is quite something - its like two entirely different albums - both just as essential and spellbinding.

Listen, this may not be everyones kind of music. I'm more a Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, Devendra Banhart, & Joanna Newsom kind of guy, so my tastes veer toward the obscure, and for lack of a better word, 'freak folk' movement. However, Scandinavia has been regularly producing some truly sensational artists - Stina Nordenstam comes to mind, but most talented would perhaps be Lykke Li, and the even more obscure Frida Hyvonen and her sophomore album "Silence is Wild". If moody, dark, minimalist icy pop is what youre after, Lykke Li is exactly the kind of artist that should do it for you. Also, and it bears repeating, this is an album that has immense repeat value - which of course is always the hallmark of an instant classic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Metals by Feist

Metals by Feist

Feist's allure for me has always been those vocals--sharp enough to cut your heart like shaved glass, yet oozing into the corners like clotted cream, floating up and up, shimmering and warm, despairing and lovely. Comparisons with Tori Amos are not unreasonable when it comes to her delivery, but her whispers of desperation are hers alone. Music on this album hovers around the intersection of indie and alt country, a good place for her, and one which she inhabits beautifully. "Little bird/have you got a key?/ Unlock the Lock inside of me..." she sings in the opening of the beautiful "Caught in a Long Wind", and shivers creep up and down my spine, I almost feel ashamed to listen to something so personal. How can she share like this? Something so beautiful? She seems intent on wrapping her listener in layers of her soul, but is it real? Is it an illusion? I'm not sure. But I'm willing to keep exploring. Sometimes, the simplest lyrics become the most profound: in "Bittersweet Melodies", she offers slips of memories, evocations of those relationships that we all have had and regret--"I remember us/'fore we turn to dusk/ Just when these feelings were all about/ When we still could trust/in our hearts". Sometimes, for an instant, I catch a remembrance of the pure beauty of Elizabeth Fraser in her voice, and my heart catches. This is such a mature, such a wonderful album. I love it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ashes & Fire by Ryan Adams

Ashes & Fire by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams released his new album Ashes & Fire October 11 on PAX-AM/Capitol in the U.S.. Adams' first solo album released via a new U.S. arrangement with his own PAX-AM label and EMI's Capitol in the U.S. and Canada, the album was recorded at Sunset Sound Factory in Hollywood and produced by Glyn Johns, renowned for his work with the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Clash, The Who and The Rolling Stones--and whose son Ethan produced previous Ryan Adams albums Heartbreaker, Gold and 29.

"All great records start with great songs," commented Dan McCarroll, President of Capitol and Virgin Records. "Ashes & Fire will remind you why Ryan Adams is at the front of the line as one of his generation's most gifted artists."

From the slow burning stunner of an opener "Dirty Rain" through the infectious shuffle of the title track and irresistible harmonies of "Lucky Now," to the closing lament of "I Love You But I Don't Know What To Say," Ashes & Fire is arguably the most cohesive and beautiful album of Adams' distinguished career.

Ashes & Fire also features guest turns from Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench as well as Norah Jones who contributes piano and backing vocals on several tracks, including the lilting, acoustic overtures of "Come Home," the sumptuous ballad "Save Me" and the heartfelt "Kindness."

I love Ryan Adams, and you need to know that up front. That said, I've been a little let down by Easy Tiger, which I loved at first, but which has not stayed in my CD player as much as say Cold Roses (probably his masterpiece!) or the somewhat misunderstood genius of 29. I was worried that this CD could be a return to more Easy Tiger style stuff, which was good but not very memorable. I am so pleased to be wrong. Dirty Rain, the first track, starts us off on an easy midtempo folky song with a great melody and a fantastic vocal, full of the passion and grit that we've missed a little recently. You've probably heard Ashes & Fire by now if you are a Ryan Adams fan, and it is a good one. I haven't heard him use the waltz beat very much, and he uses it well. The vocal on "Kindness" is absolutely transcendent, it reminds me of the best vocals from Cold Roses, and the use of the organ subtly in the background is very welcome. I love the piano touches, which are not overboard, and I love his gentle drawl. I love this song, and for me it is probably the standout of the record. Fans of alt-country Ryan (as opposed to Rock N Roll Ryan, Heavy Prog Metal Ryan, English 80's Pop Ryan, Rap Ryan, Death Metal Ryan, or any of the other incarnations that he inhabits with remarkable facility) will find much to enjoy. For me, his voice--by turns gentle, trembling, cracked, gritty, and melodic sounds fantastic here. Ryan does a lot of styles well, but this is the style at which he is the acknowledged master, and this set of music will make those who love his heartbroken tales of woe and love gone wrong very very pleased that they have continued to listen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mockingbird Time by the Jayhawks

Mockingbird Time [Deluxe Edition]
by the Jayhawks

Mockingbird Time by the Jayhawks

During their heyday in the first half of the 1990s, The Jayhawks perfected a captivating sound that seamlessly blended the elegant folk-rock of The Byrds, the adventurousness of Buffalo Springfield, the hippiebilly soulfulness of The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the soaring harmonies of The Beach Boys. So it's richly ironic that their reappearance coincides with a dramatic resurgence of the musical approach they played such a central role in perpetuating--but this time around, The Jayhawks themselves are revered as icons by the young bands carrying on those same traditions, and it's their own legacy that they're advancing. On Mockingbird Time, their eighth album, and the first with the original lineup since 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass, they're once again pushing the envelope in songs and performances of rarefied dynamism and grace. The album's shapes and textures range from the string-laden grandeur of "Hide Your Colors" and the widescreen vistas of "Tiny Arrows" to the streamlined 12-string jangle of "She Walks in So Many Ways" and the amphetamine frenzy of "High Water Blues."

Limited deluxe edition includes an exclusive DVD featuring Mockingbird Time: A Documentary, Oceanway Studios rehearsal sessions videos, and a never-before-seen performance from 1985, plus two bonus tracks, additional photos, lyrics, and deluxe packaging.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Whole Love by Wilco

The Whole Love [Limited Edition, Deluxe Edition]
by Wilco

The Whole Love [Limited Edition, Deluxe Edition] by Wilco

This Deluxe CD includes a 52 page book and two discs in oversized CD wallets. Disc two has four bonus tracks that do not appear on the regular full length CD.

Wilco is one of those bands you can never sleep on.

Nearly a decade removed from their most esteemed album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, circumstances have changed for the Chicago-based rockers. There was a time in which Wilco couldn't do anything without causing everyone to stand up and take notice.

My senior year in high school was the year A Ghost Is Born came out, and everyone was talking about that record. It was everywhere. You couldn't escape the buzz from that album if you bought real estate under a giant boulder.

But if you were one of those, like me, who soon tired of the Wilco hype, you eventually got your wish. It wouldn't be fair to say the hype died, but I don't remember the previous two albums generating the same level of hysteria we saw with Ghost.

But now it is 2011 and I've got to eat my words. I finally decided to give Wilco an in-depth listen, and I see what the big deal is. If there's a new wave of hype over the latest Wilco record, don't expect to see me run for cover. Because if there's any justice, The Whole Love should start a revolution of its own.

The Whole Love seems to strike a medium between the two extremes the band painted in the 2000s. It's certainly more level headed than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, but is more adventurous than their last effort, Wilco (the album). The opener, "Art of Almost," builds up slowly, leaving you wondering what exactly this album has in store for you. But when the extended guitar solo kicks in, you know you're in for a truly unique ride.

As a listener who appreciates variety, The Real Love is an easy sell. This album has it all, from sprawling epics to clashing rockers and well crafted pop nuggets.

"I Might" sees the band combining pop and rock styles like second nature. You are treated to strong hooks that are punctuated by guitar pyrotechnics going off left and right. When Jeff Tweedy's voice kicks in during the chorus, I can't help but notice he sounds a bit like John Lennon.

And speaking of Beatles influence, another treat comes on "Sunloathe." It's dreary at first, but picks up as it goes along. The second half reminds me of the Abbey Road medley, particularly in regard to the harmonies and drum fills.

One fact Wilco fans should be well aware of is that there's nothing quite like the effect of a dynamic frontman. There are few tracks that better accentuate that than "Standing O," a rollicking rocker on which Tweedy confidently asserts himself -- "Maybe you've noticed I'm not afraid of everything that I've done / Maybe you've noticed I'm not the same as almost anyone."

And if you like Wilco's lyricism, "Dawned On Me," will also be high on your favorites list. I enjoy the aggressive attitude and the way the words wrap around each verse. Look at the second verse:

"I've been lost
I've been found
I've been taken by the sound"

It's simple, but dramatic when delivered the way Tweedy does it. This is the song most deeply ingrained in my head right now.

"Black Moon" and "Rising Red Lung" are mellow, quiet, and thought provoking. They're the two songs on The Whole Love that best reflect on Wilco's alt-country roots, and they're the two songs that best represent my state of mind when I'm ready to chill out.

"Capitol City" has a jovial, bouncy, show tune-y feel to it. "Open Mind" is an emotional ballad, with lyrics that tug at your heart strings. Then you have "Born Alone," one of my personal favorites. At first glance it's your typical pop/rock gem, but near the end it gets reflective and really rocks out.

The Whole Love comes to a close with "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" a devastatingly vivid 12 minute chronicle on the deterioration of a relationship between father and son. Pay close attention to the lyrics and it'll produce a lump in your throat.

What makes Wilco great is the sincerity of everything they produce, coupled with the unique musical ideas that seem to turn up on each of their records. The Whole Love is the perfect album if you're looking for something refreshing, or for anyone who's a fan of great songwriting.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

  • The best Bose® headphones reduce noise across a wide range of frequencies
  • Enjoy music and movies with clear and lifelike sound
  • Comfortable, around-the-ear fit; ideal for frequent flyers
  • Includes cable with remote for iPhone®/iPod® control, mic for hands-free iPhone calling
  • AAA battery: 35 hours average life

Full Spectrum Noise Reduction

They're the best Bose headphones, period. QuietComfort 15 headphones feature exclusive Bose advancements in noise reduction technology. You hear less noise and more of your music and movies-with quality sound and a long-lasting comfortable fit. You won't find this combination of benefits in any other headphone.

Within every pair of QC®15 headphones, advanced electronics use microphones inside and outside each earcup to sense the sounds around you-and reduce the noise. Proprietary ear cushion technology blocks some of the noise before it even reaches your ears. Together, these Bose innovations add up to a more enjoyable listening experience.
Relax with music - or without it
QC15 headphones also feature proprietary signal processing and TriPort® acoustic headphone structure for more lifelike sound-including deep low notes-from small, lightweight earcups. And when you'd rather relax without music, switch on QC headphones to simply reduce the noise around you, wherever you are.
Take calls. Take control
QC15 headphones come with a cable customized for select Apple® products. A three-button remote and microphone let you take calls on your iPhone and control music functions on other Apple devices. You can also purchase a mobile kit that lets your QC headphones work with other cell phones, too.

When you fly with QC15 headphones, engine roar fades to a whisper. When you listen at home or at work, fewer distractions get in the way of your music. And when you want to stay connected, calls are just a button-press away. QC15 headphones continue to give you more of what you want to hear, and less of what you don't.
QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones Highlights
  • Significant noise reduction across a wider range of frequencies. Proprietary Bose innovations use microphones both inside and outside each earcup to sense and reduce the sounds around you.
  • TriPort acoustic headphone structure, another Bose exclusive, features tiny vents in the earcups to enable a tonally-balanced audio performance-including reproduction of deep, low notes-from relatively small and lightweight headphones.
  • Active equalization electronically tunes the headphones' frequency response, enabling outstanding audio performance.
  • Interchangeable audio cables, one for general use, and one just for select Apple products, offer greater convenience than permanently connected Y-cables.
  • Inline microphone allows for hands-free iPhone conversation and access to certain voice applications, such as VoiceOver and Voice Control, in other Apple products.
  • Inline three-button remote switches between calls and music, and controls volume, track selection and voice applications on select Apple products.
  • Advanced ear cushions use new materials in a proprietary design to establish a critical acoustical seal-helping to further reduce noise while providing a comfortable fit.
  • Fold-flat earcups rotate 90 degrees for easy storage and portability in the included case.
  • Slim carrying case helps protect headphones and accessories during travel.
Apple cable compatibility
The QuietComfort 15 inline remote and microphone cable is compatible with iPod nano (4th, 5th and 6th generation), iPod classic (120GB, 160GB only), iPod touch (2nd, 3rd and 4th generation), iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad and iPad 2, and Macbook (unibody) and Macbook Pro. The remote is supported by iPod shuffle (3rd generation). Audio is supported by all iPod models. Requires latest iPod software.
Product Details
Overall headphone dimensions 7.5"H x 6"W x 1.5"D ( 19.1 cm x 15.2 cm x 3.8 cm )
Ear cushion outside dimensions 3.8"H x 2.9"W ( 9.6 cm x 7.4 cm )
Weight with cables 4.9 oz (140 g)

Nothing Is Wrong by Dawes

Nothing Is Wrong by Dawes

2011 release, the sophomore album from the L.A. Folk-Rock quartet. Dawes recorded the disc at producer Jonathan Wilson's Echo Park studio late last year in between touring commitments. Nothing Is Wrong is the follow-up to the band's 2009 debut, North Hills. A collection of songs that expertly builds upon the template laid by North Hills, Nothing Is Wrong sees Dawes displaying strong growth and evolution while still manifesting their distinctive, unforgettable voice.

Dawes is a great band. One of the few bands keeping my faith in modern music alive. "North Hills" is a classic and "Nothing Is Wrong" stands solidly at its side. "Nothing Is Wrong" has markedly nicer production than "North Hills" and a handful of new classic anthems that will certainly be an important part of the Dawes catalogue for years to come. However, I have to say there are a few tracks I find myself skipping over when listening to the album. It's not that they're not good songs, it's just that they're a little slow sometimes for my taste and don't have the same hook, energy or teeth that some of the stronger songs on the album do. This is my one criticism and the only reason I can't give the album a full five stars. Basically, there's not a bad song on this album and there are a few truly great ones. My new favorite is "My Way Back Home", epic. Buy this album if you dig good music!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars

Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars

2011 debut full length from the Folk/Country duo. The Civil Wars consists of John Paul White, hailing from Florence, AL and Joy Williams, originally from Santa Cruz, CA, but now residing in East Nashville. The duo's chance meeting a year and a half ago fueled an immediate songwriting chemistry and creative synergy. Their second show ever, performed at a sold out Eddie's Attic, was recorded and released as a free digital album. Of the duo, Reg's Coffee House host, Scott Register, praises: 'In my 13 years on the radio, few of the artists I've championed had as immediate a reaction as The Civil Wars. When I first spun `Poison & Wine' listeners couldn't get enough of it and wanted to own it immediately. This band has the `it' factor that you look for. Don't miss out.'

The only disappointing thing about this CD is that it has only 12 songs. You will be wanting more - probably why I've listened over and over again. But do not despair - they are skillful writers and are going to be around for a while. I heard them live Monday night (they're even better live), and they sang some songs they are working on - be on the look out for Oh Henry in the future. Their chemistry combined with their passion for music sets a new, refreshing standard. The beginning harmonies in the title track "Barton Hollow" smacks of a Delta Blues harmonica. You don't have to be a fan of country, bluegrass, or blues to enjoy this music. Listening you will be witness to shear musical genius.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Head and the Heart

The Head and the Heart

So many decisions in life and in the music we love can come down to a critical tug between the logic in our heads and the hot red blood beating through our hearts. Seattle's The Head and the Heart live authentically in that crux, finding joy and beauty wedged there. Their music pulses effervescently both explosively danceable and intuitively intelligent. With Americana roots and strong vocal harmonics that swell like a river, this band finds its anchor in solid songwriting that has even the jaded humming along by the second listen.

Let me admit upfront that I had not heard this band until I heard their CD played at my local indie record store here in Temeculah. I was really impressed with the quality of the tracks I heard then, and so I bought the CD. Am I glad I did! The Head and the Heart hail from Seattle, where in 2010 they self-released this debut album. Based on the strong buzz that followed the band shortly thereafter, the album was re-released on the Sub Pop lable in early 2011 (with one new track "River and Roads").

"The Head and the Heart" (10 tracks; 40 min.) finds it roots in folk and Americana, and as such shines. From the opener "Cats and Dogs" the album feels like an old friend that you have come to (re)appreciate. Singers/songwriters Jossiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell are the focal point of the band, with rich and warm voices. They are aptly supported by 4 more band members (bass; piano; violin; and drums). "Down in the Valley" is a pensive tune immediately that reminded me of Ryan Adams "Heartbreaker"-era, and he probably wishes he could write a song like "Down in the Valley" nowadays. "River and Roads" is another dramatic tune, done beautifully. "Honey Come Home" is another favorite track of mine on here, with great lyrics like "I think of all this time we've wasted with our fighting and I cry/I just wanna die with the one I love beside me", wow. "Sounds Like Hallelujah" is one of the more exuberant songs on here. The closer is "Heaven Go Easy On Me", and as the title implies, a perfect way to round out the album.

In all, this is a strong debut album, and at a crisp 40 min., you'll find yourself playing this again and again. I had the opportunity to catch these guys live this past weekend, and they put on a great set, bringing most of the albums's tracks. I think they are probably just living out of a suitcase as I just read they'll be back here again for another show in August. Meanwhile, "The Head and the Heart" is highly recommended!

Sympathique by Pink Martini

Sympathique by Pink Martini

While the cocktail lounge fad has seen more than a few musicians climb aboard as a career move, the members of Pink Martini are no bandwagon-riding aficionados. Fronted by pianist Thomas Lauderdale, Pink Martini is the real article--a band that approaches the music with unwavering seriousness yet never forgets the fun at the heart of it. Sympathique, the band's debut album reveals an incredibly diverse musical vocabulary on the part of frontman Lauderdale. And what singer China Forbes lacks in range and dynamics, she more than compensates for in attack, approach, and a clear understanding of the material. While most of the songs are upbeat, in the hands of Lauderdale and Forbes, "Qué será será," with its dark atmospherics should be rechristened "Qué será noir."

This is a stunning CD. It is a cohesive blend of Cuban, French, Greek, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, classical, and Brazilian music. It is a hit in Europe; one of the cuts was included on one of the trendy Parisian Hotel Costes' CDs. The music is hard to classify- Jazz? Latin? House? Retro? Whatever you want to call it, it is marvelous, sophisticated, quirky, cosmopolitan, and international. And believe it or not, the group Pink Martini comes out of Portland Oregon. The group includes 14 talented musicians, covering vocals, trumpet, trombone, violin, cello, bass, guitar, piano, and percussion. Two cuts are augmented with the addition of a string orchestra and children's choir.

This, their debut CD, was recorded in 1996-1997 in Portland. I can only offer the highest praise for this CD. Anyone, of any age, should find at least several things to love here. The first cut, Amado Mio, is a Latin groove. You will want to dance the tango or cha cha, even if you can't. The instrumental No Hay Problema is next, continuing the Spanish flavor. The next cut is what led me to the CD: Sympathique. This song could have been recorded by Edith Piaf, or Josephine Baker. However, it is an original work by the lead vocalist and the piano player of the group. It is definitely retro-light, humorous, tongue in cheek (in French, but the booklet includes a translation); I LOVE this song!

The next tune presents a remarkable plot twist. It is Que Sera Sera: yes, the song Doris Day made famous. It's the same song, but this is a twisted, chilling, haunted version. It's Doris Day meets Cirque de Soleil meets Fellini meets the Marquis de Sade. China Forbes' vocal is accompanied by an arrangement that is at once poignant, melancholic, light, discordant, tortured, wistful. This will blow your mind.

To soothe us after this alarming excursion, Pink Martini then kindly brings us to a calmer, peaceful place, thanks to a Frederick Chopin interlude, which flows into another Latin-flavored original composition, La Soledad. Chopin cleverly keeps sneaking back into the song. It's a fascinating juxtaposition. The Spanish theme continues with Donde Estas, Yolanda! Another instrumental, Andalusia, features some fine trumpet. It's a mellow, uplifting, driving piece that shows off the instrumental talents of the group. The next song, Song of the Black Lizard, in Japanese, is from the film The Black Lizard. It is sad and beautiful, and unforgettable (like the film). This work also demonstrates the power of the trumpet, this time with a Chris Botti-like chill groove.

The group stops next in Greece, with a slowed-down version of Children of Piraeus from the film Never On Sunday, which makes the song more poignant and wistful; and then cruises to Brazil with Acuarela de Brazil. The CD concludes with a reprise of Sympathique, this time called Lullaby. The tune is the same, but the mood is quite different-- full of longing, or looking back, or reminiscing.

If I had the option of giving this a multitude of stars, I would. This is an amazing work. If you have the opportunity to see this group perform live, run, don't walk. Their live concerts are amazing. They are clearly a bunch of clever, literate, talented, sophisticated, fun-loving, worldly people. I thank them for creating a delightful CD.