55 posts categorized "Music"

December 31, 2012

Top Indie & New Music Albums of 2012

What a great year (again) for new music and indie-rock!  I've enjoyed dozens of full length albums in a world of iTunes singles.  My method of discovering new music centers on CMJ's Charts, Pitchfork, my local record shop (Freakbeat) and serendipity.  I buy the CD (yeah, usually the CD, if possible from my local store), then listen to it in my car and if I like it, via my Apple devices.  

To me, a great album is glued together by at least a half dozen great songs and a cohernet sound. So, without any more windup, here are my ten favorite albums of the 2012: 

1.  Purity Ring, "Shrines" - This Canadian duo delivers a downtempo, trip-hopian record that evokes Portishead, Massive Attack and Metric.  The production is innovative and the record has song after song to get in your head and make your ear buds happy. 

2.  Jack White, "Blunderbuss" - The best songwriting of the year IMHO.  White combines the best of his White Stripes style with his evolving sense of humor and willingness to bend the Delta Blues to his liking.  

3.  fun., "Some Nights" - This is the cool-band-that-blew-up this year, rocketing to the top of the charts and making the leap from indie to pop sensation.  When you combine Queen like vocal layers with Green Day like enthusiasm, you have an infectious sound.  The title track, along with We Are Young, will go down as the anthems of 2012. 

4.  Ty Segall, "Twins" - This is my favorite hard indie record of the year, just beating out Metz and The Men.  Ty fronted Orange County based Epsilon before branching off to his solo efforts.  Think Nirvana's sound from Bleach combined with a male fronted Runaways and you've got it. 

5.  Passion Pit, "Gossomer" - If you mix four Berklee School of Music graduates with a dollup of MGMT's sensiblity, you've got Passion Pit.  They have greatly improved with this sophomore release and their hit "Talk A Walk" is one of my favorite singles of the year. 

6. THEESatisfaction, "awE  naturalE" - This Seattle hip hop duo is one of Sub Pop's recent forays into alternative beat culture.  They have the eloquence of the Fugees, yet a band like sound, much like the Roots.  Great album to relax, dance or nod your head too. 

7. Django Django (self-titled) - This London based quartet brought energy and vitality to bedroom-produced-pop with their debut album.  If you love Franz Ferdinand or Kaiser Chiefs, you'll love this band too.  After a half dozen infectious electro-brit-pop songs, the band settles into an instrumental-electronica section to end the record on a high note. 

8. Grizzly Bear, "Shields" - In this album, the band matures into a songwriting force to be reckoned with.  Likely, their tours with Radiohead influenced their work, adding structure to their shimmer. Each track adds to the choral rock energy of the album, delivering a consistent indie-rock delight. 

9. Big Pink, "Future This" - This UK duo delivers two of my favorite things: Anthem & Electro rock. Their hit "Superman" will lift you off the ground, and likely be your psyche-up song for your next big challenge or performance in life.  

10. Alt-J, "An Awesome Wave" - Taken from a Mac command, this band's name stands for "Slow Change." They combine what I like about Fleet Foxes with what I love about My Morning Jacket: Shimmer tones and vocal swirls.  The track "Fitzpleasure" will hook you on the band, so give it a listen and prepare to buy their album.    

December 21, 2011

My 6 Favorite Albums Of 2011

After buying over 100 albums this year (mostly in CD format), I'm ready to reveal my top listens from 2011.  To qualify, the entire album must be good, not just a few songs.  I still love to listen to an album from beginning to end, instead of just grazing on singles via a playlist.  It's hard to find albums that shine from cut 1 to cut 10 or beyond - and that's why these 6 are so special: 

1.  Yuck (self-titled debut) - If you liked early Smashing Pumpkins or Dinosaur Jr., you'll love this group of youngsters from the UK.  Their songwriting is matched by a very special guitarist with one-of-a-kind tones. 

2. The Givers: In Light - The Lafayette Louisiana guy/girl group has a fresh new hippie meets indie sound.  For fans of Vampire Weekend or Peter, Paul and Bjourn. 

3. Decemberists: The King Is Dead - This album sparkles, mainly because of the addition of REM's Peter Buck on guitars.  Each song has a country-rock influence, which combined with the Decemberist sound makes for a truly remarkable album that you'll still enjoy five years from now. 

4. Black Keys: El Camino - They pick up right where they left off with Brothers, except this time they've got some friends playing and singing with them.  Just got this one in, but in less than a week, it's on heavy rotation in my car.  

5. Foster The People: Torches - This is the breakout album of the year, containing three singles and several big deals for TV shows, commercials and movies.  Foster really captures the gestalt of the times with this record and Pumped Up Kicks is the song of the year - bringing back song-construction wonders I've been missing since MGMT's first album. 

6. Fruit Bats: Tripper - Much like Decemberists, Fruit Bats are really figuring out how to integrate a country-rock feel into indie and make it shine (brighter than Wilco).  There's also a timeless quality to these songs, like merging Supertramp with the Allman Brothers. 

Here are some discoveries from 2011 worth checking out: 

1. Planningtorock - combines NIN with Florence and the Machines for eerie but awesome songs. 

2. Peaking Lights - Dub, meets guy-girl vocal for dancy yet chilled out grooves. 

3. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - These guys funk it up, Touch The Sky will make you get up and dance.

Chime in here in the comments - what are your favorite albums or discoveries from 2011? 


December 10, 2010

Top 10 Modern Music CDs of 2010

One of my passions is discovering and sharing new music. 

It can be indie-rock, nu-jazz, eletronica-pop, funk or even country.  But it has to be *new* and embody the zeitgeist of what's going on in the world.  That's why I love the CMJ charts, Pitchfork and Good Records.  They track what's hot (either in college or for hipsters) and along with collaborative services like Pandora, Amazon and Apple Genius ... I have a great collection of records to choose from. 

I'll listen to a few tracks of each, and usually buy a track to drop into my "New 2010" playlist.  When I like a track, then another, I purchase it, usually at a store like Freakdaddy Records in Sherman Oaks.  Sometimes I grab it from Amazon.  The CD goes into driving-around rotation.  I look for records that have a lot of great songs OR tell a story either sonically or lyrically.  In many cases, the band/artist has a great song (such as Empathy by Crystal Castles or Dominos by Big Pink).  In rare cases, the CD is so good -- it's an album!

Each year, using this system, I find about two dozen GREAT records.  From that pile, I compile my top 10.  I personally guarantee each one to rock your socks.

1 - Brothers by The Black Keys.  This is the record of 2010.  It showcases their gritty funky, yet highly danceable side.  This is the soundtrack for any rock party you want to throw. 

2 - Astro Coast by Surfer Blood.  This Palm Beach FLA band has the oomph of Silversun Pickups with the tunesmith power of Wheezer.  Top CD in rotation in my car this year. 

3 - Wilderness Heart by Black Mountain.  This band combines a southern feel with the bluesy-psychedelic side of Led Zeppelin.  

4 - There Is Love In You by Four Tet.  Best electronica record of 2010.  Throw this into the Folktronica pile, alongside a brooding Chemical Brothers or the Underworld.  Track 2 KILLS. 

5 - Permalight by Rogue Wave.  Best collection of songs I've heard all year.  He's not just a great writer, he's got the indie-hook thing down to a science.  Sing along hipster rock. 

6 - Plastic Beach by Gorillaz.  Wow, this combo has honed their style into it's own funk-jazz-hip hop genre.  The strongest collection of tracks they've offered yet.  

7 - The Winter Of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit.  This Glasgow three piece plays with an emotional urgency that makes me miss Big Country or Cactus World News.  

8 - Budos Band III.  Best instrumental record of the last few years - funky, jazzy and shake-your-booty party music.  Think War meets De Phazz by way of East L.A.  Party soundtrack!

9 - Sisterworld by Liars.  What a dark, but lovely hard rock record.  The lead singer is crazy, but the band is remarkably methodical.  Think Jesus Lizard, early NIN or even Cop Shoot Cop.  

10 - Mixed Race by Tricky.  The king of trip-hop is back and his tracks are better than ever.  He's matured a ton, but at the same time, re-captured his bounce and edge.  If you liked Massive Attack's last attempt, you will LOVE Mixed Race. 

Here's my picks for last year: Top 10 Modern Rock CDs of 2009 


December 29, 2009

Top 10 Modern Rock Records of 2009

Top 10 Records
 Here are my top 10 album finds of 2009:

I've researched all year to give you these recommendations.  I guarantee each one is a great listen for all fans of rock of new music.  Even indie-hipsters will find something they love on this list.  I've considered over 150 records (found on CMJ, Good Records, Amazon Genius, word-of-mouth, numerous publications). I purchased about 40 of them after a full preview on LaLa.  The pile sifts down to these ten records. NOTE: I purchased 6 of the 10 at my favorite local record shop.  I bought 3 of them on iTunes.  I only purchased one through Amazon (Silversun Pickups).  I'm going a little digital this year (30%), but still love the convenience of popping the CD into my player (and enjoying the artwork or packaging).  

By modern rock, I mean all rock that isn't a retread of last year's/decade's big hit.  I'm looking for new, indie, fresh, retro-but-innovative rock that I want to turn up in my car.  I'm also looking for great albums, from beginning to end.  Each one of my picks has a minimum of eight great tracks.  In a future post, I'll share my top 12 songs of 2009, which will likely come from a different group of artists than this list. 


1. Fruit Bats - Ruminant Band: Eric Johnson, the creator of the Fruit Bats, hails from Chicago and now lives in Seattle where his label (Sub Pop) HQs.  You might have seen Johnson as a touring sideman for the Shins.  Ruminant Band really grew on me with repeat listens.  It fills that "Shins-Arcade Fire-Deathcab" indie-sensitive category for the year.  The songs blend turned phrases with southern rock guitar riffs and rare instruments to create my top find of 2009.  Every single tracks glistens with taste and the gestalt of this year's crop of new music.  

2. Kasabian - West Ryder Lunatic Asylum: This bad-boy UK electro-rock group lit up the summer festival circuit in Europe. I read about them in a music mag I purchased in London in July.  Their much anticipated record features Sergio Pizzorno's sensibility and dark point of view.  This is the best british modern rock record since Blur's Think Tank.  Much like it, West Ryder Lunatic Asylum takes you on a sonic journey from the boom-boom beats of Underdog or Vlad The Impaler to the thoughtful organic tunesmithing of Thick As Thieves.  

3. Built To Spill - There Is No Enemy: I've been a fan of this band for over a decade because of their brown guitar sounds, uber-indie chordings and great lyrics.  Doug Martsch is one of the songwriters of our time.  There Is No Enemy is perhaps their best record yet, which is hard to deliver after all of this time. This will fill your My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses or Modest Mouse requirements for the year (and then some).  

4. Thao - Know Better Learn Faster: This is a new band that came on strong at the end of the year (thanks to CMJ's charts for alerting me to their rise).  Lead singer Thao Nguyen is enigmatic, bombastic, soulful and stands out as one of this year's new fresh faces in indie-land.  She's as strange as Cat Power, yet as forceful as Perry Ferrel.  Check out track 2 (Cool Yourself) and you'll buy the record.  

5. Monsters Of Folk - Monsters Of Folk: Are you kidding me? Combine Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, with Jim James from My Morning Jacket, then throw in M. Ward just to make this indie-folk-supergroup debut a ringer.  Man Named Truth and Dear God are instant classics.  This record is rare in that it perfectly blends several big egos to produce a collaboratively huge sound.  

6. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career: This band hails from Scotland and shares an instrumental bent not too far from fellow Scots Belle & Sebastian.  TraceyAnn Campbell has a Mama Cass meets Portishead/Beth sound that is both throwback and modern at the same time.  French Navy is one of the most engaging and smile producing tracks of this year.  Their US tour was the highlight of the indie circuit this summer. 

7. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug: Alex Turner is one of the most special writers to come from the UK in a long time. He's got a knack for transposing his point of view into snap catchy songs.  Their first CD was a fresh delight and Humbug, their third release returns them to top form.  

8. Silversun Pickups - Swoon: One of the top alternative rock records of 2009 from one of my favorite Los Angeles acts.  Swoon is the band's full on Gish (Smashing Pumpkins) and shows incredible growth both in song writing and tone production.  The opening track, There Are No Secrets This Year, sizzles with a freshness of a newly signed band.  

9. Passion Pit - Manners: Michael Angelakos is the master mind behind this twisted pop band from Boston. He combines vintage instruments with otherworldly vocal arrangements to create this year's MGMT.  Much like MGMT, the band's production sparkles with a cherubic sound.  Sleepyhead was a top college track this year.  

10. Sonic Youth - The Eternal: Yes, they are back in black and more accessible than ever.  Somewhere along the way Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon decided to combine their decades of experience into a wise record that stretched the boundaries of tone and tune.  From beginning to end, each track will engage you and remind you why Sonic Youth is one of the most influential bands of rock and roll. 

Check out my top albums of 2008

October 05, 2009

Three CDs that you need to buy

Mid-2009 is chocked full of great music releases. 

My first two picks come from the CMJ Charts (where you can listen to entire albums free!).  This is a great resource to keep your finger on the button of what's hot on college radio.  I've found that college radio will give you a glimpse into next year's next-big-thing.  

Ruminant Band by Sub Pop group Fruit Bats is a fantastic CD, maybe one of the year's best so far.  Fruit Bats is fronted by Eric Johnson, who served as a touring guitarist for the Shins last year.  The influence shows too, as Fruit Bats capture the indie-poetry tone of the Shins throughout the CD.  And I say this in a good way.  Check out the title track and you'll be hooked.  This record is great through and through and will likely top the year end critics picks (like it topped the CMJ charts last week.) 

Humbug by Arctic Monkeys is my next must-buy recommendation.  This is the best CD they've ever recorded, including their stellar debut a few years ago.  The band's frontman, Alex Turner, is maturing in both his songwriting and in the area of emotional expression.  Check out track #2 Crying LIghtning and you'll hit the buy button.  This record is listenable from the first to the last track, not something you can take for granted with UK indie-20's something bands. 

My last pick is 11:11 by Rodrigo y Gabriela.  These two mexican metal-flamenco wunderkinds finally released their followup to their self titled major label release (which I recommended breathlessly in 2007.) This is the most sonic record of 2009 and a must-own for any lover of fine music.  This duo successfully combines rock, latin, acoustic and classical guitar into a roaring album that'll do for dinner, a party or a drive through the mountains.  It comes with a bonus DVD that will prove that the two make ALL their music live with only four hands. 

July 20, 2009

Best modern music of 2009: So far

Every year, I buy dozens and dozens of records that represent the annual crop of new music.  By new music, I mean original-cool-indie or breakthrough (any genre twist will do).  My search is bigger than just trolling for great songs -- I'm looking for the spirit of the times.  (Check out my 2008 picks.) 

The 2009 crop of records is bountiful in innovation, vibe, meaning and groove.  Here are the top three albums of the year, so far.  I picked these because they are chocked full of good songs, so you'd want to buy the record and not just pick off a few songs via iTunes.  

1. Kasabian -- West Pauper Lunatic Asylum
This is one of the best UK releases in years.  I read about the new CD via New Music Express when I was in the UK earlier this year.  These kids are ruling the summer festival circuit in Europe.  If you loved Blur's Think Tank, you'll love this record even more.  I can't decide which track is the best.  At first, the opening track Underdog had me hooked.  Later, I fell in love with Vlad The Impaler.  Now, I am digging every track.  

2. Camera Obscura -- My Maudlin Career 
A friend of mine that works at 800-CEO-READ told me about this band back in April.  Then I heard about them from two other trusted taste makers: a good sign.  This Scottish group plays well with fellow country musicians Belle & Sebastian.  Think Portishead meets Dusty Springfield.  French Navy and Away With Murder are on my Best Of 2009 iTunes playlist.  I love it when retro is innovated into futuristic.  

3. Silversun Pickups -- Swoon 
This LA indie band's second record continues to hold up well listen after listen.  Check out my earlier review of the album for more details.  

Best singles of the year, so far (good for iTunes): 
Obits: Widow Of My Dreams (think Strokes meets Iggy Pop) 
Metronomy: A Thing For Me (fun electro-clash story) 
Peter, Bjorn and John: Nothing To Worry About (best track on the record)

May 25, 2009

Finding new indie music is easy as CMJ online

Today, I had a few minutes to invest in new music. 

CMJ's top college chart is the only place you need to go to find the newest bands brewing under the radar. They've integrated LALA services into every listing, so you can listen to the entire album (once) in hi-fi before buying it completely or by the track. 

My find of the day is The Obits, arguably the new Strokes.  Their first track (Widow Of My Dreams) is some exciting stuff -- maybe the top track so far for 2009. They are the top buzz band of the year, and were signed by Sub Pop after a few gigs and before any single or indie release could be put out. That's a good sign (remember last year's MGMT? Same type of story/buzz).

If you visit CMJ's charts every month or so, and invest a few minutes, you'll have the pulse of new music.

PS -- Check out Pitchfork too. The uber-review site will keep you up to date on new releases AND it offers a ton of legal-free MP3's from up and coming bands (like The Thermals).  

May 18, 2009

Swoon for the Silversun Pickups

The new album (Swoon) by alt-indie rock band Silversun Pickups is a MUST buy. It's been lodged in my car's CD changer for two weeks, and grows on me with each listen. 

In 2007, I recommended Silversun Pickups on the blog, proclaiming them as the next-big-thing out of LA. To steal a line from Simon Cowell, "I was right." 

The band sounds like a cross between Smashing Pumpkins, early Nirvana and the Melvins. Their songs create an energy ball with singer Brian Aubert's androgynous vocals adding a soaring tone to the record. Unlike altern-ripoff artists of late, Silverun Pickups make a contribution to the genre with their unique stamp and chord choices.

Check out track #2 (The Royal We), track #4 (It's Nice To Know You Work Alone) and the epic album closer (Surrounded Or Spiraling) and I promise you'll click to buy Swoon

April 19, 2009

Three picks from the edge of the music world

It's time for another update from my iPod.  

There are several great new records out that you need to know about.  My focus is mostly chillout/lounge and indie rock.  As usual, I've perused my favorite online haunts (Good Records, CMJ, Genius and AP) to find the best new music to recommend.  

My first pick is Bonnie "Prince" Billy's new record, Beware.  This is the alter ego project of legendary indie-country artist Will Oldham.  If you followed the recent South By Southwest music festival, you know he was the toast of the town this year.  In his latest release, he sizzles as a provocative story teller and soundscape creator.  The songs are haunting (think Hank mixed with Deathcab).  Check out the track "I Am Goodbye" to see why this will likely be on most critic's "Best of 2009" list. 

Next, I'd like to introduce you to Noah and the Whale.  This UK collective has the epic sound of Arcade Fire and sits nicely next to the folk/emo side of Bonnie "Prince" Billy.  Their late 2008 debut, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down offers a rich collection of harmony driven songs that will stick to the back of your mind.  Check out the track Shape Of My Mind to get a taste of this new group.  

Finally, with a nod to my taste for new-jazz and lounge, I'm recommending you rush out and get DJ Mark Furina's Mushroom Jazz, Volume 6.  Before their was chill out, downtempo and trip hop, there was mushroom jazz.  Volume 6 may be the funkiest, smoothest and most rewarding mix yet.  If you enjoyed the soundtrack to Ocean's 11 or can't get enough of the Buddha Lounge series, you'll dig this record too.  Put it on at a dinner party and you'll inject a dose of jazzy energy into your night. 

March 09, 2009

A perfect pair of sonic delights

There are two new records that take 'symphonic rock' to the next level. 

David Byrne and Brian Eno's 2008 release (Everything That Happens Will Happen Today) is a gem of an album.  Byrne's lyrics are in top form and Eno's guitar tones are majestic and spooky at the same time. Check out the third track (I Feel My Stuff) for a Massive Attack meets T-Heads vibe.  

The Animal Collective's 2009 release (Merriweather Post Pavilion) is the best layered vocal album since The Fleet Floxes debut. Animal Collective have jelled on this release, combining analog synth tones and Brian Wilson quality harmonies.  Check out the second track (My Girls) and you'll click to buy the album, I promise. 

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