Sunday, November 1, 2009

Not Again!

Well, here we go again. It appears that keeping The Room going is not really viable and it is time to move on. But this time, it is a bit different. Rather than just stop blogging, I am shifting to a new venue to try my hand at blogging a bit more expansively and a bit more personally.

Ultimately, trying to write intelligently about music, as was the goal here, simply took too much time. As Wobs pointed out when I talked to him about this "if I could just get to posting before each day's work was done, I might have the energy." But ultimatley I think that had to do with the ideal we were aiming for here at The Room. So, I hope you will put up with another shift and stay with me over at the new place. I will leave it to Wobs to tell you where you can follow him and his many thoughts.

Thanks everyone for staying with us for the last year and a half or so.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Yeah, yeah. I know. Start the blog up again and then only a few months later can't even manage to eke out a post every couple weeks--and, really, this won't count either. It isn't that there has been no music in my life lately, but rather that life has been just too busy to find the inspiration to blog (no commentary on whether or not posts here in The Room are inspired or not please). Here are my excuses:
  1. I haven't picked up any new music in weeks and I haven't been listening to artists that would qualify for the new Missing Essentials category of posts.
  2. Okay, actually, it is just that I can't stop listening to Frontier Ruckus.
  3. There is this thing called work that happens most days. Sheesh!
  4. The Artist and The Engineer are both taking pretty serious piano lessons requiring about an hour of parental prodding patient encouragement.
  5. Even if I had some new music hanging around, I am not Robin Hilton and I have to actually listen to an album more than once to form an opinion about it.
  6. I started to think about new music, but got lost at AccuJazz.
  7. The fear of not finishing the family room before Thanksgiving (we will and there will be Bose surround sound people).
  8. Did I mention I have an actual job?
  9. Wobs keeps distracting me.
  10. I spent the last month watching my dear Tigers melt down rather than blogging.
But soon, soon I say, this blogger is going to get back in tune and there will be more music here in The Room. As soon as I . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Preferring the Former to the Latter: The Dodos and Joe Henry

When I first heard the Dodo's Visiter album last year, I, like so many others was impressed. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed to me that these guys were potentially on the verge of developing into something unique and special. And so I, like so many others, looked forward to their next effort. But if Visiter was a series of wonderfully fresh songs that served as the peaks of the album that were interrupted by a few notable valleys, their new album, Time to Die, is more of a series of consistent hills with fewer peaks or valleys. As you listen, you don't have any of those "what the hell is this doing on the album" moments, but there are few fewer "wow" moments. But I feel like I am just rewriting the Pitchfork review here which sums it all up quite nicely:
So you really can't call Time to Die a disappointment, not when it actually improves on Visiterin some ways. It's not the full-out leap into "pop" that it would initially seem (for that, you'd need to hear the difference between Visiter and their self-released full-length, from back when they were called Dodo Bird), and for all its charms, Visiter wasn't exactly the tightest hour going. Time to Die bests it as far as consistency goes-- might not get a "Fools" here, but you won't get a "Park Song" either. And it's hard to envision Time to Die slowing the momentum of the Dodos' ascendance, not when their live performances are still thrilling as ever, but Time to Die comes off like a temporary decision to forgo made them lovable, flaws and all, and stress what makes them likeable.
Now if I were in charge of the world, I would rewind time knowing all the tunes that would be on both of these albums, and I would have turned two albums into one glorious effort (which would have been about 70 percent Visiter and 30 percent Time to Die). Here are two of the songs off the new album that would go into that mix.
Dodos / Time to Die (Buy Album)

The new Joe Henry disc, Blood from Stars is both a similar and a bit of a different story for me. When College Roomy gave me a copy of Civilians, JH's previous release, I wondered how I had missed this guy. The Tom Waits like voice, the wonderful lyrics and his sense of timing--it was an album I kept going back to (and if you do not have it, you should pick it up). So like with the Dodo's, I anticipated the next album from Henry.
Now Henry is not moving to safer or more pop-oriented ground here, but he is moving to a sound he has been toying with and that would be jazz. And when he gets there on this album it is quite wonderful. The musicians he pulls in here, most notably Jason Moran who opens the album and Marc Ribot whose guitar work is really enjoyable, add wonderful texture to the album. But unlike Civilians, it just doesn't hold together and the less interesting spots detract from the album as a whole.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad album by any stretch, it just isn't Civilians where his lyrics seems to scratch at the surface of the everyday and get inside relationships, motivations, and generally the messiness of life. But here as the NY Times review points out "His lyrics can feel too artful, too self-conscious. . . . Mr. Henry sings, repeating the word disarray as a meaningful echo. Still, he sounds as if he has everything pretty much under control." Still he has some absolutely wonderful songs on this effort.
Here are a couple that include the fine contributions including Moran's beautiful opening and the first tune, which had me really jazzed--no pun intended. The next tune has some wonderful guitar-work by Ribot and also exhibits one of my favorite characteristics of Henry's--the way he plays with words, and rhyme schemes to create tension and resolve (which usually masks more tension).
Joe Henry / Blood from Stars (Buy Album)

Update: just got hit with a copyright violation for the JH's tunes, so they are now unlinked. You can hear them streaming here.

Prelude: Light No Lamp
The Man I Keep Hid
This Is My Favorite Cage
All in all, I prefer the albums that precede both of these, but that doesn't mean these aren't still worth checking out and both artists definitely worth watching to see where they go next.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Crushing Beauty of The Antlers' Hospice

One way to judge a new album is by both the number of reviews it gets (attention) and the quality of those reviews (engagement). This is particularly true of a lesser known band since you can dismiss the assertion that everyone is reviewing the album because of the band's previous success. And so it is with the latest effort by The Antlers, Hospice, which has been receiving very solid reviews over at the big board--now holding a top ten placement for the year.

When there are so many reviews (and so many well written because the reviewers are clearly engaged with this album), it is somewhat difficult to even imagine where to begin--what to say that hasn't already been said. These reviews cover many wonderful aspects of this album, but the review that best captures what I want to say is not by any of the official review sites, but by My Old Kentucky Blog who has been carrying the flag for these boys for a while now and opens their review with a very appropriate warning.
Allow me to forge a fair warning: The Antlers' Hospice is not an easy record to sit through. With the right focus, in the right mindset, this album is as powerful on the soul as climbing a mountain is on the body. This album will crush you if you don’t know what to expect.
Pretty ominous, but really not all that far off as far as I am concerned. See this album (you did note the title, right?) is an album with a theme (rather than a concept album) and that theme is death and loss. Built around a central relationship between a dying patient and a caregiver, it tumbles through the spectrum of emotions that might occur during and around that relationship, moving from dreamy sad reflections to anger to some sort of understanding and back again to all of that. I am not sure it is the straight narrative the MOKB lays out in their review, but as lead singer and song-writer Peter Silberman writes in the Prologue notes about the story, "it's all connected in these complicated nightmares that we weave."

Now a colleague asked me the other day if I am one of "those people" who obsess about lyrics and I replied that I am probably a bit more concerned with the music than the lyrics, but in this case you cannot ignore either. I really think that if you are someone who has lost someone in anyway remotely like the story here, that this album will be a difficult listen. It is pretty moving in any case, but could be very raw for someone in that situation. And that is because Silberman constructs such a convincing relationship (whether real or not) and so the bond and tension and loss are palpable. That is not to say that this is some simplistic narrative--it is not. The songs are more about moments in time and stages of a relationship.
And the music is just as important. The Antlers are clearly going to be seen as part of "the Brooklyn scene" as I have already seen comparisons to Grizzly Bear and their are moments that are very Walkmenesque here, but that just gives you context. The album, for me, is divided in two parts. The first has a number of slower, grainier, and noise-infused songs with the vocals woven into the music as if someone is trying to emerge from a hazy dream--although "Sylvia" clearly has a chorus of angry outburst in it where Silberman rises above the music. The second half starting with "Bear" (which might be the highlight, but also doesn't fit the narrative as neatly as other tunes) emerges from that murkiness with more clear acoustic guitar lines and melodies (although "Wake" brings us back to that dreamy desperation).
It is an album that if you are to accept, you must both buy the sound and allow for the premise. But if you do, it is a powerful set of ten songs that will surely garner critical acclaim this year.
To give you a sample, I am including the second and third songs on the album which provide a good sense of the opening half of the album in both it's quiet, fuzzy, contemplative orientation and in its searching, combative sound.
Kettering (got the no share message on these too--but check out the video!)
And then to give you a sense of the second half of this album and The Antlers in general, here is a wonderful video of "Two" which is probably my favorite song on the album.

So, get on over to French Kiss and buy this album if you think you are up to it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Missing Essentials: The Basic Idea

As I noted a couple posts back when I was talking about working to get more jazz into my life and into this here blog (note to self: go back and see what I am supposed to be doing), I mentinoed that I was developing a strategy (okay it is more of a hook really) for writing about "not new" music. After all, there is a ton of great music that isn't new that deserves some attention, right? So here is the approach.
We are going to start up a new series of occasional posts called "Missing Essentials" in which we look at a particular artist or band, albums and songs we love and currently own, and wonder out loud if there are other albums by said artist or band that others would consider essential.
This idea comes from the fact that when I was younger, I often set out to own "everything" by certain groups which inevitably led me to buy less than stellar albums and then inevitably led to the realization that I didn't need to own everything by a particular artist or band. As I have grown older those realizations have morphed into a certain sense that, in fact, once I have a few albums by a particular artist or band, I feel as if I perhaps "have enough" and don't worry too much about getting more by that group.
In fact, as I thought about this idea, I wondered if I thought there was an artist or band that I did think one would want to have every album they produced. And, really the only band that came immediately to mind, and that might not be coincidence given what was released today, was The Beatles (okay, minus the Yellow Sub soundtrack which I never really think of as one of their core albums). This is not to say that there aren't others--in fact, I hope to hear from some of you on that point.
This line of thinking though, leads to the real possibility that I am missing really important, historic, well, essential albums by an artist or band. Of course I am not thinking about new bands that have just released their first or second great album, but rather bands that have been around a bit or have broken up that have a catalog of albums to consider.
So that is what we intend to get your input on in the future, but until then, let's hear what artists/bands you think deserve to have their entire oeuvre collected.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Delayed Reactions: Meursault

It has been almost a year since Meursault released it first album, Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues courtesy of Song, by Toad, a little less time since I first heard and saw the band doing wonderful acoustic versions of their songs at Toad's house, and a few weeks since I actually got around to downloading the album which has pretty much been in nonstop play mode since getting it.

The basic recipe here is one part traditional Scottish folk music, one part rock band and one part techno-dance mix. Stir. Place in studio. Bake. As with any recipe, you might like one bit more than the other, but they are all important. Some songs are techno-dance heavy, others sound like Scottish folk-rock, then there are wonderful instrumentals and a couple slow ballads--and others sound like all of those pieces magically blended together. And as an album, they do a really nice job of lining up songs so that just when you are feeling a bit worn out by the electronica, you get a beautiful ballad with no techno-sound at all. And to that point, I think the ordering of songs here is just about perfect.
That said, you do have to like all the ingredients here. You have to like the Scottish sound mixed with the rock sound (any Waterboys fan will), and you have to be willing to go with the electronica/techno (my wife would say noise) factor as well.
The lyrics are quite wonderful, albeit sad and searching for the most part. The slow tunes are most notable here. Perhaps the most beautiful song on the album, "Small Stretch of Land," is a perfect example. I always intended to have it as a sample for this post, but since even parents like this tune (and you can hear this great tune at that link), I thought it not very representative of the album and am going to give you some other samples. Still, here is the first verse to give you a sense of the lovely lyrics on this album
It's a beautiful way to get lost
All you need is a bottle and a few nagging thoughts
And a strong sense of all you ever wanted
And the strength to hold it to your chest as you kill it off
Oh, the road it will light up and guide you home
To a place as unfamiliar to you as a soul
There is nothing left now not to understand
And you were lost on such a small stretch of land
The writing on the upbeat tunes are similarly pensive and searching.
Now, one note. I am no engineer, but I assume that some of the "roughness" of the album comes from being a bit of a lo-fi production as the starts and stops are a bit abrupt and there is a certain amount of tape-hiss going on, but ultimately this ends up being part of the endearing quality of the recording. It adds to the feeling that you might be in on the early recording of a band that is going to get more attention in the future.
So for all you Scottish, techno-folk rockers out there who have not heard Meursault, let me be the one to introduce you. First up in the samples is the title tune which is the song I first heard that got my attention and I think well exemplifies the mix of the three basic ingredients on this album. This is followed by "Salt, Part 2" which follows the title song on the album and is a fine example of their slower songs. And lastly, "A Few Kind Words," an upbeat, techno-oriented tune that bops along while the lyrics tell a somewhat less upbeat story.
A Few Kind Words

All and all, quite a fun album that deserves more attention than it appears to have received here in the States.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Three To Consider: Daytrotter Sessions

If you don't know about Daytrotter (or haven't visited in a while) you should get yourself over to the Horseshack and check it out. What happens there is that bands and performers of all stripes stop in, drop a few live tracks down on Sean and the gang that they then roll those original performances back out one a day. And the lists of bands who have stopped in to do sessions over the last few years is simply damn impressive.

Still, I am not sure that justifies the level of self-righteousness in their "About statement." I mean really, we don't all have studios and a crew to produce music with and many of us are trying to ethically promote music and artists. But I digress.

The point is that Daytrotter provides a way to hear new music and original recordings of bands you already love. Here are three from the last week that are all on my "to get" list. Click on Daytrotter's embed player to listen, but also you really should follow the links in each description to read the session notes as well.

First up is Rural Alberta Advantage who recently released their debut album, Hometowns. Not shockingly this indie rock band hails from Alberta, Canada and writes and sings about just that. They sound great here in this session and appear to be on the way to a successful start. Hell, even Pitchforklikes them! Check out the full Daytrotter session and their album can be picked up atSaddle Creek Records.

Next up is Nomo, the Ann Arbor, MI "post-Afro-beat dance explosion" jazz band that plays, as Sean describes in the full session notes, "street jazz or the kind of jazz that academics do when they're slumming it and actually enjoying themselves a little more than they thought was possible." Bottom line--whole bunch of folks, making a whole bunch of sound. You can pick up Invisible Cities and other efforts at Ubiquity Records.

Last up is the one I am most excited about from listening to the Daytrotter sessions and that Daytrotter seems most responsible for pushing out there into the noise of all the music floating around the nets: Union Suit Characters. This Joliet, IL duo earns the title of Daytrotter's "Favorite Lo-Fi Wonders" in the full session notes (which you must read). And, really, you have to give Sean and crew props here since once you go looking for the album you will find it is only available from the band directly and in mp3--all of those options are available over at their MySpacey place.

So if you haven't already, get on over to Daytrotter and check out the wonderful stuff they are doing. You can also follow their daily tweets so you know when each new session is up.