Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Music I've Listened To: "Mean Everything to Nothing," by Manchester Orchestra

When an artist says that they're going to write an album that's "deeply personal," this means that either a) it's going to be about some intense subject matter but will still make pretty generic commentary overall or b) it's going to be so personal that it's both breathtaking and uncomfortable. This album lunges forth into category B.

It peels back the layers of traditional song writing and comes right out and says everything that appears to be on lead singer Andy Hull's mind. There are no apologies, and no attempt to acclimate the listener to what they're in store for, but that's a good thing!

"The Only One" was a great way to kick off the album; it is deeply confessional and is akin to listening in on a therapy session. Here are all of Hull's insecurities, fears, and even a bit of his rage wrapped up in a catchy, snappy little number that sets the tone quite well. Through the different ups and downs of the album--the calmer moments of Hull's whispering and the moments where he is literally addressing his listeners in a desperate, angry wail--you feel like you really get to know the man, and yet by the end you're still left wanting.

That's exactly what a listener wants to feel when they've finished such an album, and although going for the "deeply personal" route so early in a band's career can be a massive risk, Manchester Orchestra has pulled it off effortlessly!

Go Download: "The Only One," "Tony the Tiger"

4/5 starxx

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's a good day to love music.

Anyone out there who loves music and who loves not spending much money on music needs to go to the aforementioned link right. The hell. Now.

Rad albums from 2009 for $6.99 or less! Some really great stuff here, for serious. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Them Crooked Vultures, Slayer, Baroness, Jay-Z, Mew, La Roux, Dead Weather, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Raveonettes, Manchester Orchestra . . .

. . . What are you waiting for! Go now!

"Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear;
No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night
When there's nobody there.
What does he care?"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Post-Game: Christmas 2009

"Not with a bang, but a whimper" comes to mind when thinking about Christmas form this year. Thank you, Mr. Churchill. I suppose when I reflect on December I see it as sort of a rushed month was frenzied, manic, and then just sort of tripped and fell down, nodding off quietly.

Let me explain.

Christmas shopping this year was sort of a fine line between "how can I spend little money" and "how can I not look like a cheap git," which is a dangerous line to walk. I actually made a list of those who I'd be buying gifts for and those who'd get cards, and for once in my life having this sort of "pre-game" list helped me accomplish my goals.

Side-Bar: From time to time I'll use football analogies in my writing, especially in more personal/relaxed writing styles such as this blog. Football is something I'm comfortable with. It's something that I actually know things about. So please grin and bear it when I use these decidedly sport-y terms in a less than sport-y context (my blog, that is).

By forcing myself to go a simpler route with Christmas this year, I actually feel like I got more done and gave more of myself. Josh and I decided that our closest circle of friends (read: those who live here in Seattle and can actually get their gifts without having to receive them in the mail) were all going to be receiving ornaments from us. This not only allowed us to spend less than $10 per person, but allowed us to really have fun with our shopping. I feel like everybody got something unique and specific to our relationships together. Ornaments were definitely the way to go.

For my family, I decided to simply get them all a personalized gift that they could actually use. Without going into detail, this practice of "give them something they will use on a regular basis" really did work. I think the gifts I gave made an impression.

For the gift wrapping itself, Josh and I opted to go with a theme (which isn't as obnoxious as it sounds): "Parcel." The inspiration was the parcels/packages system used at the turn of the century and later revived during Depression era America--brown paper, simple twine, practical application.

I give credit to Josh for the actual wrapping process, as he's a much better wrapper than I. I simply don't have the patience or skill for certain artistic processes.

Affordable and adorable. Like moi.

We went to my parents' home the weekend before Christmas for 3 days, and spent a quiet Christmas day together here at home. It was really nice to just enjoy each other for a day, not put on real clothes until 3pm, take a walk through our neighborhood right at dusk arm in arm, and then have a relaxing dinner for two. Josh made an amazing roast in his new enameled, cast iron pot and some homemade scalloped potatoes. Red wine sealed the deal.

It really was a great day.

I didn't have any major meltdowns at work all season, which was nice, but more and more I find myself wanting to transition out of my current job into something else. Anything else. Even for less pay. It's been 3 years with this company, and I've got great benefits, and a decent wage, so what's the deal? Am I merely just the type of person who always needs something new in order to keep myself entertained or fulfilled? My job really isn't so bad. It's not what I have my degree in, but it pays the bills and is usually a little fun.

Yet more and more I just feel like I need to pick a direction and just start walking in it, even though I don't know what direction or where it leads or why.

Is this what they call ennui? If so, I'd like to bottle it and sell it.

Anywho, Christmas is now over, and the New Year lurks in the short-term. I have no idea what the plan for New Years' Eve is yet, but I do know that I want to go out and raise some hell in this city. It's been too long since I've been down amongst my fellow rabble. I wonder what I should wear?

There's that ennui again . . .

"Do it again and I'll see you tomorrow.
I want to get it. You've got something to borrow.
Give me, give me you right on my own.
And when I see you all again.
I buy it but it don't measure up.
What is the missing ingredient?"

Music I've Listened To: "Swoon," by Silversun Pickups

This is an album that needs a few listens in order to pick up all of its subtleties and nuances.

Yeah I know, we're not exactly talking Pink Floyd-ish layers of ingenuity and instrumental depth here, but there's still some surprising stuff underneath what some might dismiss as another 90s alt. revival album from the Silversun Pickups.

Whereas 'Carnavas' seemed a little calmer, a little quieter, and a little more like the band standing on the edge of a cliff ready to dive into greatness, 'Swoon' is them taking the plunge and experimenting more with their already impressive abilities. The songs are faster, more upbeat, and they take bigger risks (the inclusion of strings and piano on tracks is a head scratcher and a delight all at once). "There's No Secrets This Year" was a great choice for a first track--It sets up the album and makes a decleration of growth for the band. It's quicker on the uptake and a little jarring when compared to the previous album's tracks (even the edgier ones) but it tells the listener what to expect.

True musical experimentation begins on the track "Panic Switch," but don't worry: There's plenty of what makes the band great to go around. Heavy riffs and long solos, strong bass lines that lurk below everything else, and the grating, earnest vocals that range from downright melodic to strained, desperate shouting. There's no filler here--Just some great music to let wash over you.

Go Download: "Surrounded (or spiraling)," "There's No Secrets This Year"

4/5 starxx

Music I've Listened To: "Acid Tongue," by Jenny Lewis

Wandering off from the more upbeat melodies of "Under the Black Light" down a dusty road filled with twang and sexually-charged energy, Jenny Lewis pays homage to the likes of late Johnny Cash and even good ol' Dolly with the album "Acid Tongue."

This album is much darker in tone than "Rabbit Fur Coat," evoking some pretty twisted imagery as the guitar strums right along with Lewis' signature coo. We get hints of drug use, sexual frustration, and even suicide contemplation from her here--it's as though she took these minor hints off of "Under The Black Light"'s tracks and decided to come right out and declare them in a different form, and alt. country seems the perfect fit.

Some great appearances from M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel, and Elvis Costello make the album absolutely sublime and set the tone perfectly. Every track seems to recall mistakes made or lovers lost, and Lewis really hits a vocal stride here and gives us the full spectrum of her abilities. This is the kind of music you want on a night of bad karaoke in the wrong part of town in some dive cowboy bar where it's just you and the whiskey-slinging bartender reminiscing about how life used to be (if it ever really was like that).

Self-reflexive tracks like "Pretty Bird" and the album's title track show us there's definitely more going on in Lewis' head than the usual boot-stomping country stuff, and that this is only the beginning.

Go Download: "Acid Tongue," "Pretty Bird," "Black Sand"

3.5/5 starxx