Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tops for this particular pops...

Well here you go - after 70+ records that didn't make the cut, here's the rundown on what survived the longlist to end up on my Top 20 for 2010.

20. Clive Tanaka y su orquestra - Jet Set Siempre No. 1 (Tall Corn Music)

I'm guessing from the .jp on his (their?) website, Clive Tanaka is actually Japanese, but regardless of origin, this music is unquestionably beautiful chillwave.

19. Basia Bulat - Heart Of My Own (Secret City Records)

It's quite something when your unquestionable #1 from a few years ago releases a solid sophomore record and can only hit #19 - but Heart Of My Own held on for dear life to crack the Top 20 from the very start of 2010.

18. Toro Y Moi - Causers Of This (Carpark)

Dude dropped an amazing debut in 2010 and will follow it up with Underneath the Pine this February. Might have to reserve it a spot on my 2011 longlist...

17. Christian Scott - Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord Jazz)

Big ups to Paul Nolin and the rest of the folks at the Jazz Winnipeg festival for bringing in New Orleans' native Christian Scott. Not only was this the highlight of the festival, it was a top 5 show ever for me - and I've been to A LOT of shows.

16. Bei Bei & Shawn Lee - Into The Wind (Ubiquity)

West Coast meets Far East on this collaboration between the musical chameleon Shawn Lee and Bei Bei, who plays a two-thousand-year-old stringed instrument called the gu zheng.

15. Kacey Johansing - Many Seasons (Porto Franco)

I had never heard of Kacey Johansing prior to this album arriving at the station this past summer and it was one of the best discoveries of the year. Fantastic songwriter, stellar arrangements, beautiful tunes.

14. Breathe Owl Breathe - Magic Central (Hometapes)

I wrote about this record in October.

13. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (Merge)

I was just as happy to watch opener Calexico when Arcade Fire played the MTS Centre this year, but was pleased to note how touring has tightened the communication between AF's members since they played the Walker years ago - there was definitely charm to their sloppiness back in the day but they're quite the polished unit now.

12. The Roots - How I Got Over (Def Jam)

Okay, for a lot of folks THIS was the highlight of the Jazz Winnipeg festival this year and the Roots crew brought their best. I had a blast, it just was on a different level than the magic that happened with Christian Scott.

11. Ana Tijoux - 1977 (Oveja Negra / Nacional)

French/Chilean MC Ana Tijoux dropped some serious science on this partially autobiographical and partially socio-political effort. Hip hop is a global form and while I might need to look up translations of her lyrics on Google, the beats and cadence of her delivery can be appreciated in the same way that not understanding Sigur Ros doesn't detract from enjoying them.

10. Yeasayer - Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)

I agree with Pitchfork when they declared this one of the worst covers of the year - the artwork is terrible. But as we all learned in the historic case of Book v. Cover, it's what's inside that counts.
Check out "Ambling Alp" which unfortunately can't be embedded.

09. Sam Amidon - I See The Sign (Bedroom Community)

This one skirts dangerously close to the edge of my rules about qualifying for the year-end list. The lyrics aren't original, but the the musical arrangements Sam Amidon has written for this 19th century folk and spiritual songs are. In the same way I considered Mermaid Avenue eligible back in the day, I See The Sign made the cut. What a tremendoustly beautiful record.

08. Baths - Cerulean (Anticon)

I gushed about this record back in July. Also, this video rules.

07. Cris Derksen - The Cusp (Independent)

All credit for this one goes to my lovely wife. She put me on to Cris Derksen after catching her performance at Manito Ahbee - she came home raving about the music Derksen makes. Using her cello and looping and effects pedals, Derksen crafts works at the intersection contemporary classical, folk, electronic and Aboriginal traditional musics. Amazing.

06. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma (Warp)

Like what Cris Derksen is doing to point to the future of classical music, FlyLo is strongly suggesting where jazz might be headed.

05. Boats - Cannonballs, Cannonballs (Majestic Triumph)

Full disclosure - I sang on a couple songs on this record and am credited as the Moustache Tree. But that's not why this made the list - my contributions account for only a few bars on this fantastic rock record.

04. Beach House - Teen Dream (Sub Pop)

While Baltimore gets credit for being known for The Wire, Beach House stake a strong claim to being great ambassadors for B-more.

03. Quadron - Quadron (Plug Research)

Much as I love me some Sade, this was the soul/beat-driven record of the year.

02. Shad - TSOL (Black Box Recordings)

First he gets robbed for the Polaris this year, then I rob him of top spot on my list. I waffled back and forth on this one and the eventual number one - I even considered naming them both 1.5 as a shared top pick. This was a record that stood up to a LOT of repeat listens.

01. The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)

Phenomenal. Dude just keeps on doing what he does, so very well. The song below slays me every time I hear it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Longer gets longest and then stops.

Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu Steps Ahead (Strut)

I feel like Jim Jarmusch is party responsible for Astatke's renaissance since he included him on the Broken Flowers soundtrack. Last year MA collaborated with the Heliocentrics, but this record is all his...

The Mynabirds - What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood (Saddle Creek)

The title may be painful, but the music is anything but.

The National - High Violet (4AD)

Another record that seemed like it would have a guaranteed spot in the Top 20 - "Runaway" did end up making my top songs list though.

Ô Paon - Courses (TAUS)

Geneviève Castrée makes bewitching music and beautiful artwork.

Oh My Darling - In The Lonesome Hours (Independent)

Great full-length follow-up to their debut EP fulfils the promise and then some.

Pop Winds - The Turquoise (Arbutus Records)

Between Grimes and Pop Winds, Arbutus Records was a label that put itself on my radar in a big way in 2010.

The Radio Dept. - Clinging To A Scheme (Labrador)

While I'll have to wait until 2011 for my favourite Swedish pop band, Acid House Kings, to release a new record, The Radio Dept. filled the vacancy quite nicely.

Secret Cities - Pink Graffiti (Western Vinyl)

Debut full-length from this psychedelic dream pop quartet (from Fargo, no less).

Slow Six - Tomorrow Becomes You (Western Vinyl)

Western Vinyl, delivering two in a row. Another label with such a great roster of acts.

Stars - The Five Ghosts (Soft Revolution)

When the 2010 Polaris shortlist was announced I did a little exercise at trying to guess the 2011 shortlist - The Five Ghosts was included.

Stornoway - Beachcomber's Windowsill (4AD)

This makes two Oxford, UK acts that made the longlist.

Storsveit Nix Noltes - Royal Family-Divorce (Fat Cat)

I had the pleasure of reviewing this for Uptown without knowing anything about SNN before I hit 'play' on the disc. Great discovery.

Sumsun - Samo Milagro (Moamoo)

No surprise that something this sunny and joyful came from the beaches of Florida. Former North Carolinan Judson Rogers took his talents to West Palm Beach.

Sun Airway - Nocturne Of Exploded Cyrstal Chandelier (Dead Oceans)

I'm grateful that sometimes records I enjoy catch on with programmers at the station - Sun Airway actually did fairly well and managed to crack the Top 101 of 2010.

Tunng - And Then We Saw Land (Thrill Jockey)

I'd have to go back and check, but I don't think there's been a year without at least one Thrill Jockey artist making the longlist or Best Of - such an unassailable label.

Twin Shadow - Forget (Terrible Records)

I didn't know about the Grizzly Bear connection until I was looking at Twin Shadow's entry on AllMusic in preparation for this post, but it makes sense that an album with a link to that band would resonate with me.

Typhoon - Hunger And Thirst (Tender Loving Empire)

As if Portland not only has a beautiful climate and a forward-thinking approach to urban planning - they also have great bands like Typhoon to make me momentarily consider relocating. Just momentarily though - Winnipeg, you're stuck with me.

Vampire Weekend - Contra (XL Recordings)

Maybe in a few years we'll try to distance ourselves from the love we heaped on Vampire Weekend for their debut and sophomore records, but let's be honest: this was one of the most anticipated records before it was released, and we loved the shit out of songs like "Horchata."

Vijay Iyer - Historicity (Act Music)

Amazingly, not the best jazz record of 2010 in my view - to find out what is, check out my Top 20 on UMFM on New Years' Eve or come back here after the 31st.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums - Rivers (The Control Group)

Few bands make me scratch my head as much as Wildbirds & Peacedrums - I honestly can't figure out why more people don't know about them / aren't into them. They've got curious, engaging music, intelligent lyrics, they're photogenic... what's holding them back?

Women - Public Strain (Flemish Eye)

Okay, now you're really wondering what the hell is on my Top 20 when something as obvious as this failed to make the cut...

Woodpigeon - Die Stadt Musikanten (Boompa)

Ah Woodpigeon - je t'aime. Happy to announce that they'll be gracing the newly renovated UMFM recording studio sometime this spring to record a live session for TGIFR - expect me to blog the shit out of that.

Yukon Blonde - Yukon Blonde (Bumstead/Nevado)

This BC band makes perfectly crafted AM pop. While I long for the return of KY58, this record will have to do.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To make a long story longer...

Part 2 in the continuing saga of really good albums that didn't make my Top 20, leaving people to wonder what exactly did crack the list...

Exploding Star Orchestra - Stars Have Shapes (Delmark)

Two years ago, their collaboration with the late, great Bill Dixon made the longlist. While this star doesn't burn quite as bright as that one did, it's still a beautiful piece of free jazz and avant-garde composition.

Foals - Total Life Forever (Sub Pop)

While I enjoyed their debut, Antidotes, I was pleasantly surprised by what a step forward this young Oxford, UK band took on their sophomore effort.

Four Tet - There Is Love In You (Domino)

Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) is one of those guys I usually keep a spot open for on a year-end list when I know he has a new record coming out - dude is super prolific and always makes compelling / interesting records. There Is Love In You was another one of those ones I'm still flummoxed about not including in the 20...

Freelance Whales - Weathervanes (Frenchkiss)

Great band with a great record I wrote about in the summer.

Future Islands - In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)

It's not enough that Baltimore has Camden Yards and a series like The Wire? They've gotta go and produce great bands like Future Islands?

Ghostkeeper - Ghostkeeper (Flemish Eye)

Always interesting when a band goes the self-titled route for an album other than their debut... is THIS the record they want to be most closely identified with, the statement of what they're all about?

Gianna Lauren - Some Move Closer, Some Move On (Forward Music Group)

I had the good fortune of having Haligonian Gianna Lauren stop by the UMFM studio to perform an intimate acoustic set. It was a little like this video.

Grimes - Geidi Primes / Halfaxa (Arbutus)

Grimes releases two fantastic records in the space of a year? Is she the female Bradford Cox?

Hadouk Trio - Air Hadouk (Naive)

2010 was a great year for new jazz records and Hadouk Trio was a great discovery for me. Paul Nolin, if you're reading this, consider Hadouk Trio for the 2011 Jazz Winnipeg festival!

Hannah Georgas - This Is Good (Hidden Pony)

Hannah was Canada' indie darling du jour in 2010. I missed her WECC show, but by all accounts I should have been there.

Hidden Orchestra - Night Walks (Tru Thoughts)

Tru Thoughts is one of those labels I mention at the dinner table on Thanksgiving because I'm thankful every year it's in existence.

Horse Feathers - Thistled Spring (Kill Rock Stars)

Their last album, House With No Home, made the 2009 Longlist. This is the beginning of a trend for Horse Feathers.

How To Dress Well - Love Remains (Lefse Records)

Former Twin Cities resident Tom Krell moved from Brooklyn to Cologne, Germany. Those 3 cities are key to explaining How To Dress Well: Prince funk + indie lo-fi + German electronic music = Love Remains.

Hundred In The Hands - Hundred In The Hands(Warp)

Like Chairlift last year, I feel pretty certain this is one of those picks I'm going to end up hearing in Old Navy on their in-store playlist.

J57 - Digital Society (Balanced)

I mentioned Brace in Pt.1, J57 was someone he put me on to.

Junip - Fields (Mute)

First thought on hearing Fields, "This is like a more muscular Jose Gonzalez record". Oh wait, it is.

Konono No.1 - Assume Crash Position (Crammed)

Looking for a video of Konono No.1, I found these guys. Not as entertaining as Assume Crash Position, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Land Of Talk - Cloak & Cipher (Saddle Creek)

I was going to post the official video, but I love La Blogotheque's Takeaway shows.

Les Savy Fav - Root For Ruin (Frenchkiss)

These guys attack their songs with reckless abandon.

Library Voices - Denim On Denim (Young Soul Records)

These guys and gals are such a fun band - their music is fun, their performances are fun, and it's evident from Denim On Denim, that they enjoy it as much as their audiences.

Light Pollution - Apparitions (Carpark)

Like if a 2010 version of the Beach Boys went into the studio to record Pet Sounds while on quaaludes. Which is not to say that the Beach Boys weren't on quaaludes in 1966...

Mass Choir - Live My Life On The Backbeat (Independent)

I think Mass Choir's one-sheet referred to this as sounding like Dance Mix '94. I can't find my cassette copy of that album, but listening to this song, it's evoking some serious musical memories.

Find more artists like Mass Choir at Myspace Music

Matthew Dear - Black City (Ghostly International)

Suitably dark for an album called Black City, this is a sonic trip.

Maylee Todd - Choose Your Own Adventure (Do Right)

This record is all over the place, but in the best sense of the term.

Melaena Cadiz - Rattle The Windows (Independent)

This is one of those little records I haven't seen many people talking about, but which stuck with me since it arrived at the station in June. Cadiz has a fantastic voice and she pairs it with great songs. Can't ask for more than that.

Midlake - The Courage Of Others (Bella Union)

I can't help but think of Rick Wakeman's The Six Wives of Henry VIII when I listen to this record - it feels a little like that album's folky stepchild.

So that's it for part 2! Only one more batch of longlist albums to get to before announcing the Top 20 on New Years' Eve...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh, the long of it all...

This year proved trickier than most when it came to narrowing down my favourite albums of the year and assembling my Top 20 (which will once again be announced as part of my annual UMFM countdown show on December 31st prior to being posted here).

I keep a running longlist of albums that I particularly enjoy as the year goes along and then, come December, I start whittling it down. In recent years, the longlist has run around 60 entries - meaning I had to reduce it by two-thirds to come up with my Top 20. I knew 2010 was a pretty decent year for music with lots of great albums I enjoyed throughout the year, but I was still pretty surprised to discover that my longlist contained over NINETY (90) albums!! Ai-yai-yai...

Which meant that I had to scratch roughly four-fifths of my list to get down to 20 selections. I've been agonizing over what to include and what to cut (I've had people say I take this entirely too seriously. I'm inclined to agree), and have my "final list" finished. In previous years I've posted a little bit about each album on my longlist, but due to the sheer volume I'm going to try to post some videos and links, but go easy on the write-ups.

Here's part one of what didn't make the cut, but is still highly recommended, in alphabetical order [aka, Seriously that didn't make your Top 20, wtf? pt1.]:

Aloe Blacc - Good Things (Stones Throw)

Best song of the year, hands down, was "I Need A Dollar."

Amiina - Puzzle (Ever Records)

Like a folky, bookworm version of Sigur Ros.

Andreya Triana - Lost Where I Belong (Ninja Tune)

I've already praised this album here.

Autre Ne Veut - Autre Ne Veut (Olde English Spelling Bee)

This one made me think of if Yeasayer and Teen Daze had a oddball pop/chillwave baby.

Azure Ray - Drawing Down The Moon (Saddle Creek)

I wrote about this one as well.

Belle & Sebastian - Write About Love (Matador)

It's quite a year when Belle & Sebastian release a great record and it doesn't crack my Top 20 considering what a big place in my heart this band holds.

Belleruche - 270 Stories (Tru Thoughts)

Go back and read this...

The Besnard Lakes - Are The Roaring Night (Outside)

This is one of those great moments where an album's title perfectly matches the material.

Bilal - Airtight's Revenge (Plug Research)

Kinda killed me not to find a place for this in the Top 20 - soooooo close. Killer r'n'b from Bilal, who finally returned with a sophomore record after a lengthy hiatus.

The Black Keys - Brothers (Nonesuch)

This one is on a lot of year-end lists, deservedly.

Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar)

HOW IS THIS NOT ON MY TOP 20? I honestly could have done like three separate Top 20 lists and each of them would have been different and fantastic.

Brian McBride - The Effective Disconnect (Kranky)

Beautiful, spare, captivating.

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)

I didn't hate on this one the way some folks did, but I didn't pick it for the Polaris the way some folks did...

Calibro 35 - Ritornano Quelli Di... (Nublu)

If you slept on this band when I wrote about them, you need to wake up.

Casiokids - Topp stemning pa lokal bar (Polyvinyl)

I have no idea what they're singing about, but it's so exuberant you can't help but caught up in the excitement.

Cheering For The Bad Guy - To The Last Drop (Independent)

Of course these guys don't have any videos to post - they're too busy drinking or writing great songs about drinking..

Cursed Arrows - Telepathic High Five (NoYEs Records)

My very first entry on Ear To The Sound was about this band, but they were called Arrows back then. They may be Cursed now, but they're still great.

Damien Jurado - Saint Bartlett (Secretly Canadian)

I reviewed this for Stylus earlier this year and as I said at the time, I've never heard Damien Jurado sounding more hopeful than on this song:

The Darby & Joan Club - Everything Is Fine (Independent)

Fantastic pop from Lethbridge. I think the good folks at CKXU might have sent this one along.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest (4AD)

Yeah, this one's on a lot of lists, and somehow didn't make the cut. I'm as boggled as you are. My Top 20 has a lot to answer for.

Dem Hunger - Caveman Smack (Independent)

Amongst the more challenging listens on this year's longlist, I found this fascinating.

Diamond Rings - Special Affections (Secret City)

If you're a fan of the D'Urbervilles, as I am, you may have been surprised by John O'Regan's other project, Diamond Rings, but the through-line is the love of pop hooks and some nice nods to pro sports fashion.

DJ Brace presents the Electric Nosehair Orchestra - Synesthasia (Nostomania)

Brace follows up his Juno-award-winning Nostomania with a record that is even better.

El Guincho - Pop Negro (Young Turks)

Here's a record that could have made it on the strength of one fantastic track (below, but NSFW) coupled with eight very good songs. "Bombay" is just soooo catchy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New to me, thanks to Mississippi Records

Working away on my year-end "Best Of" list (whittling a very long longlist down to my Top 20 in time for the New Years' Eve fandango on UMFM, so I've been reviewing a lot of music from earlier this year with little time for new stuff in the last few days. BUT I did just discover something that is new to me (but not, by any means, new) via the interesting Mississippi Records label.

Originally released in 1962 on Arhoolie, An Evening With Rev. Louis Overstreet - His Guitar, His Four Sons, And the Congregation of St. Luke Powerhouse Church of God in Christ is a dusty treasure that was re-issued by Mississippi Records in their usual inscrutable, quiet way.

You might read the word 'gospel' and think 'churchy,' 'staid,' or some other dismissive epithet, but the gospel on this record is fire-and-brimstone hot and energetic enough to raise hell and cast it off. A-ma-zing.

Rev Louis overstreet - Working on the building
Uploaded by le-pere-de-colombe. - See the latest featured music videos.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I used to play french horn, it was nothing like this...

This is one of the more blissfully upbeat numbers I've heard in a while and I can't get it out of my head.

The album came out on iTunes UK November 28th, but has yet to see a North American release. Can't wait.

Be sure to check out French Horn Rebellion's website (where there's a free sampler of their full length on offer) and Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Middle Eastern West Indies?

An Italian [Luca Gatti], a Frenchman [Stephane Rene] and an Arab [Baheeg Ramzy Mikail] walk into a recording studio...

Seems like it could be the beginning of an off-colour joke, but it's actually the genesis of Diaspora and their new album A Jamaican In Cairo. As the title suggests, AJIC blends the seemingly disparate musics of Jamaica (dub and reggae) and the Middle East and North Africa(the Maqam, i.e. the Arabic scale system and Tunisian fundi rhythms) into an engaging and enjoyable album. No surprise that Gatti has in the past collaborated with Asian Dub Foundation, an act that successfully fused disparate sounds into something new.

I'm not entirely sure if Amina Annabi is an official member of the group or simply a guest vocalist (as she's credited on "Nile," one of the standout tracks), but Bob Andy [who has worked with Jackie Mittoo] and Raiz [who has worked with Bill Laswell and Massive Attack] most definitely are.

This 'project' is as good as the mental picture you get when you combine dub basslines with sitar, which to my mind is pretty darn good. For proof, visit Green Queen Music's Soundcloud page.

Be sure to visit the Diaspora Myspace page and their label page.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Get this now.

Seriously, don't sleep on this opportunity. Pete Samples, formerly of Vinyl Republik, is offering up his latest and last record, Bekonscot, for free on his website.

The very same Mike B of Planet Shhh that I mentioned in my Seapony post will be playing Bekonscot front-to-back on Cross/Pollination in about 10 minutes [1pm CST, Wed. Nov 24] so you can sample the merchandise before you download if you don't trust my advice to just GET this record - like a lot of 'electro-pop' artists, Samples appears to be leaving the electro part behind and burrowing deeper and deeper into pop's peculiar crevices.

Donations are encouraged, enjoyment is guaranteed.

I'll leave you with "Awkward Goodbye," which is NOT from the new record:

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mare de mer...

Kudos to Mike B over at Planet Shhh on this one. A few weeks ago he played Seapony on his show at UMFM, Cross/Pollination and brought this great Seattle trio to my attention. I tracked down their self-title EP and have been playing the hell out of it since then. They come across like the love child of Lush and Ride which takes me back to the last years of high school and the first years of University, which knowing the ages of bands I've been listening to lately means Seapony weren't alive yet.

I'll just console myself by listening to "Dreaming" for the umpteenth time.

The band is on Double Denim Records, whose Blackbird Blackbird is definitely another act to check out.

Check them out on Myspace and Facebook, and be sure to hit their Bandcamp page to download the EP.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Like the kids do...

Not sure if it's a trend or not, but the young 'uns these days appear to be making the most blissful pop music going. The man behind Baths, Will Wiesenfeld is only 21 years old and while the shroud of mystery surrounding Teen Daze means he might not actually be a teen, I'm pretty certain he's part of the youth movement.

Joining the fray (though NOT, as Drowned In Sound has it; "a little too late") is 22 year old Texan Spencer Stephenson and his debut on Western Vinyl (a great label that keeps surprising me), Feeling Today. Pieced together in part by incorporating found and recycled sounds (a la Bibio on Vignetting The Compost) into a soundscape that is well worth sinking into - this isn't the Texas vista you imagine when you watch Friday Night Lights, and it's more likely to be the soundtrack to The Farm than Riggin's acreage.

Take a listen to "Waterparker" courtesy of Western Vinyl and be sure to visit Botany's Myspace page and the bookmark the WV page as well since Feeling Today is only an appetizer for a main course promised for early 2011.

I'm going to try writing shorter entries more often for the next little while so we'll see how that goes.
Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Will Owls replace other birds in rock?

Once indie bands run through the Encyclopedia of Animals plumbing for monikers, I'm guessing that they'll be perusing copies of Gray's Anatomy and the Physician's Desk Reference before long. For now though, we're in what seems to be a heavy animal phase - so many bears, wolves, fish and fowl...

But as long as these zoological specimens continue to craft music worth listening to, who am I to determine what they name their band?

Enter Michigan band Breathe Owl Breathe with their fourth album - and first for Hometapes - Magic Central. My hackles may go up at their name, but it's a reflex like my beagle C.J. when she meets another dog on our walks. As soon as she gets a sniff, they go down - likewise, listening to opener "Own Stunts" my trepidation is instantly abated; I'm hard-pressed to think of a better opener on an album this year. Seriously, check out the video for it right now. I'll wait...

Friggin' awesome, right? From solo guitar to thundering toms and chorus of 'whu huh huh whoas' and then to Micah Middaugh's rough-hewn voice all by itself, there's such a wonderful push/pull/push dynamic going on in this song. And how great is the line "moustache covers my lower lip / no one can tell that I'm trembling"? How about the 'ooo-wah's' and cello(!) climax at the four-minute mark? I know I'm getting all rhetorical here, but I just can't imagine fans of folks like Evening Hymns or Ohbijou not taking immense pleasure in Breathe Owl Breathe's music.
"Dogwalkers Of The New Age" brings Andréa Moreno-Beals' cello even more to the fore, and further reinforces my theory that there needs to be more cello in indie-rock in general. It's such a resonant and haunting instrument, while still capable of nimble moments - it's a five-tool four-string.

The band is involved in a pretty interesting project, the result of which will be a hardbound book and 7-inch record. It's "listener supported" like an indie-PBS.

Here's a beautiful live recording (made more beautiful by the lovely setting in which it was recorded):

Be sure to check out Breathe Owl Breathe's website and Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Not Quite What I Was Expecting

Two years on from The Express and three since their blazing debut, Turntable Soul Music, UK trio Belleruche have released 270 Stories (on the always-on-point Tru Thoughts). I had to go back and listen to the first two records after hearing 270 Stories for the first time because I wasn't quite sure it was the same band. Sonically, the trio have shifted a bit from a sound that their debut's title nailed on the head (with its warm soul vocals, turntablism and in-the-background guitar work) to something a little harder. Belleruche have run a piece of sandpaper across their smoothly polished sound leaving some gritty, rough patches. "3 Amp Fuse" and "Fuzz Face" (video below) are a far cry from Turntable Soul Music's "Minor Swing" or even The Express' "Anything You Want - Not That."
There are still traces of the band they used to be ("Ginger Wine" and "Gold Rush" in particular) but the changes aren't so much a jarring transition as they are a measured progression for Belleruche. And while vocalist Kathrin deBoer has been the center of attention for the group, the new record finds guitarist Ricky Fabulous taking a larger share of the spotlight as so much of the album lives or dies by his work ("Cat In A Dog Suit" where he's all alone at the 2 minute mark, for one).
It may take a couple listens, and a lessening of the attachment to their first two records, but Belleruche have recorded one of the best records I've heard this fall and I strongly encourage you to check it out.

For now, check out the sweet new video for "Fuzz Face," made from over 4000 photocopies. Seriously.

And here's a little something to satiate your ear appetite - an Asthmatic Astronaut remix of "You're Listening To The Worlds" from The Liberty EP, released prior to 270 Stories. And the link to a mix by DJ Modest for good measure.

Don't forget to check out Belleruche's Myspace page and website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gauzy and gorgeous.

It's been seven years since they last released a full-length album as a duo, but Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink are back as Azure Ray and on Drawing Down The Moon they pick up where they left off without missing a beat. While they've left Warm Records behind for a new home with Saddle Creek the melancholic beauty of Burn and Shiver has made the journey with them.

Both Taylor and Fink have been busy in the interim with their solo careers - Taylor has three solo albums to her name while Fink has been burning the candle at both ends recording solo records and playing in both O+S and Art In Manila. How the pair found the time to work as Azure Ray again is a mystery but one I'm happy to accept without question. Eric Bachmann is back as producer and the same astute touch he applied on Burn and Shiver is evident on Drawing Down The Moon.

Songs like "Larraine" and "Silver Sorrow" are dressed up with strings, ambient percussion and other embellishments but they never overwhelm nor overshadow the vocals that are Azure Ray's lifeblood. There's enough dissimilarity in Taylor and Fink's voices to make them identifiable, but they share a breathy, delicate quality that makes them perfectly suited for each other - and for the material they write. No one can sing about heartache and heartbreak like these two; Azure Ray almost make it sound like a state worth visiting.

I find it interesting that some of the tunes have a trance-like quality considering the origins of the album title.

Stereogum has the premiere of the duo's video for "Dont Leave My Mind" here. But if you just want to listen, you can download it here:

Be sure to visit Azure Ray's website and Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teens these Daze...

Kudos to the always-on-point Mike B. The man behind Planet Shhh, Better Swimmers and UMFM's Cross/Pollination is also the mastermind of the Pop! Et Cetera Festival which returns for another year, running Friday October 1st until Sunday October 10th. The line-up is pretty immense with solid local talent (including Boats, Not Animals, Vampires and Cyclist among others) and a roster of out-of-towners that run from the big (Jamie Lidell and Holy Fuck) to the up-and-coming (DVAS and Rae Spoon).

[Wow, that's a lot of hyperlinks].

Among the list of up-and-comers is Vancouver-based Teen Daze, who I was unfamiliar with until I started doing research to write up scripts for Pop! Et Cetera ads recently and took a listen to their blissful new record, Four More Years. While their Myspace page refers to the music they make as IDM / neo-soul, it's most assuredly part of the whole chillwave thing all the kids are loving these days (and even though I'm no longer a kid, I'm loving it too).

Clocking in at an all-too-brief 30 minutes, this album is like one of those designer drugs that deliver an ecstatic hit that leaves you wanting more. Opener "Shine On, You Crazy White Cap" (video below) sets the stage perfectly with a half-minute of gauzy, ethereal layers of keyboards/synths before the 4/4 drum pattern starts pushing the listener forward (seriously, listening to it for the first time that beat felt like when a friend would push with their hand in the middle of my back at a dance to force me toward the object of my affection). Just as the bliss is reaching a fever pitch, the drums drop out suddenly and the vocals float away. "Neon" proceeds at a breakneck pace and is over in two short minutes, after which it is followed by one of the most ecstatic tunes on Four More Years, "Around." If you're not dancing when this jam plays, you're hearing- or leg-impaired. It changes on a regular basis, but I think my favourite track is "Saviour" - a song that reminds me of the marriage of clinical precision and soulfulness that acts like Depeche Mode and Telefon Tel Aviv have achieved. Really, really great stuff.

If you live in Winnipeg, be sure to check out the Teen Daze performance as part of the Pop! Et Cetera festival on Wednesday October 6th at the LO Pub.

You can download a special Pop! Et Cetera mix including Teen Daze' "Our Parents" among many other choice nuggets at the festival's official site, and you can check out the video for "Shine On, You Crazy White Cap" below:

Be sure to check out the Teen Daze Myspace page and Tumblr.
And if you like what you hear, you can purchase the 12-inch here.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sweet Soul Music...

When an album comes at you from all corners, maybe that's a sign to get off your ass and write a post about it (for that matter, write about anything - my apologies for taking an extended hiatus from ETTS; been sick, busy with the kid, etc.).

Lost Where I Belong, the debut by UK songstress Andreya Triana has been swirling around me just begging to be written up.

The fine folks at Outside Music sent a review copy, the peeps at Terrorbird sent it digitally, and my new Twitter follower SoulCuts wrote a nice little piece about the album.

When I first hit play on my iPod, I had no idea about the pedigree of the album, just that it was on Ninja Tune. The cover image led me to believe this was one of the label's rare forays outside their comfort zone, but I couldn't be certain until the first notes of "Draw The Stars" featuring a kalimba and Triana's languorous vocals removed any doubt. Suffice it to say, this ain't the Ninja Tune of Coldcut and Amon Tobin, but the label has dabbled in similar sonic waters with Fink (though it's not like Triana is the female Fink...).

Triana gained some prior notoriety for her collaboration with Flying Lotus on "Tea Leaf Dancers," but on Lost Where I Belong, the boards were helmed by label mate Bonobo who brought a subtle touch to this debut album. There are plenty of bells and whistles but nothing - and I mean nothing - overshadows Triana's voice on these nine numbers. Even on the busiest of tunes ("A Town Called Obsolete") Triana is at the center of the mix with a fat bassline rumbling underneath while the band and echoing chorus flit about on the periphery.

There's a reason Bonobo has exercised restraint on the production of this album and it is simply that Triana's voice needs no embellishment. It's a haunting and soulful instrument that hints at deep sadness on songs like "Darker Than Blue" but also conveys strength and resilience on "Far Closer" (one of the real standouts). Even if her debut didn't suggest a very bright future for a solo career, Triana's services would no doubt be in great demand as a guest vocalist.

Though I for one hope we hear more of Triana's own compositions if they meet the standard she's set on her debut.

Check out the video for the aforementioned "A Town Called Obsolete"

And be sure to check out Andreya's artist page and Myspace.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bathing In Blue

I'm pretty sure I've never written about any Anticon artists here on Ear To The Sound, which is both surprising and a shame because I think it's a great, forward-looking (collective-owned) label with fantastic artists including Why? and (more recently) Tobacco. Now Anticon's added 21-year-old Will Wiesenfeld to the roster and I finally get around to mentioning the label here.

Wiesenfeld is an L.A. artist who records under the name Baths and while I can only guess at his reasons for choosing the moniker, to me the name invokes the restful feeling of a languid soak and that fresh feeling once you've toweled off. If that was what Wiesenfeld was going for, then he manages to set the table for the music that he creates under the alias. Balance that with the album title Cerulean (which is a range of blues in the colour spectrum) and listeners have a couple giant clues what to expect when pressing 'play' (if one still actually presses 'play' these days).

From opener "Apologetic Shoulder Blades," on through album highlight "Maximalist" and straight to the end, Cerulean is a crisp, fresh collection of ambient IDM that blends warm piano loops and cold, glitchy drum snaps into a minor-key marvel. As with like-minded contemporaries Bibio and Daedelus there are some found-sound and spoken-word elements deftly incorporated in a way that doesn't detract from song structure ("Animals"). It's a great debut that suggests we'll be looking forward to Baths-time with an excitement my baby boy has for his own bath.

Baths just did a pretty awesome session for the folks at Dublab, which you can check out here: "Baths' Sprout Session"

Don't forget to check out Baths' spot on the Anticon website and Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...