Sunday, January 15, 2012

2011 - A year in review.

# 9. Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
(PAX AM, October 11th 2011)

Well, Ryan Adams sort of is my favourite recording artist - that means that he could have released some total shit and he probably would have gotten at least a mention on this list - so much better that Ashes & Fire is a really good record then. Ashes & Fire is Adams' 13th studio recording and his first since he kind of quit the music industry some years ago now. The quitting was because of medical reasons, and his Meniere-disease. He has gotten the disease somewhat in check now and fortunately for us he is back on the road and making sweet sweet music.

Ashes & Fire was recorded with producer-legend Glyn Johns at the helm and the result is one of Adams' most focused records yet. It's a quite mellow affair with a great sounding acoustic band. A record which sounds the very best in the night after the dark has set in. The production is fantastic and the record sounds warm and near - almost like you are in the same room as the players.

Lead by first single "Lucky Now", an almost Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler-gem (that's a compliment), the record is filled with classic Adams tunes. The kind of ramshackle waltz of the title track and the very Ryan Adams-sounding and really really great tune "Come Home" with Norah Jones on backing vocals are just two of the standout tracks. My favourite songs change from each time I hear the album.

Lyrically the album is a bit more happy than earlier records by Adams, you hear that every word is there for a reason and every word is something he has lived through. Sometimes it might sound like cliches, but I for one think that when some years have passed we will see this as Adams' coming of age record. This is where he became fully comfortable with himself and his music.

So thank you, mr. Adams. Welcome back, hope you'll hang around for a long long time.

"Are we really who we used to be,
am I really who I was?"

Ryan Adams - Lucky Now (Official video)

2011 - A year in review.

# 10. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
(4AD, January 25th 2011)

Sam Beam and his Iron & Wine always have to work a tad bit harder to get into this lists of mine, and that is just really unfair of me. The reason simply is that I fell hard in love with the music of Iron & Wine on their album Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop, 2004) and in my mind, nothing Iron & Wine make now can ever top that album. A bit unfair don't you say? I have it like that with a couple of albums and a couple of artists. I still like the music they have made since though, very much so. I have to admit that I have been a bit sceptical to the more jammy, african-inspired direction of the last couple of albums, but this time around I think they have gotten this band-feeling to really gel.

Sam Beam said in some interviews before the release of this album that he was aiming for the kind of sound that came out of the radio when he was growing up in the seventies. I think they have nailed that sound completely, while still managing to sound like the album was made in 2011. The album starts off with the absolutely stunning and unparallelable "Walking Far From Home", hands down one of the best songs of the whole year, maybe ever. Single number two, "Tree by the River", is another favourite of mine.

I listened a lot to this album upon its release, but couldn't quite wrap my head around it. I really liked it, but it didn't blow me away in any way. Then I listened to some of  the songs over the course of the year, before I picked up again in late november - and boy had the album grown. Now I listen to it all the time again and I think it is one of the best albums Iron & Wine have released. A lot of great playing and really outstanding arrangements to every song - and that soothing voice of Sam Beam, well he can sing me to sleep every night. I plan to some day hire him and just have him sitting in a corner in my living room just singing his beautiful songs every day. I bet that won't happen though.

Iron & Wine - Godless Brother in Love (Official video)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 - A year in review.

# 11. WATERS - Out in the Light
(City Slang, September 9th 2011)

WATERS rose from the ashes of the band Port O'Brien when they called it quits a couple of years ago. Frontman Van Pierzalowski wanted a bigger and perhaps a rockier sound than the sound he made with Port O'Brien. Pierzalowski started a journey and ended up in Oslo, Norway where the idea for WATERS first came to be. He asked around and got a couple of norwegian bandmates. Over the next year, they rehearsed Pierzalowski's songs before heading to Texas to record them. The songs were written over the course of the year which Pierzalowski spent travelling. He spent some time in Alaska, some in a coastal town right  of Highway 1 in California were he grew up and some time in Brooklyn, New York before he headed back to Oslo.

WATERS have a punchy indierock sound, kind of like a Band of Horses without any of the country-elements. A lot of fuzz guitars over great fist in the air low key indie anthems. Echoes of Pixies as well as Neil Young. Van Pierzalowski is just a fresh breath into a indie world who has seemingly forgotten where the fuzzpedals are. But WATERS isn't your typical rock band, the songs are filled with hooks and catchy choruses.

They are also a truly magnificant liveband. I saw them in late December at they're final gig of a long tour at Revolver here in Oslo. Without a doubt one of 2011's best gigs. They closed the gig with an acoustic version of the fantastic album closer "Mickey Mantle" amongst the crowd without any mics or amps.  A moment for the history books.

WATERS - O Holy Break of Day

2011 - A year in review.

# 12. Vetiver - The Errant Charm
(Sub Pop, June 14th 2011)

Vetiver has been one of my absolute favourite bands the last few years since I first heard them on their second album, To Find Me Gone (2006). A lot have happened since then, even though some key elements to the band's sound are intact. Whereas they earlier were more folk than pop they are now probably more pop than folk - a change that started with the outstanding cover-album Thing of the Past (2008).

Everything about The Errant Charm has that great feel of spring and summer about it, it's kind of hazy and sunshine-y all the way through. A laid back good feeling. You don't have to rush about anywhere, you have all the time in the world. It's quite simply the sound of San Francisco. I've only been there once, but this album would have been the perfect soundtrack to walks around the city in the hazy sunshine.

The opening track "It's Beyond Me" sets the mood, but the real standout tracks are "Hard to Break" and the gem "Wonder Why". Both with delicious jangly guitars and the latter being one of the best songs all year. Both songs also has a quite clear Tusk and Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac feel.

With this album Vetiver puts themselves in the same category as bands like Mojave 3 and The Pernice Brothers. The latter is maybe not so strange since producer Thom Monahan were a member of that band.

Vetiver - Wonder Why (official video)

2011 - A year in review.

# 13. The Parson Red Heads - Yearling
(Timber Carnival Records/Parson Farm Records, August 16th 2011)

 When Los Angeles based The Parson Red Heads was going to record their second LP, Yearling, they started up recording with friends and familiar surroundings in Los Angeles, but ultimately decided to go a little less familiar route. They ended up in North Carolina with legends Mitch Easter and Chris Stamney. A perfect match for their sound in my opinion.

Even though the album were recorded in North Carolina it has the sound of California all over it. I hear the ghosts of The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Big Star and a whole lot of the early 2000s L.A. scene with Beachwood Sparks leading the pack. It seems like there is some kind of revival for this type of music happening in Los Angeles these days, and nothing makes me more happy. I still dream about living in the canyons and I couldn't asked for a better soundtrack than Yearling from The Parson Red Heads.

Listening again to the album now, I even think it perhaps should have been even higher on this countdown. A really strong album filled with classic country-rock/west-coast songs. Without a doubt an album that will have lasting relationship with me.

The band feel an kinship with other bands like Blitzen Trapper,  Dawes, Fleet Foxes and The Fruit Bats and I totally agree - that's kind of a list of my dream festival at the moment. Members of Wilco and R.E.M. often attend their shows and Peter Buck has even joined them onstage for Tom Petty coversongs.

Watch out for this band!

The Parson Red Heads - Seven Years Ago (official video)

2011 - A year in review.

# 14. Josh T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen
(Mute Records, March 14th 2011)

This is quite a difficult listen. Josh T. Pearson's first soloalbum, Last of the Country Gentlemen, is not an album you put on when you're having friends over for dinner. In fact it is an album you probably will have to listen to alone. I have very few records in my collection which are as bleak lyrically as this album - still, that is the appeal of this album. Musicially it's a pretty sparse affair, lyrically it's almost painfully honest. This is the sound of a man falling apart set to music. That said, the music and vocal performance has an almost sacral feel to it. Pearson's voice fills the room and you have no other choice but to just listen.

In "Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ" Pearson is brutally honest about not being the man his woman wants and needs him to be. The lyrics are as I said almost painfully bleak, but still they have got a lot of humour as well. In "Sweetheart.." he sings "There's no need to cry those eyes - I'll pack my bags and say goodbye - And my return in your lifetime, is more unlikely than king Jesus Christ's." It's harsh, but it's also with some black humour.

The songs on the album are so dark that Pearson himself wasn't sure about even releasing the album. It's very personal album and a view into a person's own living hell. That said, the sacral feeling I talked about earlier gives the album some light and it's not all just misery.

Josh T. Pearson - Woman, When I've Raised Hell

2011 - A year in review.

# 15. Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation
(Fat Possum, September 27th 2011)

Youth Lagoon is the brainchild of twenty two year old Trevor Powers (yeah, that's his real name) from Boise, Idaho. Powers claims that he wrote the album to say all the things he finds it hard to talk to people about. 

"For my whole life I've dealt with extreme anxiety." says Powers. "Not anxiety about passing a test or somewhat normal things, but weird.. bizarre things. Things that only I know. I sometimes feel like I'm literally being eaten up inside. So I started writing these songs. Not just songs about my anxiety, but about my past and my present. Songs about memories, and all those feelings that those bring. I know that if I can be honest about what is inside my mind, there will be others that will be able to relate to it."

I, for one can relate, though the first thing that grips you with this album is the dreamlike melodies and mood the music sets. The vocals are somewhat burried in the mix and reveal themselves to you with each repeated listen. There's a melancholy and almost nostalgic feel about the album, kind of the same feeling that Days by Real Estate has (another great album of the year who almost made the countdown). 

The Year of Hibernation is an album that slowly but surely drags you in until you almost becomes a part of the music.

Youth Lagoon - Montana (official video)

2011 - A year in review.

Trying to bring the blog back to life. 2011 was a year almost without blogging and I bring you my sincere apologies for that - and give you a promise that 2012 will be quite different. That said, 2011 was a good year for music, though I probably have listened less intens this year. I've listened to a lot of albums, but only a few has stuck with me through the year. In this post and the next few posts I'll try to sum up what 2011 has given me musically.

Let us start things with a few honorable mentions:

Radical Face - The Family Tree: The Roots 
(Bear Machine, October 4th 2011)

Radical Face is the soloproject from Jacksonville, Florida based singer/songwriter Ben Cooper. This is his second album following 2007s Ghost. Think of the hushed qualities of the early albums of both Iron & Wine and Sufjan Stevens and you will get an idea of how Radical Face sounds. It's often hauntingly beautiful and somber with lyrics that match the sound. The Roots is the first of a trilogy that will be released under The Family Tree "header". The lyrics to this album is tematically set to the 1800s though they resonate cleary to the same feelings people encounter every day.

Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing  
(Sub Pop, September 13th 2011)

American Goldwing, Blitzen Trapper's sixth album, were a great classic american driving album. Songs that just seem made for cruisin' down the highways. It's a bit more streamlined and straight forward than the last couple of albums from the band, but in my mind, probably the best album they have released to date. Instead of trying a whole mish-mash of things the band has focused on really good country-rock tunes on this album.

Jonas Alaska - Jonas Alaska 
 (Jansen Plateproduksjon, September 16th 2011)

Easily the best norwegian debut of the year, probably my favourite norwegian album of the year as well. I have written about Jonas Alaska on this blog before, that was a concert review, but the album is nearly as good as his live performance. Lots of great folk-pop tunes in the vein of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, but always with a Jonas Alaska-twist. This is a name we will be hearing more from in the years to come.

White Denim -
(Downtown Records, May 24th 2011)

D is the fourth album from this Austin, Texas band. Probably their most accessible so far. A band that's really hard to pin down musically. They have done everything from straight garage rock to prog-ish rock via dub and funk. On this album they bring out their inner prog-rockers, though they never really go prog. It's a kind of Wishbone Ash meets Grand Funk Railroad meets Quicksilver Messenger Service type of album. Lots of extraordinaire playing and it really sounds like they had a hell of a time recording it.

Photo by Line Almhjell (Copyright)