Sunday, February 18, 2007

Crooked Still & Alexi Murdoch: Folk music that doesn't make you want to drown yourself

Crooked Still is part of a new breed of bluegrass bands. Unorthodox, alternative, what have you--they draw on a multitude of influences to produce a unique sound and and approach to some bluegrass classics. The band consists of a banjo (Greg Liszt), cello (Rushad Eggleston), double-bass (Corey DiMario) and guitar/vocals (Aoife O'Donovan.) Yeah, that is about as Irish a name as you can get. Although that seems like a rather strange set of instruments for a bluegrass quartet, they manage quite well. Rushad has a percussive, almost slapping style of play that plays well off of both the bass rhythms and the banjo rolls. Greg Liszt is an incredibly talented banjoist, probably in the top 10 in the world. Anyway, they stick to a set of more traditional bluegrass songs, unlike Nickel Creek, but they are incredibly innovative in their musical interpretation of them. Check out their myspace, and listen to "Mountain Jumper" as well as "Wind and Rain" (it has a fiddle part.)

To give you an idea of just how awesome they are live, here is a video of them playing "Orphan Girl" at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Be sure to keep an eye on Rushad.

I first heard of them when they played Woodsongs in 2006, along with Tony Trischka (another amazing banjoist). The podcast of that show is available here, and I highly recommend it. Liszt and Trischka have a crazy duet.

Alexi Murdoch is a folk singer/songwriter similar to Nick Drake. He's from Scotland, and you can hear it in his voice. In fact, I think that is what I like most about him. You can hear how he forms his words. He has an album out, Time Without Consequence, which has significant influences from blues and jazz, especially in the instruments surrounding the guitar. He just played Headliners in Louisville, which I missed, unfortunately. Here is a video of him playing my favorite song from his album, "All My Days" on Carson Daly.

Also, here is an mp3 of another song from his album, "Song For You." The whole album is this good, actually, so I recommend that you buy it.

[mp3] Alexi Murdoch - Song For You

Friday, February 2, 2007

2007: The Year In Preview

Well, 2007 is officially 1/12th over, and it is definitely off to a strong start; and all indicators point to it staying that way. So, just for you, here is a list of some things to look forward to this year.

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
The Shins' primary songwriter, James Mercer, weaves an astounding dreamscape on this album. By building on songs such as "The Past and Pending" and "Those to Come" from their previous work, they have achieved a dreamy journey Lewis Carrol would be proud of. "Red Rabbits," "Sleeping Lessons," and "A Comet Appears" are almost magical in quality. "Phantom Limb" and "Australia" are some of the best pop rock songs since the Beach Boys (whose harmonies both songs are reminiscent of). Despite all of the bloggers and naysayers complaints about Zach Braff, the Shins write incredibly catchy music. I don't know if these songs "will change your life," but they are definitely a good listen.

[mp3] The Shins - Phantom Limb

Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (2/20)
I didn't really listen to Explosions much until late last year, as I had always been somewhat turned off by their lack of lyrics. I had been missing out. All of a Sudden could definitely be considered a crowning achievement. Their musicianship, and more importantly, their ability to control the emotion of a song has grown tremendously. On this album they make much more use of the piano than previously, which is a good thing. "It's Natural to be Afraid," a 13 minute opus, is the centerpiece of the album, and emphasizes the fact that Explosions share more in common with classical music than with contemporary rock (in my opinion, that is a very, very good thing).

[mp3] Explosions In the Sky - Welcome, Ghosts

The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (3/6)
In their Sophomore release, the Canuks with the Hooks (tm, me), prove that even though a successful follow-up to a breakthrough album is hard to pull off, it is most definitely possible. And it's not the same, old stuff they did on Funeral; their sound has evolved quite a bit. Musically, they've expounded on their use of strings, and various other instruments (mandolin, xylophone, organ, hurdy-gurdy. Yes, a hurdy-gurdy). "Keep the Car Running" is my current favorite, due to its awesome mandolin part and catchy refrain. "(Antichrist Television Blues)" is essentially a short story, one which I haven't exactly been able to make out fully, but the sheer volume of words in the song is pretty ridiculous (and interesting). If you haven't heard any of their stuff, they are similar to Anathallo and Sufjan Stevens, at least in the sense that they have a multitude of able musicians on stage that switch instruments as required. This is a band I definitely want to see live.

[mp3] Arcade Fire - Intervention

Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah - Some Loud Thunder (2/5)
CYHSY's first album was groundbreaking for a variety of reasons, although few of them were musical. They self-produced, -recorded, -promoted, and -distributed their album. That's not an easy feat. Musically, they pull heavy influence from eclectic bands like CAKE and Radiohead. I really liked that album, at least in small doses. Whenever I came back to listen to it, I was surprised by the catchiness of many of the songs, despite the almost grating vocals of the lead singer (Alec Ounsworth). Unfortunately for me, their second album builds on (what I view as) the bands deficiencies. Namely, disjointed song writing, inaccessible vocals, and esoteric mixing (some songs seem to possess cacophony solely for the purpose of making the song hard to enjoy). For me, this album is a major disappointment; instead of embracing the things I loved most about their music, they seem to have forgotten them in a push to become even more aloof and exclusive. It's a sad thing, really, because they possess an uncanny ability to write infectious melodies and rhythms.

[mp3] CYHSY - Underwater (You and Me)

Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (3/20)
The indie veterans are coming out with the follow-up to their major label, mainstream breakthrough album Good News. Not much has been released on this album, except for the fact that they have collaborated with James Mercer (of the Shins) on a few songs. "Dashboard" is the only released song from the album, and it is just as good as you would expect.

[mp3] Modest Mouse - Dashboard

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky (5/15)
The guys are back in the studio, with their first offering since A Ghost Is Born in '04. I don't really need to say much about this one, because, well, it's Wilco. They really can't help but make good music.
other albums of note scheduled to be released this year

Bright Eyes
The Postal Service
Sigur Ros
Jose Gonzalez
The Smashing Pumpkins (yes, they're reuniting)
Band of Horses
Jimmy Eat World
Queens of the Stone Age
The Doves
Fountains of Wayne
Iron & Wine