Monday, December 28, 2009

Earvolution's Ten For 2010

By: David Schultz

April may have been the cruelest month for T.S. Eliot but for the music business, December can be quite a bear. Practically every new release of value that could come out between Thanksgiving and the New Year gets shelved until the dropping of the ball in Times Square and rock stars like to spend the holidays with their families just like the rest of us. The dearth of excitement results in the Christmas season proliferation of Year In Review compilations and Best Of lists. With the New Year right around the corner, here are some things to get excited about in 2010.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: Not The T-Bone Burnett Album
Throughout the majority of 2009, all the news from Potterville pointed to the new Grace Potter & The Nocturnals album being a collaboration with legendary producer T-Bone Burnett that was rumored to be heavy on the Grace but light on The Nocturnals. That’s now last year’s story. Yet to be titled, GP&TN’s 2010 release will be the fruits of their labors with songwriter/producer Mark Batson and will feature the entire band, including new members Catherine Popper and Benny Yurco. A few of the new songs, namely “Oasis,” “Tiny Light” and “Medicine,” have anchored the band’s set list on their recent tour with Brett Dennen, giving credence to guitarist Scott Tournet’s claim that their latest “sounds more like GPN than ANY other album.”

U-Melt: Perfect World
On February 23, U-Melt’s third studio effort, Perfect World, will be released on Harmonized Records, offering up studio versions of live favorites like “Pura Vida,” “Elysian Fields” and the exquisite title track. In conjunction with the release, the band will embark on a tour of the East Coast, introducing their new guitarist Kevin Griffin, who will be replacing Rob Salzer, one of U-Melt’s founding members. Unquestionably, the departure of Salzer will be a game-changer but there’s no call for pessimistic prophecies; there’s too much talent in this band. Rather, it will be intriguing to watch and listen to how they evolve with Griffin. On February 20, U-Melt will celebrate Perfect World’s release with their debut at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom.

Pavement Reunion
If Pavement had released Slanted and Enchanted or Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain nowadays instead of the early 90s, they would be among the most hyped bands in the history of the blogosphere. As Pavement’s heyday came in the era when indie-rock described a business model, not a genre, they didn’t garner an extraordinary amount of attention. Notwithstanding the fact that “Cut You Hair” had a steady run on MTV’s 120 Minutes or that they sold out four shows at Central Park’s Summerstage a year in advance, Pavement’s modest success in the 1990s will not equate with the inordinate number of people that will boast about how much they loved Stephen Malkmus and company back in the day. Pavement’s reunion will be a pretty significant and cool event; the unrealistic number of exaggerated accounts of their former greatness from those who claim to have been all over Pavement back in the 90s will not.

Peter Gabriel: Scratch My Back
With his last studio effort coming in 2002, Peter Gabriel’s most significant accomplishment over the past few years has been getting reverently namechecked by Vampire Weekend in “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” Not typically known as an interpreter of other’s material, Gabriel will release Scratch My Back, an album exclusively of covers, on February 15. Gabriel’s latest will include his take on David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble,” Bon Iver’s “Flume,” Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage” as well as versions of songs from Elbow, Lou Reed, The Magnetic Fields, Randy Newman, Regina Spektor, Neil Young, Radiohead and The Talking Heads.

Blues & Lasers New Album
At the beginning of 2009, when Grace Potter & The Nocturnals had some down time, Scott Tournet revved his Delta blues project up to fifth gear, working many shows as a headliner, including one of the first gigs at the newly opened Brooklyn Bowl. As their debut album had only five songs, there was a lot of room to break out some new tunes and Blues & Lasers has a store of good ones on tap. With GPN business taking precedence, scheduling may be the bigger issue in getting to hear what B&L is up to. In the meantime, Tournet, Benny Yurco and Matt Burr are bringing a small taste of the B&L fireworks to the Nocturnals stage.

Pete Townshend At The Super Bowl
Ever year since the NFL has gone into overcompensation mode for the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, they trot out their classic rock superstar du jour at half time and unleash a slew of hired morons to rush out and act like they’re more excited than Michael Jackson left unsupervised in a pre-school. As it’s for TV, pros like Springsteen, Jagger and McCartney can ignore the nonsense and enjoy being the focal point of the spectacle. This ridiculous Hollywood crap seems like the exact sort of phoniness that drives Pete Townshend nuts and the ornery guitarist has never been too good at hiding his scorn. When The Who appear at the Super Bowl in February - no doubt, to play “Baba O’Riley,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” - it’s a matter of time before Townshend explodes the myth of how happy those fans on the field truly are. Maybe he bonks one on the head like they’re Abbie Hoffman and they call it a senior citizen malfunction.

Backyard Tire Fire: Good To Be
Produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, Backyard Tire Fire’s latest studio album, Good To Be, will be released on February 16. Not only are the Midwestern rockers one of the greatest bar bands with whom you could ever want to throw back a few beers, they are one of the more thought-provoking, Ed Anderson’s songs coming from the part of the soul that country and blues singers have mined for decades. Over the summer, BTF previewed a few of the album’s new songs when they came through New York City. No huge direction changes seem forthcoming but it’s clear that working with Berlin has had marvelous benefits. This may be the year that the Backyard Tire Fire catches on and Anderson finally gets his much deserved recognition.

The Kinks Reunion
Nearly every group from the Sixties that had the manpower to get the band back together in the modern day has found it impossible to resist the financial allure of the reunion tour. Long before the Gallaghers and Robinsons started borrowing their act, Ray & Dave Davies were pushing sibling rivalry and brotherly love to its limits, much to the detriment of The Kink’s perpetual longevity. Just recently, Ray Davies gave the first indication in many years that he and his brother had the inclination to play together once more as The Kinks, a proposition that had been greatly hindered by the lingering effect of Dave Davies’ 2004 stroke. Rather than experiment in front of arenas full of people, The Kinks’ guitarist will play some “low-key” shows as the first baby step towards a full-blown Kinks reunion.

Vampire Weekend: Contra
Vampire Weekend’s self-titled first album compiled all of the songs that had made them one of the most buzzed about bands in New York City onto a full-length release. Already vetted, its success was nearly a foregone conclusion. If the new songs starting to trickle out ahead of Contra’s January 12 release date are any indication, it looks like not only will we get more of the band’s warm and fuzzy mix of punk rock simplicity and Afro-pop rhythms, we’ll also get to recycle all those Ivy League jokes we’ve had to shelve for the last year or so.

A Genesis Reunion With Peter Gabriel
In 2010, Genesis will join The Stooges, Jimmy Cliff, The Hollies and ABBA as the latest inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The induction ceremonies tend to reunite band mates who haven’t been able to find the time to play together, or - in the case of Van Halen and Blondie - speak to each other, over the past few years. Let’s hope that the occasion gives Peter Gabriel time to catch up with Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins and discuss a Genesis reunion, an event that none of them seems to have much of an aversion to doing. We can only hope that the next Genesis tour will have less “I Can’t Dance” and more lead singers dressed as buttercups.

The Daily Earfuls will return in 2010. Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Yearvolution: 2009 In Review

By: David Schultz

30. Paul McCartney at CitiField
As The Beatles played the most historic concert in the history of Shea Stadium, it was only fitting that Paul McCartney would play the first live shows at its successor, CitiField. For three balmy (and rainy, well drizzly) nights in July, McCartney gave a show for the ages that appealed to all generations, covering all areas of his Beatles career, offering up the best from his days with Wings and touchingly honoring his wife Linda, George Harrison and John Lennon. Returning the favor from his “Last Play At Shea,” Billy Joel joined McCartney for his opening night encore, adding his own “whooo” to “I Saw Her Standing There.”

29. Metric: Fantasies
On “Gimme Sympathy,” Emily Haines poses the age old bar question, “Beatles or Rolling Stones?” Namedropping such classic rock titans gives you a sense that Emily Haines has some grand ambitions for her post Broken Social Scene career. By the time the arena rock bombast of “Stadium Love” closes the album, you can be sure of it. You never love to see any of your underground favorites make an album so broadly appealing that the mainstream homogenization process becomes inevitable. Fantasies makes it a little more bearable.

28. Future Of The Left: Travels With Myself And Another
“Come on, Rick,” you didn’t hear of Future Of The Left in 2009? A shouty little band from Cardiff, Wales that boasts 2/3 of mcclusky, Future Of The Left bashes out erudite three minutes bursts of politicized punk; its like The Clash, only without the bouncy traces of ska. Like every great band with punk leanings, attitude and volume can only carry you so far. Without a whit of intelligence, whether academic or street savvy, its all sound and fury signifying nothing. Future Of The Left has the complete package; never has a band’s boast that we need Satan more than he needs us sounded so rational . . . and loud.

27. Dave Matthews Band: Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King
The memory of LeRoi Moore, who passed away in the midst of the Big Whiskey recording session, looms large throughout the Dave Matthews Band seventh studio release. All of the trademarks you would expect from a DMB album are present - intricate musical arrangements, Matthews’ cycling through his gruff to falsetto vocal range, Carter Beauford’s booming drums – but they seem to be working at a more inspired level. The result is the Matthews Band's most entertaining and ambitious album since their 1994 debut.

26. The Dead Weather: Horehound
I think we’re at the point where nothing Jack White does should be surprising. One side project not being enough, White jumped behind the drums, recruited Allison Mosshart from The Kills and Dean Fertita from Queens Of The Stone Age and created yet another great band with hard hitting drums, concise guitar licks and impassioned lead vocals permeating the album. As it has the gritty "Hang You From The Heavens" and the cocky "I Cut Like A Buffalo," it seems like nitpicking to complain that Horehound omits their marvelous cover of Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?”

25. Japandroids: Post-Nothing
On their first full-length release, the Canadian guitar and drum duo of Brian King and David Prowse envelop all the wondrous dreams and grand expectations that can only be maintained by the young in a magnificent haze of beautiful noise, drowning shoegazing guitar work in oceans of reverb. On “Wet Hair,” they envision themselves going to France so they French kiss a French girl and on “Heart Sweats,” the chorus needs nothing more than the quaint “xoxoxoxo” to get its point across. Their North American tour was derailed by a medical emergency before it could get off the ground, so 2010 will be the year they bring their music to the people.

24. Antony & The Johnsons: “Aeon”
With his ghostly, ethereal voice and herky-jerky stage contortions, gender-neutral Antony Hegarty has always eluded simple definitions He does fall in the category of those performers that need to be seen, if only to prove to yourself that that voice comes from a human being and not an otherworldy aesthete. Probably the most startling track from The Crying Light, which easily wins the prize for the year’s most disturbing cover, "Aeon" puts Hegarty's indescribable talents in their finest light. An absolutely gorgeous song, Hegarty sings with an urgency rarely found in his airy poetic commentaries, his passion rising above the lush orchestration to provide one of the year's most moving songs.

23. Living Colour: The Chair In The Doorway
Don’t call it comeback, cause they didn’t go nowhere; Living Colour reemerged in 2009 with the same sonic assault that made them a genre-busting revelation in the pre-grunge era. On The Chair In The Doorway, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun operate at a staggering level of speed and sophistication, Vernon Reid crunches through the avant-metal riffs that have become his calling card and Corey Glover offers his customary array of trenchant observations. A cerebral funk-metal band, Reid’s tapping of the spiraling guitar hook to “Behind The Sun,” his slide work on “Bless Those” and Glover’s knockout vocals on “Not Tomorrow” help make this Living Colour’s most eclectic album in years.

22. tUnE-yArDs: BiRd-BrAiNs
Girls are still imitating Liz Phair, recording full length albums in the comfort of their own bedroom, only now they have Pro-Tools at their disposal. Merrill Garbus’ uncomfortably capitalized usage is just part of her wonderfully skewed musical vision. Whether it's methodically introducing layered instrumental loops over her sweetly innocent mediations as she does on “Sunlight” or unleashing them in a raga-infused burst like on “Hatari,” With its emphasis on recorded repetition and lack of reliance on guitar riffs and drum rolls, BiRd-BrAiNs offers a glimpse at the lush music textures that will be springing out of home studios across the globe and gives purist's a reason to not dread the future.

21. Pearl Jam: Backspacer
Pearl Jam has always been at their best when they feel slighted or unheard, the role of the feisty underdog suiting them better than perhaps any band that's come before them. Now that the Obama era has seemingly left Pearl Jam without a villain to fight, they seem oddly happy. A compact little album, Backspacer zips along, full of moody Eddie Vedder elegies and thrashy little rockers that serve as a pleasant reminder that Mike McCready and Stone Gossard can build a song like no other. Having taken over the means of their own production, the grunge rock stalwarts are settling nicely into their role as stately rockers.

20. Wooden Shjips: Dos
On Dos, the band’s second album, Wooden Shjips offer another dose (see the title works on so many levels) of hallucinatory garage rock, stretching five songs over a quickly paced forty minutes. On “Down By The Sea” and “Fallin’,” the albums two lengthiest jams, bassist Dusty Jermier and drummer Omar Ahsanuddin lock in to a repetitive rhythm, hitting it early and not wavering from it one iota. The subtle repetition lulls you in and when Ripley Johnson unleashes his reverb heavy guitar licks on top Nash Whalen’s Ray Manzarek inspired organ melodies, you get a sense of what the 21st Century Doors should really sound like.

19. The BPA: “He’s Frank”
Always the master of finding the right sample for whatever groove he’s working on, Norman Cook nee Fatboy Slim broadened his horizons for I Think We’re Going Need A Bigger Boat, his first offering under the moniker of The Brighton Port Authority, by working with singers instead of snippets. Hearing something in The Monochrome Set’s new wave obscurity “He’s Frank” heretofore unheard, Cook brought in Iggy Pop to lay down his inimitably droll vocals over a revved up funky beat. No one released a more enjoyable song that drips with this much credibility.

18. Levon Helm: Electric Dirt
Expanding on the quaint folksy sound of The Dirt Farmer, his Grammy-winning effort from 2007, Helm livened up some standards, introduced a few Americana-sounding originals and plucked “Tennessee Jed” from The Grateful Dead for his follow-up, Electric Dirt. By keeping the recording within his Midnight Ramble family, all of the staples of Helm’s Rambles are present: the horn section busts out a true New Orleans flair on Randy Newman’s “Kingfish” and Larry Campbell’s violin brings out every bit of pathos in Helm’s distinctively raspy voice. Electric Dirt would work in any era but coming now, following his battle with throat cancer, it shows that Helm still has a lot of music left in his soul.

17. Dan Auerbach: Keep It Hid
One half of the Black Keys, Auerbach’s debut solo effort was a sparkling affair. The baleful, empathetic acoustic blues of “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” “When The Night Comes” and “Goin’ Home” are filled with a naked emotion and a touch of pathos, generating earnest pleas from the depths of soul. It’s a fine contrast to the menacing stomp of songs like “The Prowl,” “I Want Some More” and the superlative “Heartbroken In Disrepair,”which shows that wherever Auerbach goes, reverb-heavy guitars will follow.

16. Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport
Naming themselves in such a fashion that assures they will never be written about in mainstream publications, Fuck Buttons work on a level of industrial intensity few others can match. On Tarot Sport, Brits Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power refine their abilities to concoct hypnotic soundscapes out of psychedelic drone, tribal click-clacks and mechanized noise. Tinkering with each song as it unfolds, adding sounds that didn't seem like they were missing until they appear, Fuck Buttons shatter all modern song structure conventions. Tarot Sport will make you wish you did Ecstasy or at least wonder if their a tab of acid left over from the college days.

15. St. Vincent: Actor
By combining airy melodies, derivative of wistful Walt Disney soundtracks, with wicked Talking Heads new wave guitar riffs, St. Vincent nee Annie Clark has worked her way into the hipster circle of trust: criticize her at your own peril. The waiflike Ms. Vincent, who bragged about spending while Jesus saved on her debut Marry Me, still dips her toes in the pool of self-aware ennui, this time begging to be saved from her own desires on “Save Me From What I Want.” Take heed though, the Breakfast At Tiffany’s wide-eyed naiveté is all a show, Actor is a savvy little bit of new wavish pop.

14. Leonard Cohen Returns To America
When ABBA is inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, Leonard Cohen will lose his title of being the most unlikely member of the institution. Returning to the stage after a lengthy absence, reportedly due to crooked financial advisors looting his retirement accounts, Cohen's unretirement tour finally made its way to America in 2009. As if ageless, Cohen mesmerized sold-out crowds with his neo-romantic visions, bohemian patois and preternaturally, oh-so-calm-and-reassuring deep voice. His ability to leave listeners spellbound should be required study for every American Idol candidate that thinks melisma and histrionics are the keys to the entertainment.

13. U2: No Line On The Horizon
When you’re the largest and most relevant band in the world, any album, even one that doesn’t break through any barriers or mark a monumental shift in musical focus, rises like cream atop the rest of the year’s releases. No Line On The Horizon may be a bit more of the same from the Irish superstars, but its still a worthy effort. Made for the stadiums in which it would be played, Larry Mullen's drums on "Magnificent" come charging in as if on a thoroughbred and you can still recognize Edge's guitar work from its brilliant simplicity. Oh yes, and then there's Bono. Only the greatest live performer not named Springsteen could propound the simplistic sentiments of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and make them sound profound.

12. Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
The Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver benefitted the most from Yellow House, Grizzly Bear’s 2007 release that paved the way for achingly beautiful, methodically evolving chamber room indie-rock. On Veckatimest, the meticulous progressions of “Two Weeks” and “Cheerleader” seem almost peppy by Grizzly Bear standards but at heart, it’s their ability to underscore bucolic harmonies with plaintive, haunting melodies that makes the album such a compelling listen. Depending on what strata of music you’re considering, Grizzly Bear rightfully deserves mention as one of the decade’s most influential bands; Veckatimest surely helps the cause.

11. Bob Dylan: Together Through Life
Surprising everyone with his March announcement of its April release, Dylan continued his remarkable renaissance, taking his music to a Mexican border town and letting it wander around in the dust to soak up the atmosphere. Dylan’s forgotten more about traditional American music than most will ever absorb and on Together Through Life, his facility with blues, country and folk makes them all resoundingly come alive. From the Spaghetti western feel of “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” through the bluesy jazz of “Jolene” to the raucous barroom romp of “It’s All Good,” Dylan shows he’s still got a lot of fuel left in his tank.

10. Andrew Bird: Noble Beast
Making use of a violin, xylophone, a looping machine and a marvelous ability to whistle, Bird makes fantastic music out of the instruments most people abandon after elementary school. From "Anonanimal" through "Tenuousness," Noble Beast offers a true cerebral experience, a highly literate effort that truly is one instead of a fancy way of saying that the punk rocker sounds smart. Quirky, almost to a fault, Bird’s masterful grasp of the language and penchant for creative wordplay make a perfect match for his intricately plotted songs. Available for only a limited time, Useless Creatures, an instrumental companion album, showed the even wider breadth of Bird’s creativity than revealed on Noble Beast.

9. Leroy Justice: The LoHo Sessions
Leroy Justice is a rock and roll band, plain and simple. Jason Gallagher’s confident vocals, Sloan Marshall’s timeless organ riffs and Brendan Cavanaugh’s Skydog- quality slide guitar burrow into the recesses of the rock and roll soul. Evoking an instinctive yet familiar response that only fine classic rock can generate, The Loho Sessions may have arrived more than three decades too late. Were it 1972, we would be talking about it as reverently as we do Exile On Main Street and Eat A Peach. It’s a glorious revelation to know that bands still make this type of music.

8. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
To take the term back from John McCain, Dave Longstreth and The Dirty Projectors are part of the New Mavericks of rock and roll. Rather than latching onto a genre, the Projectors simply make music and go in whatever direction it needs to go. If the song doesn’t need a chorus, one isn’t forced in; if a glockenspiel would make things sound better, no preconceived notion keeps it out. Bitte Orca gets better with each listen because there’s so much to hear. New York Magazine seemed to think so. Now that they've gotten around to realizing that there's a music revival going on in Brooklyn, they latched on to Longstreth and his band as the scene's poster children.

7. Fever Ray: Fever Ray
A captivating effort, Karen Dreijer Andersson a/k/a Fever Ray has crafted the soundtrack for any episode of Miami Vice where Crockett & Tubbs pensively traveled down the highway in a convertible or required Don Johnson to dump a girlfriend who just happened to be involved with the drug dealer they were about to arrest. Practically subsuming her entire identity beneath studio distortion, Andersson uses her vocals to accentuate the album's wide swath of thumping ambient beats, warbling seductively just as often as she wails away with Bjork-like abandon. Fever Ray is a slyly seductive form of industrial raga, unleashing the Swedish pop demons that lurk beneath the slickest of mainstream hits in a manner destined to appeal to the denizens of the dankest of basement clubs.

6. Black Crowes: Before The Flood . . . Until The Freeze
Recorded before a live audience in Levon Helm’s barnyard studio in Woodstock, New York, the Black Crowes rediscovered the Americana soul that has always simmered beneath their Southern soul stew. Luther Dickinson, now firmly in the fold, makes his presence felt adding a surfeit of gritty and sultry nuances to Before The Flood. However, it’s the bonus album, Until The Freeze, that is the true gem. With Larry Campbell sitting in, the music unfolds as if it’s being played around a campfire in the wee hours of the morning under a cloudy, smoky haze, the music spilling forth in a rustic mélange.

5. The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Shows At MSG
Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen sitting in with U2, John Fogerty and Billy Joel joining Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Metallica welcoming Lou Reed, Ray Davies and Ozzy Osbourne, Stevie Wonder hosting Smokey Robinson, B.B. King, John Legend, Sting and Jeff Beck. Not a bad recipe for a memorable show. Add in Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Still & Nash and Aretha Franklin and you have not only the concert event of the year, but possibly of the decade. When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame wants to celebrate a 25th Anniversary, they sure know how to do it in style . . . even if they, once again, throw a little passive-agressive missive at Cleveland, Ohio by not hosting in the city they deem worthy to house their hall.

4. White Denim: Fits
It took a while for White Denim’s follow-up to Exposion to make its way to the States, initially being released overseas where the Austin, Texas trio has become quite the sensation. With Fits, they move in new and different directions while remaining true to their overriding mantra of distilling rock music down to its high-octane essence. Flying through songs at a breakneck pace that would impress Usain Bolt, “I Start To Run” percolates on Steve Terebecki’s bass and Joshua Block’s drums needing only shotgun blasts from James Petralli’s guitar and “Mirrored And Reverse” has a steamy undercurrent of garage psychedelia. This is a band that has a ton to offer in 2010.

3. Phish Ends Their Hiatus
It wasn’t done with the simplicity of Michael Jordan’s proclamation of “I’m back” but it pretty much had the same effect. By announcing three shows at Virginia’s Hampton Coliseum in March of this year, the venerable jamband titans sent their fanbase, who had been awaiting confirmation of the rumored shows with unprecedented anticipation, into a joyous hysteria that ultimately resulted in the evisceration of Live Nation’s credibility as a major ticket vendor once ducats went on sale. Phish also released Joy, their first studio album in more than five years, but the simple fact that Phish was back, which overshadowed the return of The Dead, trumped everything else they would do in 2009.

2. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
On Merriweather Post Pavilion, one of the more anticipated releases of 2009, Animal Collective, toned down their wild inclination for experimentation and avant-garde screamfests in favor of an inviting swirl of sound that Panda Bear explored on Person Pitch. Rather than antagonize their listeners, Aminal Collective decided to bring them into their wild world, which turned out to be oddly domestic, albeit in a psychedelically day-glo fashion. In cultivating their electronic pulses and hypnotically repetitive rhythms in their most pleasing manner yet, Merriweather Post Pavilion remains challenging without the Collective having to greatly compromise their slightly lunatic bent. Like it or not, this is one of the more important albums of the decade, its influence will undoubtedly reach well into the next. Hipsters of the future: if you're not listening to this now, learn enough about it; in 2015, you will have to credibly pull off the patronizing declaration that you've been listening to Merriweather Post Pavilion for years.

1. The Decemberists: The Hazards Of Love
The Decemberists created a rock opera in every sense of the word. A fractured fairy tale that combines the fantasy of a Narnia Chronicle with the fatalism of a Shakespearian tragedy, The Hazards Of Love tells the tale of a swan named Margaret and her star-crossed lover, a shape shifting faun of adopted royal heritage. Exquisitely crafted, the story packs an understated emotional punch, engendering sympathy for its main characters over the course of a one hour album. On the four versions of "The Hazards Of Love," Meloy builds on the thematic and musical structure of the song much as symphonic masters have done for centuries. My Brightest Diamond's Shana Worden gives voice to the evil Queen and Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark brings the avian heroine to life, adding to the theatrical quality by relieving Meloy of the onus of voicing every character. Prog-rock indulgences and bizarre story lines aside, Meloy and The Decemberists have put together a momentous album.

Disappointments: These events just didn’t live up to expectations. Enjoyable though they may be, we desired more.

Arctic Monkeys: Humbug
Ben Harper & The Relentless 7: White Lies For Dark Times
Kanye West At The MTV Awards
Bruce Springsteen: Working On A Dream
The Felice Brothers: Yonder Is The Clock
Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown
Monsters Of Folk: Monsters Of Folk
Wilco: Wilco (The Album)
Lou Reed: The Metal Machine Trio
The reaction to Michael Jackson’s death

The Best Of Earvolution: In case you missed it the first time.

Five Artists Who Will Define The Next Decade

Living Colour Returns

Woodstock: 40 Years On

Gov’t Mule: Rockin’ It Fine At The Hammerstein (a review in verse)

Michael Jackson: What Are We Mourning?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday's Earful: The Best of 2009 & The Best of The Decade

By: David Schultz

Let this serve as a preamble for next week's annual Yearvolution.

With the decade coming to an end, list makers get to pull double duty, cataloguing not only the best albums and songs of the year but sorting out the "best" of the last ten years to boot. Culling through the legions of lists:

Rolling Stone named Radiohead's Kid A the best album of the decade, Gnarls Barkley's ubiquitous "Crazy" as song of the decade and U2's No Line On The Horizon as the best album of 2009. Its former competitor, Spin, tabbed Merriweather Post Pavilion the album of 2009. Stereogum acknowledged both: the Animal Collective album also took the Gummy Award for Best Album of 2009 and Kid A nabbed the award for best album of the decade.

Pitchfork also named Kid A the decade's best album and OutKast's "B.O.B" as the decade's best track. Thinking locally, it found Animal Collective's "My Girls" to be the track of 2009. Entertainment Weekly went against the grain, relegating Kid A to the #4 spot and deeming Kanye West's The College Dropout the best album of the decade.

NME honored The Horrors' Primary Colours as the year's best album and Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Zero" as the year's best song. For the decade, The Strokes' Is This It took their top album spot and Beyonce's "Crazy In Love" took top song.

Paste Magazine thought Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise worthy to top their list of the decade's best albums and The Flaming Lips' cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" the best cover of the decade. For the year, it liked The Avett Brothers' I And Love And You. Glide Magazine named Bob Dylan's Love And Theft the best of the last ten years.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday's Earful: Jingle Jam 2009 - BuzzUniverse, Jason Crosby, Licorice & The Mixxtape

By: Victor Harlan

This past Friday night, BuzzUniverse hosted their annual Jingle Jam at NYC's Ace of Clubs. Relix Jam Off winners (Dec/Jan), Licorice, kicked off the night with their first all-acoustic set. After playing a few originals and new compositions, they invited friend Rebecca Hart to join them for a cover of Gillian Welch's "Miss Ohio." The band then finished with a cover of Ween's "Voodoo Lady" and a few originals. Jason Crosby's brand new band then took the stage for a set that included covers of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" and Bob Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes a Train to Cry)."

Evening hosts BuzzUniverse then performed a two-plus-hour set of staple originals and covers. Licorice's David Lott joined the band on electric guitar for Buzz originals "You & Me" and "The Rock," leading into their a capella Christmas Carol "Dear Santa" featuring Greg McLoughlin's soulful call to Jolly St.Nick. BuzzU original "Earth Is Moving" led to a full room percussion jam segueing seamlessly into Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine." Then during original "In the Sun" Buzz U drummer Dave Migliore gave up his seat to Jason Isaac of Afroskull, who crushed every syncopated moment with the band as though he had been sitting there all night long. The marathon set concluded with Lott returning to the stage for a delicate rendition of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." Finally, the New Hope PA-based band Mixxtape closed the night, performing until 3:00 AM.

Hidden Track was also at the Jingle Jam. Read their review here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday's Earful: Scott Metzger & Heroin; Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame 2010

By: David Schultz

Visions of sugarplums dancing in your head are probably more in line with the impending Christmas holiday then pondering about heroin being your blood and that blood being in your head while thanking God that you're good as dead. The Velvet Underground though were never about being appropriate in polite company or going with the flow. While the musical heads of the late 60s propounded a world view of peace and love, the VU confronted the seedy underbelly of life and offered unflinching firsthand accounts, creating the alternative rock genre in their wake.

Former RANA and Particle guitarist Scott Metzger, who of late has made appearances at Leroy Justice gigs to trade licks with Brendan Cavanaugh, has put together Heroin, a Velvet Underground tribute band for a one night only gig this Saturday night at New York City's Sullivan Hall. Metzger's band will include Fat Mama’s Kevin Kendrick in the John Cale/Doug Yule role, American Babies’ Jonathan Goldberger filling Sterling Morrison's shoes and RANA's Ryan Thornton doing his best Maureen Tucker imitation. The night will also include art installations from Jess Pfohl and a DJ set by Eric Slick.

THE ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME will welcome Genesis, The Stooges, The Hollies, Jimmy Cliff and ABBA in 2010. Each of them -- even the Swedish pop stars -- have an argument to be made in their defense: the Stooges being "what took so damn long." However, if this is where we're at with inductions, perhaps this induction braintrust should revisit Lou Reed, Jethro Tull and Rush before they do something stupid like ponder Britney Spears' relevance or Chicago's import.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday's Earful: U-Melt @ Sullivan Hall; Rob Salzer's Farewell Show

By: David Schultz
Photo: Jeremy Gordon

A little more than four years ago, I caught my first U-Melt show at the Lion’s Den in New York City. moe. had just finished up their first of two post-Thanksgiving shows at Roseland and U-Melt had nicely positioned themselves as the after-hours show of choice for New Yorkers who weren’t ready to call it a night. Thinking back to that show, I recall being blown away by Rob Salzer. Despite being relatively new to freelance journalism, I knew I was seeing a guitarist that did things most others can only fantasize about while playing Rock Band. Having seen him play about twenty or so more times since then, I can say now with the same certainty with which I said it back then: Salzer’s one of the most electrifying young guitarists playing today. Only now, unfortunately, “playing today” will have a more theoretical ring to it as Salzer will be stepping away from stage for the time being.

On a personal level, seeing Salzer’s last U-Melt show at Sullivan Hall – the refurbished Lion Den – brought things full circle. With Phish playing their last of three shows at Madison Square Garden, U-Melt once again provided the after-hours entertainment. Even though the announcement of Salzer’s departure from the band had yet to be formally announced, word had spread throughout U-Melt’s ardent and devoted fan base. While the mood was far from maudlin within the sold-out Sullivan Hall, the night was tinctured with a bittersweet excitement.

Opening with the building crescendos of Salzer’s “Elysian Fields,” U-Melt played for an unrelenting three-and-a-half hours, breaking only for repairs to George Miller’s punctured snare drum and replacement of Salzer’s battery, which led to an impromptu jam centered around the 9-Volt. Unsurprisingly, Salzer left everything on the stage, tearing through the guitar solos of “Eternal Groove,” “Red Star,” “Impedimenta” and “Disclaimer/Disillusion” with a sense of finality. On danceable grooves like “Pura Vida,” traditional balladry like “Perfect World” and wild spiraling discursions like “The Fantastical Flight Of Captain Delicious” and “A Portrait Of Kismet,” keyboardist Zac Lasher, bassist Adam Bendy and Miller are every bit Salzer’s peers when it comes to proficiency, creativity and energy. Notwithstanding Salzer’s intricate guitar riffs, it’s always been the band’s interplay that makes U-Melt’s complex progressions so intriguing.

In addition to being Salzer’s farewell performance, the Sullivan Hall performance marked U-Melt’s final gig for 2009. In 2010, Kevin Griffin, formerly of The Point, will have the unenviable task of filling Salzer’s inestimable shoes as U-Melt treks across North America in support of Perfect World, their upcoming third studio album. Salzer’s absence from the band he helped found is the elephant in the room that many may not want to talk about, his role in U-Melt far from one that’s easily replaceable. I can’t provide any firsthand assessment as I haven’t had the opportunity to hear Griffin play. By all accounts though, Griffin is up to the task at hand and his inclusion into the band will take place under Salzer’s tutelage. Perhaps the most exciting aspect about the future for any band is that it’s yet to be written; whether you entitle this new chapter Nu-Melt or U-Melt 2.0, it’s sure to be an exciting one.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday's Earful: A.A. Bondy @ The Bowery Ballroom

By: David Schultz

There’s no better barometer of an artist’s growing popularity than gauging the size of the crowd upon every return visit. For A.A. Bondy, the lovably moody and irascible Alabama born singer-songwriter, his fans have gone from mingling with those of the Cold War Kids, Alejandro Escovedo and Bon Iver to finally getting a room of their own as Bondy matured into a headliner. Having outgrown the intimate Mercury Lounge, which he uncomfortably packed to capacity on his last visit to New York City at the start of his tour, the logical next step was to move into the Bowery Ballroom.

Marking the close of a three month long stretch of shows that took him all over the globe, Bondy’s return trip to Manhattan saw him presenting his material in a much different light. Giving the sparse arrangements found on When The Devil’s Loose, his recently released sophomore effort, and American Hearts, his phenomenal solo debut, a complete overhaul, Bondy washed them in feedback and his own Southern attitude. More than ornamental dressing, the accompanying pedal steel, keyboards and drums fleshed out the foreboding sentiment that lurks within the interstices of Bondy’s songs like an unearthly specter. The weightier delivery enhanced the David Lynchian quality of “Mightiest Of Guns” and “I Can See The Pines Are Dancing” and by adding additional drums and trombone to “I Killed Myself When I Was Young,” Bondy transformed the coda into an avant-garde frenzy. In contrast, during a captivating interlude that including a reworking of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and a straightforward recitation of “My Funny Valentine,” Bondy recaptured the bleak emotionalism that runs through his recordings.

Singers that open themselves up in the studio usually have a close rapport with their audience; their live shows being more akin to an intimate gathering of friends. Bondy poetically sings of disaffected feelings, compassion and spiritual longing incorporating Book of Revelations imagery and enigmatic metaphors. His stage demeanor though, sometimes belies the fragility found within his lyrics, Bondy’s gruff though amiable Southern attitude never far from the surface. In introducing “Oh The Vampyre,” Bondy made his views on the country’s fascination with the vampire craze quite clear – “Fuck Twilight” summing it up succinctly – and he made a similar though superficial proclamation relating to anyone standing between the Crimson Tide and an NCAA title. No bleeding heart, his often sarcastic prefaces show a slight detachment from the insightful subject matter but in acknowledging his philosophical foils, he makes clear the battles he’s fighting.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Friday's Earful: Hot Chocolate

By: David Schultz

Here in New York, it's cold outside. Nothing warms you up like a little Hot Chocolate.

Thursday's Earful: Traveling Wilburys vs. Monsters Of Folk

By: David Schultz

Traveling Wilburys: a late 80s supergroup made up of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne;

Monsters Of Folk: a late 00s supergroup made up of Jim James, M.Ward, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis.

Traveling Wilburys: attempted to hide their real identities by using the thinly disguised aliases of Nelson, Otis, Lefty, Lucky and Charlie T. Wilbury;

Monsters Of Folk: attempted to hide their real identities by using the thinly disguised aliases of Yim Yames, Him, Bright Eyes and Mike Mogis.

Traveling Wilburys: came together on a lark in Dylan’s home studio when Harrison, Lynne and Orbison needed a place to record a song – Petty happened to be next door;

Monsters Of Folk: slowly evolved over a five year period until James, Oberst and Ward could clear their schedules - Mogis surprisingly free.

Traveling Wilburys: showed their versatility by rotating between different guitars;

Monsters Of Folk: showed their versatility by rotating between guitars, keyboards, drums and whatever else they could find;

Traveling Wilburys: didn’t really travel, not really Wilburys;

Monsters Of Folk: not really monsters, not really folksy.

Traveling Wilburys: sang about a girl named “Margarita” and pondered mortality at the “End Of The Line”:

Monsters Of Folk: sang about “A Man Named Truth” and pondered mortality on “Dear God”.

Traveling Wilburys: helped regenerate popular interest in the careers of Dylan, Orbison and Lynne;

Monsters Of Folk: created popular interest in the existence of Mike Mogis.

Traveling Wilburys: playfully mocked Bruce Springsteen by recording “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”’;

Monsters Of Folk: playfully mocked Eddie Vedder by not inviting him.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wednesday's Earful: BuzzUniverse's Jingle Jam

By: David Schultz

This Friday night, BuzzUniverse will host its 2nd Annual Jingle Jam at the Ace of Clubs on Great Jones Street in New York City. Proudly hailing from New Jersey, Manhattan's neighbor to the South, BuzzUniverse has made a small festival out of their yearly Christmas party, filling the bill with friends geared towards making the evening a memorable one of Yuletide cheer. This year, Licorice will kick things off with a rare acoustic set. Guitarist David Lott offered a bit of a preview a couple weeks back with an unplugged set at the AoC and I think we can expect some of the fun of the bygone 7-11 Project to find its way into the set. The Jason Crosby Band will follow and Robert Randolph's former Family Band member always has something interesting up his sleeve.

Headliners and gracious hosts BuzzUniverse will hit the stage at 10:30 and have two steps on tap. The eclectic collective recently featured prominently at the inaugural Let It Roll festival and are usually good for welcoming a guest or two onto their stage. This should be wonderful night of music, lasting well into the wee hours of the morning. Plus, Santa's unlikely to bring coal to the Ace of Clubs, so if you've been more nice than naughty you may get cookies.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!