Tag Archive for 'Brooklyn'

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #1. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

biting my lip as confidence is speaking to me

biting my lip as confidence is speaking to me

Tramp is the album that I listened to the most all year long, the album I kept turning back to, woke up with it in my head, wanted to hear it again and again. Sharon Van Etten has expanded her palette a bit, using more electric guitar and intensity, but still maintaining her beautiful hypnotic melodies.

The songs hit on a lot of emotion, in a very conversational lyric tone–that’s her style–but instead of feeling extremely personal, that conversation invites you into the songs and moments. As great as her voice is, I think this is her talent. Her words have some wordplay and cleverness, so it’s not just pure emoting, but still many times it sounds as if she’s just talking to herself. But instead of feeling like eavesdropping on someone, it feels real, a mirror, a landscape. The conversation goes all over from frustration to humor and sadness to confusion and clarity, and often all in the same song.

I lived with this album for most of the year and it impressed me more than any other in 2012.

Sharon Van Etten “We Are Fine”

Sharon Van Etten “Leonard”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #9. School Of Seven Bells – Ghostory

white wind to shatter the scenery again

white wind to shatter the scenery again

Sexy dark grooves, School Of Seven Bells-style

School Of Seven Bells “White Wind”

School Of Seven Bells “Low Times”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #12. Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

A Different Ship

I believe in action

Just a quick note: Nigel Godrich was a fan of Here We Go Magic, called them up and offered to produce their record. They said sure, and the groovy and spacey A Different Ship is the result.

Here We Go Magic “Hard To Be Close”

Here We Go Magic “Make Up Your Mind”

- almostaghost

Concert Review – Sharon Van Etten and The War On Drugs – March 20 2012 Hollywood, CA

A few days back, I went to see Sharon Van Etten and The War On Drugs concert at the Avalon in Hollywood. A strange combo! But I am a fan of both, and was excited.

The War On Drugs, who put out one of my favorite albums last year, opened. I saw them headline five months ago at a smaller venue, which was fun. But I think their sound fit this slightly bigger venue a little better. But their momentum, tight on record, is given more expanse on the stage. More specifically, that means a bit more jamming, longer ambient build-ups, phatter bass.

To be honest, I cannot decide if their groove is derivative, or unique. A fine line, I guess! In the end, it does not matter. But original or not, I really enjoyed their noisy, groovy set, once again. And if they come back again in five months… I’m sure I’ll enjoy it then too. Here’s a song from the excellent Slave Ambient:

The War On Drugs “Brothers”

Sharon Van Etten, who, on the other hand, I last saw at a MUCH bigger venue (opening for The National), was impressive as well. She has a somewhat goofy, self-deprecatory stage presence, which was a little surprising considering sad, emotional songs make up the core of her catalog. Fortunately, this presence does not get in the way of the songs. She can switch focus and deliver a jaw-dropping performance like it ain’t no thing, even after awkwardly talking to the person in the front row (PS. we in the back had no idea what you were saying). Musically, I enjoyed her ability to pull off some of her slower, more drone-like pieces; and her band was also skilled enough to jump on faster ones too.

I did find myself wishing for a couple of songs where she just played acoustic guitar alone. Her first demo recordings are basically just that, and are so beautiful. But the new stuff has opened her up to a much wider palette, and for someone with such a great voice and such great songs, that’s nothing but a good thing.

Sharon Van Etten “Love More”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #2. The Antlers – Burst Apart

Burst Apart

If I don't take you somewhere else / You're gonna make this insincere

I was having trouble weaving this into some sort of coherent narrative, so I’ll just make a list:

1. Burst Apart is an album of songs about destructive love and disturbing dreams. It is creepy, strange and hilarious.

2. The Antlers have turned into quite an adept band, able to follow these songs where they need to go. From quiet reflection to dramatic moodiness to hypnotic to intense, they kind of do it all here. This is the first album like that for them, and they can go anywhere now.

3. The album opens with the line “You want to climb up the stairs / I want to push you back down,” which totally sets the tone of the whole album. The Antlers “I Don’t Want Love”

4. Burst Apart was a big grower for me, as it slowly rose all the way up my rankings to #2 here. Every time I listened, I liked it more and more and I just kept bumping it up.

5. In many instances, these were the catchiest songs I heard all year.

6. Catchy, yes. But slightly odd and off-putting too. (See, #3.) Other lines: “Every time we speak / You are spitting in my mouth” and “I’m a bad amputee with no phantom memory” and “they want to conquer you, abandon you / I want to burden you, belong to you.” I mean, it is not like he crosses a line into disturbing, but the metaphors are just enough off-center to make you uncomfortable. And it’s GREAT.

7. The Antlers reference teeth falling out in a couple of songs. In psychoanalysis dream interpretation, “Teeth in dreams represent your power, your psychical energy, in other words, your strength. When you see your own teeth falling out in a dream this means that you are losing your power. This is a very serious warning. You are in great danger! You are losing your power to act and do something to change reality. You are losing your capability to accomplish something. Why? Because you are making costly mistakes.” Those costly mistakes seem to me to be exactly what this album is about. The Antlers “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”

8. That falsetto!

9. The drama in the songs is also exciting. The nervous drums on “Parentheses” provide a base, on which the singer joins, and then the bass. It all feels so natural, as well as expertly done. You get a similar feel on most songs: a sense of ease but also perfection, the sense that these songs are what they must be.

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #7. Lia Ices – Grown Unknown

Grown Unknown

the quiet singing in the language that we don't know

Much of what I just wrote about Bon Iver, Bon Iver in my last review also applies to Lie Ices’ Grown Unknown. I guess I love this style! Like Bon Iver, Ices has made a patient, rich album that is also mysterious and intriguing. I usually try not to make random comparisons, but this one is apt, as Justin Vernon sings back-up on one of the songs. So, I like to think of these two albums as companions and complements.

Unlike Bon Iver, Lia Ices is a bit more mystical and mythical in her lyrics. “Love Is Won” appears to be about discovering forever/love as a “tiny jewel in the tiger mouth,” and strriving to “pounce so I can tame the cat / so I can find the myth and let forever out.” “Daphne” tells the story of the nymph Daphne who turned into a tree instead of surrendering herself to Apollo. A particularly amazing song, “Daphne” begins delicately, like you would imagine a Lia Ices song to be: her quiet and close voice over guitar and violins. Midway through, the song takes a turn, becoming heavier and more confident. The music parallels the story.

The more I listen to Grown Unknown, the more I am impressed with Ices’ voice. It never falls into cliched fragility or breathlessness, always maintaining strength. This makes these songs all the more memorable, as she keeps charge of their oft-changing nature. “Ice Wine,” as only her vocals and a string quartet, could have been insufferable with the wrong voice, but Lia Ices keeps it together, and fascinating. “I hate to leave you like the eyelash that flew,” is one of the few lines that can be distinguished: it is one of her more mysterious and dark songs. Other tracks also borrow a lot from classical music arranging, but always to add richness and texture (“New Myth” especially).

There were quite a few of these individual, creative, avant-garde female pop singers this year, from Anna Calvi to PJ Harvey to Kate Bush to name a few. Each were stunning in their own way, and Lia Ices was one of my favorites. Grown Unknown is bursting with musical ideas — folky songs, string quartet movements, seductive vocals, orchestrated stories — yet it is her voice that ties all these ideas together so brilliantly.

Lia Ices “Daphne”

Lia Ices “Bag of Wind”

- almostaghost

Btrxz’s Haiku Reviews of 2010 Or Things We Over Look (in no particular order 5/18)

Artist: Sharon Von Etten

Title: Epic

Label: Ba Da Bing

Country: US, Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Ambient, Folk, Indie

Date: 9-21-10

Sharon Von Etten- Epic

Peace and sorrow live

A voice is found deep in lose

Embracing gentleness

Peace Sign

- Btrxz

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #1. The National – High Violet

High Violet

yellow voices swallowing my soul

#1. The National – High Violet

The National’s High Violet works for a lot of reasons, but foremost as a demonstration of melody. Melody makes songs catchy, but catchy melodies can easily be annoying or too pop or cheesy. The National gets right in there and writes melodies that only make their songs more powerful. They wouldn’t work half as well if they were sung differently. The melodies sometimes build drama, sometimes jump out at you, and always add to the mood of what are already very moody songs.

But listening to these songs is to find them quickly engrained in your mind. There’s one moment in particular that I think is indicative, both of their use of melody, as well as their songwriting in general. On “Conversation 16, Matt Berninger (the singer/lyricist) goes through a verse/chorus, semi-speaking, semi-singing. The band is burning behind him, and they repeat a couple of times. He seems to be describing a somewhat-perfect, romantic siutation: it’s a “Hollywood summer,” dinner with friends, “we belong in a movie,” “we should swim in a fountain.” But then, then The National hits on a short bridge: “I was afraid I’d eat your brains / ‘Cause I’m evil.” Now clearly, this isn’t a song about zombies. Nor is he actually evil. He is just worried, you’re not going to like me anymore, I’m going to ruin this soon. This line stands out, a bit of a shock, but once you find it and it works and makes sense to you… that’s when High Violet will start clicking. (There are many moments throughout which may trigger this, actually, but that’s my favorite.)

And once High Violet starts clicking, you find a pretty genius record. Throughout, it explores these kind of worries in various detail, via either wickedly funny or moody songs (often times, both). “Sorrow” rides along, finding him “living in a city sorrow built / it’s in my honey / it’s in my milk.” “Anyone’s Ghost” is about desolate isolation, having been left alone (“didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost”). He burns down blackberry fields, doesn’t think to make corrections, owes money to the money to the money he owes. His shortcomings are always right there, haunting and lurking under everything. The first song, the terrific “Terrible Love” is an analogy for life and all its worries: “it’s a terrible love / I’m walking with spiders / it’s quiet company.”

The way I decided which album was #1 was, in the end, pretty simple. I mean, really, there probably is not a lot of difference in quality between #1 and #3 or even #12. That is not what I am doing here, weighing this album versus that album versus all of recorded musical history. But looking back at 2010, what it came down to was that for about six months, I rarely stopped listening to High Violet. It never left the cd player in my car, and still remains right there ready to play. Many albums work as a full concept, others work as collections of individual songs… but the very best albums work as both. I can listen to High Violet straight through, or I can jump around, finding myself needing to hear a different song each different day. That’s what happened with High Violet. 2010 was the year The National drug their songs into my brain (because they’re evil).

The National “Conversation 16”

The National “Afraid Of Everyone”

The National “Terrible Love”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #3. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Here's To Taking It Easy

Hej, I am light

#3. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck) has made a number of albums, each one embracing lo-fi storytelling and recording. He could go from jaunty country, to Americana ambience, to covering The Beatles, Willie Nelson or Nick Cave. All this practice built up Houck’s skills, and leads directly to Here’s To Taking It Easy. This album approaches many of the same areas as his earlier works, but does so with a growing ease. Where some of his other albums and songs had a ramshackle fragility to them, Here’s To Taking It Easy is full-blooded and shimmering with confidence.

The songs here are quite often road-weary, with a lot of far-off cities, and wishing to be somewhere other than the place you are. Over upbeat soul horns, long slide guitar breaks, barroom piano, Houck sings of travelling, of everywhere starting to look the same, blurred together. “We’ll Be Here Soon” and “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” explore further the struggles of the road: “Oh I wish I was in heaven, sittin’ down / I wish the road we were taking / Wasn’t made for breaking down.”

Naturally, being on the road means leaving someone behind. In “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” he even tries to call her on an “old foreign telephone.” On “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly),” he is wistful: “Well I wake in the morning and I dress / I hang that charm of gold around my neck / And I haul to her window and I look / And I crawl on inside and wake her up / Singing love me foolishly / Love me foolish-like.” Clearly, a dream, a hopeful wish that carries him through. Will he ever get back to her? There’s lots of doubts about that. The brilliant “The Mermaid Parade” is a story of a man missing a flight to LA, where he could have met up with his love, Amanda. Instead, he’s left in New York, and their “two years of marriage in two short weeks” is but a memory, a gigantic loss over his head. When he ends the song, “God damn it, Amanda, oh God damn it all,” it explains everything.

Whether these subtle and simple stories, fun lyrics like “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing,” or tapping into gospel, country, or whatever is necessary for the song, Houck’s confidence has kicked Phosphorescent into another level entirely. After his last album, which was entirely covers of Willie Nelson songs–pleasant, but whatever–this turn is stunning. Maybe exploring Willie Nelson pulled something out of Houck, I don’t know. But whatever happened, Here’s To Taking It Easy is as perfect an album I have heard this year.

Phosphorescent “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing”

Phosphorescent “The Mermaid Parade”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #9. Yeasayer – Odd Blood

Yeasayer - Odd Blood

everybody clouds up in my head

#9. Yeasayer – Odd Blood

With their second album, Yeasayer started to turn their undeniable creativity into funky funky songs. I use “funky” twice, for both meanings of the word: the music has strong groovy beats, and is also slightly strange.

Odd Blood starts with the dark and swampy “The Children,” before kicking into some of the strongest cuts on the album, “Ambling Alp,” “Madder Red,” and “O.N.E.” These songs show off their style perfectly. All are filled with deep percussion, swirly guitars, catchy harmonies, and just a hint of a sensual groove. The long intro to “Love Me Girl” sounds like Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack,” except all warped. Heck, deep down, a lot of the beats sound like they could have been influenced by Timbaland. Needless to say, the production throughout this album is pretty amazing. Everything fits together, creating a unique musical space.

Turns out, Yeasayer uses a lot of experimentation in making their music, such as plugging samplers into a television to create a wall of sound, sampling found Moroccan music, or singing harmonies through a fan. Never has experimentation sounded so catchy! I say “turns out,” because I had no idea about these strange tricks until I read about it on Wikipedia. Listening to Odd Blood, and having seen them live (Coachella again), I had no idea. The tricks never sound avant-garde, never sound like prog rock. (Thankfully.)

So yea, I have no idea what to call Yeasayer’s music. They borrow from all over. The hiphop comparisons from earlier were subtle, because this is by no means an R&B album. Or is it?! I get the sense, and I really hope I’m not wrong, that Yeasayer is still figuring it out themselves. Like, hey, we can make great recordings and do this right! When bands come to that realization, they often return with an epic. (Radiohead, for example, did that after The Bends.) I fully expect an epic of a third album from Yeasayer. But for now, I’m digging on Odd Blood and it’s odd collection of songs.

Yeasayer – “O.N.E.”

Yeasayer – “I Remember”

- almostaghost