Saturday, April 05, 2008

School of Language - Sea from Shore

School of Language is actually a side project by a member of Field Music named David Brewis. He's the singer/guitarist responsible for every sound on his debut solo album Sea from Shore. Having not been familiar at all with the work of Field Music, this album was basically like a blind date; I had high hopes but also wanted to reserve judgment until I got to the end of it. The album is creative, melodic, and a bit different from "normal" solo artist work. Brewis layers sounds and vocals to create interesting and catchy rhythms on many tracks. Immediately you think that this is an artist exploring musical territory that wasn't possible in the confines of his regular band. Sometimes you just need the freedom to explore individual thoughts without having others changes and mold your song ideas. Brewis definitely explores new areas that is at the same time intriguing and exciting to hear.

Sea from Shore is anything but straightforward. Brewis isn't just jamming on his guitar through typical singer-songwriter chord changes. Instead, there are cut up vocal loops, banging piano splashes, and catchy guitar riffs. Best of all, these elements keeps you on your toes and makes you listen closely. Even when you get into the album and try to predict what's coming next you may be surprised to hear something that is exactly the opposite. In addition, Brewis consistently comes through with sterling melodies. All in all, this record was a pleasant change of pace.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

It's somewhat stupid to be reviewing this Josh Ritter album here. Mainly because I feel like a moron for not championing Ritter's music sooner. In addition, this album is somewhat of a departure for Ritter. I had read that after recording and touring with his previous effort Animal Years Ritter was looking for something new and different. He took some time away from it all and travel and listened to different music. But before jumping into the newest effort, you may be wondering where Ritter came from. He was born and raised in Moscow, Idaho and attended college at Oberlin in Ohio. While in the middle of his studies of neuroscience at Oberlin he began writing songs after listening to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Leonard Cohen. Soon enough he changed his major to one he created himself that was basically American History through the eyes of folk music. His most important break came in the form of opening for Glen Hansard and his band The Frames (of Once fame and notoriety) in a tour of Ireland. To this day, Ritter has a devoted following in Ireland.

On Ritter's previous albums he creates great folk/singer-songwriter music. On his newest release he branches out, turns up the volume and really shows off his skills for arrangement. This is definitely not the Josh Ritter the audience is used to. From the first track you can tell this album is a treat. Ritter has taken a great big musical step forward. Ritter has traded in his acoustic guitar for electric and in doing so he sings with great analogies from all points of literature and personal experience. One of the best parts about this album is that volume is no object; soft or loud it works. Overall, the album sees a successful artist taking his game to another level which is always fun to listen to over and over.

JayMay - Autumn Fallin'

Jamie Seerman is better known in the musical world as JayMay. I've kinda had my eye on her ever since I stumbled upon her Sea Green, See Blue (2006) EP from a couple years ago. She immediately reminded me of other folksy, sweet and slightly raspy voiced female singer-songwriters like Feist, Emily Haines, Eleni Mandell, Jenny Lewis or Cat Power. Each of these ladies has a distinctive but similar voice. Their approach to songwriting and overall melodies make them interesting listening material. JayMay stood out for her insightful and smart lyrics that seemed like a breath of fresh air and her pleasant arrangements incorporating strings (and vibraphone I think). Her early work garnered enough attention to get her a record deal with UK-based Heavenly Records which is distributed through major label EMI's subsidiary Blue Note (same as Norah Jones). She moved to London to be in closer proximity to the label in 2007. She recently appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on March 11, 2008 and if I could find video of it I would share it with you.

Her debut album Autumn Fallin' is a promising debut from another talented female singer-songwriter. When/if people find her and seek out her album they'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy this album is to put on and leave on the stereo or iPod. Personally, I hit play and kind of knew what to expect. You may catch yourself drifting off but her lyrics will make you listen closer. I'm sure with a bit more exposure and a US tour she will gain some notoriety and a honest fanbase, which she has already developed. Hope you enjoy the track below.

Vampire Weekend

For the love of all things holy and sacred, what hasn't been said about Vampire Weekend. Can I possibly enlighten you further? I first wrote about them back in August of '07 and was anxious to see how things shook out for the current indie darlings. Well, like many indie darlings before them they've hit mainstream with an appearance on Letterman and when you do a simple "vampire weekend" search on YouTube it returns ~665 results. I genuinely like Vampire Weekend. I'm not going to sit here and write that I know where their career is going to go, or say they suck because I want to be edgy, or say they have room to grow. It's just irritating in some ways to see a band become successful and then get dissed because they're successful. Isn't that what all artists want anyway? Don't they want to be acknowledged for doing good work? Don't they want to actually make money doing what they love? I totally understand people enjoying the feeling of "discovering" a band and claiming it as their band baby. They tell only their closest friends, and spread the gospel sparingly because they see them as a crown jewel in their indie music crown of smugness. I can admit to doing this on occassion. I'm okay with saying that, because I enjoy the music. I'm not saying a band is great just to say I know them, or just to impress another music geek. I want to tell people about music I enjoy, music that I can listen to over and over. Vampire Weekend is a solid young band. They manage to sound "fresh" because they drawn from less likely predecessors like Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel. It's not only this fact, but also they mostly manage to do it well. They aren't going to change the world. They aren't going to sell out The Meadowlands. They're going to be played on the radio and people that don't know much about music will like them. Their music is fun, smart, and generally happy sounding. I could tell this was most likely going to happen when I saw the in concert a week or so ago. I had gotten wind that the audience was a mix of longtime fans and newbies just by overhearing conversations and looking around. I kinda knew it was downhill when a friend told me that her mom "really liked this new, cute band named Vampire Weekend." OF COURSE your band is going to lose street cred when moms start liking them. Nothing is as cool when your mom likes it at the same time you do. That is an immutable law of nature. (Love you mom).

Anyway, enough of my ranting and raving. Vampire Weekend's debut self-titled album is really good. It's not going to blow your mind or make you change religions, but it may perk up your ears and put a little bounce in your step. Because I have an affection for cover songs the song posted below is Vampire Weekend covering one of my favorite Radiohead songs. I know, I know it can't possibly do the original justice, but it's still interesting to hear their take on a classic song that is (already) 10+ years old. I could go on and say how much I was appalled by the review of the concert I went to in Variety by Steven Mirkin. I swear, the review is so bad and scathing I wouldn't be surprised if the dude is 45 and stayed for the first 3 songs and left to beat traffic (very L.A.). Hope you enjoy the track below.