Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Most Important Albums of the Year 20-16

Blind Pilot

3 Rounds and a Sound
I saw these guys open for the Decemberists in Richmond this summer. For having never heard any of their music I was very impressed after their set was over. This twosome, who made a name for themselves last summer touring the west coast via bicycle, picked up a few members (including a banjo), refined their sound, and released a heck of an album. The lead singer’s soft voice tattoos most songs with beautiful lyrics, while showcasing its strength and radiance on others (“Two Towns From Me”). On “3 Rounds and a Sound” (the track) you see the two extremes of his voice, a true masterpiece. Their Seattle folk music warms your soul and wraps you up like a Snuggie in a drafty dorm room from beginning to end.
Key Tracks: “Oviedo” and “3 Rounds and a Sound”

A.C. Newman
Get Guilty
There are maybe 10 or 12 good songs on Allen Carl Newman’s second solo release. This former New Pornographer really made a name for himself with the release of Get Guilty in January. The first song I heard was “The Palace at 4AM” and after hearing it I had to get the album. After I got the album I kept stumbling upon better and better treasures such as “Submarines of Stockholm” and “The Changeling(Get Guilty).” His sincere lyrics accompanied by his genius musical talent provide for a remarkable album.
Key Tracks: “Prophets” and “The Palace at 4AM”

The Low Anthem
Oh, My God Charlie Darwin
I’m not sure what it is about this album, but it sure is good. It is easy listening. Even though it was independently released by the band in 2008, Nonesuch Records picked them up and decided to re-release the album. Good thing because it definitely is deserving of a spot on this list. The album just flows so well. “To Ohio” is definitely the best song on this album (As I posted on it the other day). The three “hard-rocking” songs on this album, “The Horizon is a Beltway,” “Home I’ll Never Be” and “Champion Angel” showcase Ben Knox Miller’s scratchy yet striking and strong voice. “Home I’ll Never Be” is a cover, originally by Tom Waits. Haven’t heard the original but I’d put my money on the Low Anthem’s version if they were in a caged duel to the death. I would have to say the Low Anthem is a folk mix of Langhorne Slim, The Avett Brothers, a dash of Bob Dylan on a few tracks, and a slow song beat reminiscent of Neil Young.
Key Tracks: "To Ohio" and "Champion Angel"

Langhorne Slim

Be Set Free
With such a unique name Langhorne Slim must have tunes to match his name. Be Set Free is a true testimonial to the folk genre and how it is evolving. Just as the Avett Brothers were pushed to perfection by Rick Rubin, Langhorne Slim soars to new heights with his release. Slim has a very distinct voice, but his folk sound reminds me of a mix of a cleaned up Avett Brothers and Josh Ritter. (He has toured with TABs before) He has conquered his unique style of guitar strumming and wailing lyrics (“Say Yes” and “Cinderella”) but the rest of the album has slower songs showcasing his voice, but only a few of these out of the majority of the album are memorable. (“I Love You, But Goodbye” and “Back to the Wild”) Unfortunately a 7 page research paper on Socrates was on my plate when he came through Chapel Hill but I’m sure it was a good show.
Key Tracks: “Say Yes” and “Land of Dreams”

The Decemberists

The Hazards of Love
The much anticipated follow-up to The Crane Wife doesn’t provide the thorough quality that its predecessor did. I saw the Decemberists at The National in Richmond, VA on June 4th where they played this whole album through, with no break in between the songs. It was quite a performance and helped me appreciate the album. It is much different than earlier stuff from Castaways and Cutouts and Picaresque. There was head-banging going on, not a usual characteristic of their concerts. Guitar riffs accompany just about every song. The addition of a pair of diamonds (Beck Star from Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond) is a welcome change of vocals from Colin Meloy, whose genius music and tuneful voice is on almost every prior Decemberists track. The story is as depressing as The Crane Wife’s, especially with the murdering of the children. The brute musical brilliance of the Decemberists is hard pressed to find a competitor this decade and they bring their A-/B+ game on this album.
Key Tracks: “The Rakes Song” and “The Hazards of Love 1”

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