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rookies of the year. [the many lists of 2011]

2011 saw some stupendous debut albums, with rookies that have us drooling for what comes next.


1. Fitz and the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces

Scott: There is some confusion as to when this album actually came out. I’m pretty sure the actual release date is August of 2010, instead of January of 2011, but we missed it last year, so we are throwing it up on this year’s lists. It’s kind of cheating, but I’m ok with that.

Fitz and the Tantrums, aside from having an awesome name, are also a rookie band that is certain to be in the Hall if they can keep up the good work. Retro is so in right now. As this list makes clear, bands are looking backward with quite a lot of energy; whether bands are hearkening back to 1960/70’s folk, 1950’s pop, or in The Tantrums’ case: sexy, sexy soul music. Fitz and the Tantrums make music that is fun and infectious. They probably win the award this year for music that gets stuck in my head the most. It’s a normal event in the Small household for Emily or me to be dancing around, absentmindedly singing / don’t come back, any time / i’ve already had your kind / this is your payback / moneygrabber / I hope this is a group of people who will be making music, dressing to the nines, and inspiring me to shake my ass for a long, long time.

Brian: This album is fun and soulful. It will put you in a good mood. The songs take notes from and have elements that hearken back to classic R & B and soul music from the 1960s. The album was purposely made without guitars. In an interview, leader singer Michael Fitzpatrick stated that he wanted “to try and make a big sounding record without guitars … For me, I just feel like in any music that has a band, the guitar is always there, it’s always featured, it’s always prevalent. I’m just sick of hearing it.” Leaving the guitars out, the album is keyboard and synth heavy, and much like the soul of the 60s, relies heavily on a tight and talented rhythm section. I have only heard good things about their live shows, and after being called one of the hardest working bands in the industry, the future is big and bright for Fitz and the Tantrums.


2. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

Scott: The children of a proud Seattle, The Head and the Heart have had quite the year. They’ve launched out of local fame into moderate national fame with no end to their ascent in sight. Among other honors, they’re #21 on Amazon’s best 100 albums of the year, and #5 on Paste’s best new artists list.  With music and vocals that are sweet and honest, it’s easy to see why The Head and the Heart continue to endear themselves to those who hear them, and Seattle will continue to look on with love as TH&TH’s audience continues to grow.

I love them with my head and my heart.

Brian: Another Seattle band. Another BRILLIANT Seattle band. Sunny, folky goodness. They have drawn obvious comparisons to Mumford & Sons because of the way both bands feature tight, vocal harmonies. Being compared to Mumford is not at all a bad thing. When it really comes down to it, the bands are not as similar as Pitchfork would have you believe. Those bastards. The album is musical sunshine. The band has put together an album of songs that begs to be sung along with.


3. Gardens & Villa – Gardens & Villa

Brian: Funky and sometimes shoegazey, Gardens and Villas hail from Santa Barbara (Brahbrah?), CA. Their music is fun and eclectic, drawing from a wide array of influences. This is album is … I mean, did I mention it was eclectic? I listen and I hear shades of Beach House (“Chemtrails”), the Beatles (“Sunday Morning”), and even Ennio Morricone (“Carrizo Plain”)! Yet, for all it’s variety (I haven’t even mentioned the flute, yet), Gardens and Villa’s sound is surprisingly consistent, held together by the amazing vocals of Chris Lynch (he plays live shows with a quiver of flutes slung over his shoulder!) and the presence of spacey and funky synths. Having read what I’ve just written about this album, it sounds like it wouldn’t work, but, let me tell you … it does. Very much so. I liked this album way more with every listen.

Scott: It’s funny that Brian would make a Flight of the Conchords reference above (can you find it?). The reason it’s funny is because I discovered this band because of my Kiwi friend Gabrielle, whose interview with the band can be read here.

In line with what Brian was saying above, so much comes together in this album that it would be easy for it to become muddled and fall apart. Instead, it all comes together and makes for an album that I, like Brian, fall more in love with every time I hear it. I guess I’m a sucker for synthesizers and falsetto harmonies.

I love them with my gardens and my villa.


4. Cults – Cults

Scott: This band converged on my summer and sunk its claws deep into my heart. It was everywhere. Playing on KEXP, performing at The Capitol Hill Block Party, and finally taking over my iTunes. Old school pop music that somehow really works, They also seem like sweet kids from my brief experience watching them live this year.

I’m really excited to hear what comes next, because, like Phantogram last year, this was an album meant more to be a demo which took off faster than anticipated. Will all of their albums be cult themed? If it is, with Jim Jones out of the way, my hope is that next up is Waco. Or, better yet, those people who thought the spaceship was going to come take them to heaven.

If this is what Cults are like, consider me initiated.

Brian: This album feels familiar. Not the “This sounds like everything else out there” or “Nothing new” familiar, but the melodies feel like a warm bed. The trend these days, as far as bands go, seems to be the boy/girl duo, so as these types of bands increase, it is going to take more talent for separation from the rest. Cults have made a statement with this debut album. Every song is like a warm bed you don’t want to leave. The melodies are like that old baseball glove that is so perfectly broken in. Infectious and catchy from the first to the last song, Cults should have no problem standing above water in a sea of boy/girl duos.


5. The Civil Wars

Scott: If either Joy Williams or John Paul White had released this album as a solo release, it still would have been one of the best albums of the year. Instead, it’s the result of the duo joining forces, creating an album of vocal harmonies that are breathtaking. I’m sure glad these two eventually found each other, because this collaboration makes it sound like they were born to sing together. The songwriting is also deeply moving. The perfect creative storm.

Brian: There are very few voices out there that mix more perfectly than the voices of Joy WIlliams and John Paul White. This album deserved all the acclaim and attention it received. This duo has made an album that is so rich melodically and in harmony. There are songs that burst forth joyfully from mouths and guitars, and there are songs that seep melancholy out of every pore. It is this balance that makes this album so real and true to life. To make music that perfectly captures the rapture and the rupture that is joy and sorrow. You’d be hard pressed to find an album to equal the cover to cover beauty of The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow.


Thank God for HBO

Something to look forward to in 2011 now that we have HBO …

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And the return of this:

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And then, of course, there’s everything else that makes HBO awesome, too.


side projects. [music, the many lists of 2010.]

In 2010, many artists worked on side projects. Some were most certainly something to write home about, or in this case, write a post about. Now that the internet makes it so easy for one to get her/his music heard, more and more artists are working on projects that give them another outlet for all that creative energy that makes them so awesome. As listeners and music lovers, we all get to reap the benefits!

Here are our favorite side projects this year. Some were brand new, some were work in ongoing projects, all are work we hope will continue well into the future.

1. Jonsí – Go (Jonsí of Sigur Rós)

Scott: It seems that Jonsí is simply incapable of creating music that isn’t beautiful, moving and in turns haunting and inspiring. Whether it is with Sigur Rós, with his boyfriend Alex in Jonsí and Alex (formerly known as Riceboy Sleeps), or in his solo work, everything this man touches turns into awesome.

Brian: What more can be said of Jonsí’s talent and ability to create breathtakingly beautiful music that not only can be heard and felt, but seen. Each song conjures images in my mind’s eye that try to match the beauty in the music. As Scott mentioned, now that Jonsí has three outlets for his talent, it looks like we can only try to prepare ourselves for an onslaught of aural genius.


2. Broken Bells – Broken Bells (Danger Mouse, James Mercer of The Shins)
(Currently only $5 on Amazon MP3)

S: If there is anyone who knows how to produce a song, it’s Danger Mouse. The man has been behind so many great projects, from hip hop to indie rock. His work with artists like MF Doom, Beck and The Black Keys has been fantastic. Plus, now he is working with U2, an album that is supposedly coming along swimmingly. There have even been rumors he may eventually collaborate with Black Thought (which would be filed under: ‘news that would make my head explode’).

His work here with James Mercer, while not his best work, is certainly enjoyable. Danger Mouse appears to be a born collaborator, and the combination of Mercer’s lyrics and vocals with DM’s sensibilities is more than worth the price of admission.

B: I love The Shins. I love all of what I’ve heard of Danger Mouse’s production credits. So it should come as no surprise that when the creative force behind The Shins collaborates with one of the most talented producers in the industry, a brilliant record is the end result. James Mercer can write a melody in his sleep. Danger Mouse doesn’t seem to sleep … he only produces great albums. Scott mentioned the U2 project DM is working on. It is something to look forward to, indeed. Though, DM has shown he can cross genres without breaking a sweat and without a drop on the awesomeness scale, so I am excited to see who else (even an artist from this list, maybe?) DM will collaborate with next. I will also patiently wait for the next full length Shins record as well.

Lots of Broken Bells music videos at Vevo.


3. Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Nick Cave)
(Currently only $5 on Amazon MP3)

Remarkably bizarre, hilarious/disturbing music video for “Heathen Child.” (NSFW)

B: First of all, is there a better album cover from this year?

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis make music that feels like a night in a dirty, divey, bar. You’re sitting at the bar surrounded by a cast of odd characters. There’s the ironic hipster, skinny jeans, too cool for the trendier places, and then there’s everyone else. They’ve been coming here for years. As far as they are concerned, there are no other bars. So they come. Not because it’s cool, but probably because they get more love and attention from the bartender on a nightly basis than they did from their parents during an entire childhood. They’re all forgetting the past with cheap whiskey and chasing it with Pall Malls. This bar only serves two drinks: Cheap beer and cheap whiskey. Don’t think about ordering a microbrew or cocktail. Just make sure you keep the whiskey comin’. You don’t want to be sober in this place. It’d be too scary. It’s dark and loud and claustrophobic. All at once aloof and all up in your grill.

S: I agree with Brian, in that I love this album cover.

I also experience the tones he’s describing in his little bar scene describing this music. Yet, there is one overarching feeling, or perhaps it’s more undergirding, that I think he missed.

In addition to all Brian mentioned, I experience a tremendous deal of dark humor in the music. I think, like Tom Waits, most of the scariness of this bar’s motley lot is meant to amuse more than truly frighten. Like an uncle or a grandfather who shouts and cusses, but does so affectionately, Grinderman is dark and brooding, but always with a smirk.

I think a pretty good example of that is the music video we linked to above. The imagery and artwork in the video is often pretty arresting and captivating, and I think the band took that seriously. Yet, the band refused to take themselves seriously, thus they are ridiculous whenever on screen. Perhaps it’s that love and acceptance Brian mentioned about the allegorical bar, the place is loud and frightening at first glance, but in reality there is no true danger. It is actually a safe place to play and yell and cuss and jump up and down, which is exactly what this Grinderman album is.


4. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

S: Ray LaMontagne is so wonderful. His music is folk and soul and country and rock all wrapped up in a lovely bearded package.

It’s more of the same with the Pariah Dogs, continuing Ray’s track record of immensely listenable albums.

B: Has Mr. LaMontagne ever made a bad record? Has he ever not had a beard? I am starting to wonder if these things are mutually exclusive. Let’s hope that Ray never shaves his beard. I’m beginning to think it holds great power.

On this record, we find Ray, brilliant and dusty voiced as usual, but with the Pariah Dogs (Dawgs?) he seems to have found his musical soulmates. I don’t know, but I feel as though this is Ray’s most cohesive album yet. Everything comes together perfectly. His brand of folkbluesoulcountry is brilliantly showcased on God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise. Do yourself a favor and listen to “This Love is Over”.


5. Junip – Fields (José Gonzalez)
(Currently $5)

B: Here we have José’s distinctive voice and classical guitar dressed up with the addition of keyboards, bass, and drums. No surprises. It’s good. Really good.

S: Whenever I am listening to this album, I always wonder whether or not this is a one time “side project,” or José Gonzalez’s new gig. I really hope it is the latter. There will always be time for him to sit in the studio on an off day and record a song alone. We’ll never truly lose that familiar José. So, my hope is that we get more of this fuller sound from him, because the other instrumentation adds to the beauty of his music, rather than diminishing it at all.

I hope there is plenty more Junip in our future!


6. Maximum Balloon – Maximum Balloon (David Sitek of TV on the Radio)
(Currently $4.99)

B: I was going to start by saying that “Maximum Balloon is a really great TV on the Radio record”, but thought that it would only come off as sounding like somewhat of a negative thing. It is hard to imagine the record sounding much different from a TotR record when the man behind the production of their catalog, and the man contributing to songwriting, is the brains/talent/performer behind Maximum Balloon. David Sitek, otherwise known as “that white guy in TV on the Radio”, brings the same genius of TotR to his solo record. Sure, most of the time it sounds identical stylistically to TotR, but what else should be expected? Just because it sounds like his band doesn’t make it bad, right? Of course not! Kyp Malone, the other guitar player from TotR, released his solo record last year (Rain Machine) and it sounded like a mellower version of TotR, and it was a good record.

On Maximum Balloon, each track introduces us to a different vocalist, including bandmates Tunde Apebimpe and the aforementioned Kyp Malone, as well as Karen O (of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame) and even David Byrne! The music, of course, is awesome, and I really love how Sitek deviates by using guest vocalists. The album is funky, danceable, and full of bassy synths, programmed beats, and Sitek’s unique guitar playing. In other words, it’s a great TV on the Radio record … and that’s not a bad thing at all.

S: Nothing to add. My favorite thing about this album is the vocal guest stars Brian already mentioned. Hooray for collaboration!


audio cooperstown. [music, the many lists of 2010.]

Let’s be honest, while there are plenty of cool things about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, it isn’t exactly a true representation of all rock music. There will always be a link between the Hall and commercial success that leaves plenty of worthy bands off their roster. Fortunately for you, you have us to honor the bands that deserve to be celebrated.

It is pretty much the same thing right? I mean, we have like eight readers here, so we’re as legit as any fancy, schmancy Hall of Fame back east.

Some of the albums that came out in 2010 were brilliant releases by bands who have turned in a resumé full of amazing music. The expectations are so high for each new release, yet they never disappoint, they never let us down with a subpar follow-up to an amazing album.

We couldn’t quite be sure these albums were the artist’s best yet, but only because of how amazing their entire catalogue is.

We looked back and retroactively decided that for a band to be included in the “Their Best Yet” category, they had to also be Hall of Fame bands. Fortunately, it worked out that way. So, the actual RtM Music Hall of Fame inductees for 2010 include all the bands from this post, as well as all the bands from the “Best Yet” post.

Anyway, we hereby canonize the following bands into RtM Music Hall of Fame immortality. Feast, my friends, on the albums of 2010 which solidified an artist’s place in our RtM Audio Cooperstown.

1. The New Pornographers – Together

B: To say that I was late to the New Pornographers/A.C. Newman/Neko Case party is a dramatic understatement. I deserve a Hall of Fame beatdown for my musical negligence. Together is an album that does what every other New Pornographers album has done: showcase the songwriting and musical prowess of one A.C. Newman and his band of talented musicmakers. A.C. Newman is a freak. Get Guilty was one of last year’s best, and then he turns around does it again with a little help from his friends. Induction status confirmed. What color are the RtM Hall of Fame jackets?

S: Agreed.

The fact that Newman is able to put out solo albums of such remarkable depth and quality, while also doing the same with The New Pornographers, is nothing short of remarkable. The man makes the beauty and nuance of a great record seem easy.

I was late to this party too. I actually got really into AC Newman as my avenue into The New Pornographers and Neko Case.

Their newest album really is amazing, like all of their work. It’s infinitely listenable, every song on the CD is my favorite while it is playing, and then the next song comes on and becomes my favorite for four minutes or so.


2. The National – High Violet

S: Quite frankly, over the last three years these guys have become my favorite band.

Mos Def once said about MF Doom, “He raps as weird as I feel.” That’s sort of how I feel about The National. Matt Berninger’s deep, dark, melancholy vocals feel like the vibrations of my own soul.

The music and lyrics are angry and sad and disconsolate.

It’s insomnia. It’s isolation. It’s a low, burning rage. It’s me most of the time. Yet, for all it’s darkness, it’s also haunting and beautiful.

The careful and measured perfection of their song craft; the disillusioned, former golden boy angst; the angry summation of the bullshit we’re always wading through. Somehow The National is more than all that. Their art adds up to more than the sum of the parts. I hope that part is like me too.

B: It is because of Scott that I am as big a fan of this band as I am today. I heard Boxer first, and was blown away by the nuanced minimalism of their arrangements. You hear of bands that create an aural landscape with their music and the production of a record. The National design vignettes worthy of the stage. They are aural sets, really, with Matt Berninger playing the part of narrator. Each song is a new scene or act. The music is moody and reflexive, seething with “disillusioned, former golden boy angst” (if I can quote Scott, he is spot on). Berninger’s scathing critique of typical, suburban life is borne of his own fear for himself and his family. Because of what I called nuanced minimalism, the virtuosity of each instrumentalist in this band gets overlooked. The songs are expertly crafted, and expertly played. Just listen to the rhythm section in “England”. Lastly, no band can be a hall of fame worthy band if they don’t put on a good live show. Scott and I had the privilege of seeing The National play with Okkervil River (perhaps another Hall of Fame band) back in September. It may have been the best concert I’ve ever been a part of.


3. Spoon – Transference

B: Spoon. I tried so hard for so long to convince myself I didn’t like Spoon. I don’t really even know why. Maybe a couple of their songs ended up in too many movies, and I just grew tired of them. But, that doesn’t even make sense. They deserve the exposure. And a band’s gotta make a living, right? Transference finds Spoon at the top of their game. Britt Daniel’s distinctive thin, raspy voice carries more than it’s weight in melodies. They have become masters of pop songcrafting, and have arguably been the most consistent indie rock band over the last decade. Transference has made me listen to, and appreciate Spoon all the more.

S: In so many ways, Spoon feels to me like the city of Austin in which they formed. For all the reasons to love them, there are even more that I can’t place my finger on, I just want to keep going back and feeling the way I do when I listen.

Brian, mentioned their exposure, popping up often in commercials, films, television shows and the like. I’m actually surprised they aren’t around even more. And, like Brian, I love Britt’s vocals. He might actually be one of my five or six favorite lead vocalists.

These guys take talent, throw in some great pop sensibility, mix it together with charisma and pump out fun in audio form.


4. Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away

B: He’s pretty good. And by pretty good, I mean, he’s the shit. His albums have been consistently great. There are always at least two songs on every album he puts out that grab me and pull me in. This should in no way be read as “He’s good for two good songs a record, and the rest are shit.” … it’s more that I usually get hooked on a song or two and almost seem to neglect the rest of the record because I’m so entranced by said song(s). When I finally get over my song-obsession, I delve into the remaining goodness.

I’m a sucker for a non-traditional love song. Ritter seems to have mastered that. On The Historical Conquests he hooked me with “The Temptation of Adam”, a song so wrought with humor, sadness, and wit, that you tend to forget it is a song that addresses nuclear war. On So Runs the World Away, Ritter’s “The Curse” is heartwrenching and whimsical waltz. Is it a song about a mummy and the woman who discovers him, or is that merely a vehicle for what Ritter is truly saying about love and devotion? His songs are full of literary references and beautiful stories all his own. He’s written a novel, you know. It comes out next year. He’s a talented gentleman and definitely deserving of his inclusion in RtM’s Hall of Fame.

S: Josh Ritter certainly is pretty amazing. It’s not surprising that he’d write a novel, because he is one of the best storytelling songwriters I’ve heard.

He’s also one of my favorite theologians, even though I have no clear insight into his thoughts on God. The way he uses biblical imagery transcends dogma and doctrine to a place that only art and poetry can go, like Leonard Cohen and Bono. As an example of his theological lyrics, it may not be on this year’s album, but “Thin Blue Flame” is one of the most beautifully epic songs ever written. Angst, doubt, despair, universalism, love, anger, hope, longing and beauty. Fucking epic.

Ritter’s work is fantastic, and I hope he keeps writing songs for decades to come.


5. Menomena – Mines

S: I’m sure that this title is talking about mines in the subterranean explosive sense. For some reaason, every time I see the title I think of the way all the kids in my elementary school in Newburgh said “mines” when they should have said “mine.” Like, “Get your hands off those Reeboks, they’re mines.”

Well, in that spirit, this album is most certainly mines.

“TAOS” just may be my favorite song of the year, the second track on the CD, and the album isn’t really a letdown from there.

In keeping with what Brian mentioned earlier about live performances, I saw a show here in Seattle at The Moore where Menomena opened for The National. (Somehow, I have been lucky enough to see two Hall of Fame worthy bands open for my favorite band. Crazy.) Menomena really is a hugely fun live act. Their harmonies are really tight, which I thought would be difficult to recreate from what they sound like in the studio. Fortunately, they apparently keep the vocals as raw as the rest of the instrumentation, their voices just sound that great as is.

There are many reasons I think they should be in the RtM HoF, not the least of which being the way they experiment, playing with random layers of competing instrumentation that winds up working together to create a really great energy. Yet, they never get too huge in their sound in the production sense, they’re like the anti-Glee. They also use their really simple sax riffs to such delightful ends.

B: Agreed. I am a sucker for a three piece band. These guys, like Scott said, know when to stop, production wise. As a three piece, you are going to have limitations outside of the studio, as you aren’t really able to overdub new parts live. They use a little fuzz on the bass to add a fullness to their sound (i.e. Ben Folds Five, Muse, et al), the splashes of baritone sax are perfectly placed, and then Scott mentioned the vocals. Tight in the studio, and just as tight live.

In order to make a three piece work well, a good rhythm section is an absolute must. Menomena does not fall short here. Scott already brought your attention to “TAOS”, but allow me to ask you to look to it again, piggybacking Scott a bit. Songs don’t get more fun than this. Bluesy guitar riffs, keyboards, piano, hard driving drums, and a sometimes sparse, sometimes centered bassline. Oh, the vocals … great melody, nice harmonies. And we’re talking about one song here, the rest of the album is just as fun! Menomena, come get fitted for your RtM Hall of Fame jackets.


best yet. [lists of 2010, music.]

In 2010, some sort of miracle took place and several amazing bands released their best albums yet. Not just good bands who had a great year, but brilliant bands who had no business transcending their previous work, and yet still did. And the winners are…

1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Scott: In my opinion, Arcade Fire was the epitome of one of those bands mentioned above. Bloggers and critics alike have almost universally praised it, so I’m not alone. Some are even referring to the CD as Arcade Fire’s OK Computer. High praise indeed.

If I was forced to pick just one favorite album this year, there is a strong chance this would be the one.

Also, if you haven’t yet, you should watch the Spike Jonze directed video for “The Suburbs.” Epic.

Brian: In my opinion, Arcade was one of those bands … wait, that’s already been said. But it’s true. The Suburbs garnered three Grammy nominations [ Album of the Year, Best Alternative Music Album, and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals ] … proof the the Grammys still are paying attention to the really great music that is still being made out there, despite what MTV would have us believe.


2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

S: I’ve already written about this album at great length. Suffice it to say, I think it is a pop masterpiece. Kanye did some world conquering this year.

B: Pitchfork gave it an extremely rare 10 out of 10. Plus, what more can be said after this has been written?


3. The Roots – How I Got Over

S: As is the case with so many of these albums, I’ve already written a bit about this one. You can read that here. It’s still hard for me to be sure this is their best album yet, because they are so continually reinventing their sound from project to project that each album is so unique and brilliant. I can tell you that whenever iTunes is set on shuffle and a song from this album comes on, I more often than not find myself putting on the whole CD as a result. It’s a remarkably listenable album. My affection for it just grows and grows.

B: The Roots brand of genre blending, smart, tight hip hop is as genre blending, smart, and tight as ever. Black Thought, ?uestlove, and the rest of the Legendary Roots Crew, the greatest band in hip hop (and late night TV), have made an astonishingly good album. But then again, we’ve come to expect them to do just that.


4. Girl Talk – All Day

B: Greg Gillis, the brains behind Girl Talk, has done it again, but this time, he’s really done it. This time around, Gillis seems to have pulled more from popular music, more specifically from his top 40 contemporaries. Ozzy Osborne and Ludacris, Foxy Brown and Peter Gabriel, Radiohead and ODB, Portishead and Big Boi, Phoenix and Ludacris. He pulls from multiple genres and multiple decades creating insanely fun, danceable music from the sometimes mediocre. While I dislike Lil’ Wayne (I hate him, to put it more accurately), as soon as he shows up in a Girl Talk song, I love it. Perhaps it is the fact that Gillis has the talent and pop sensibilities to take two seemingly unrelated songs, separated by 3 decades, and miles apart as far as the amount of talent goes, and create something new (all while lounging around with his girlfriend!). The first week he released All Day, it “broke the internet“. To say this is Girl Talk’s best work, is truly saying something.

S: Yup, what Brian said pretty much sums it up.


5. Beach House – Teen Dream

B: I first heard of Beach House when I was still living in Baltimore. I didn’t hear of them because they were a local band. Here is the story: It was St. Patrick’s Day ’08. I was walking into a local Irish pub and ran into the parents of an old friend from high school. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked what my friend had been up to since I hadn’t talked to him in about two years. “Oh, he’s in Austin with his band for some music festival … South by Southwest, or something.”  This came as a surprise. Not a huge surprise, but a surprise. Alex and I grew up playing together. He was super talented and had everything you need to make it in music. I just thought he would go another direction. I (and so many others) am glad he didn’t. Beach House has gotten huge. Their brand of lo-fi dream pop is good. Damn good. Organs, keyboards, slide guitars built a wall of fuzzy, dreamy sound around the reverb-drenched vocals of Victoria Legrand on the first two releases. On Teen Dream, we find her voice out in front of the wall of dreaminess. The whole thing sounds less lo-fi as a result. Everything seems tighter and more dynamic. I could listen to the album any day, all day. How is it their best release to date when their first two albums were included on Pitchfork’s best list the year they came out? They are that good.

S: I remember when I first heard of Beach House. I was making out with Rosario Dawson when my friend Mos Def called me and told me he’d just heard a great indie band I might like called The National. I told him I already listened to The National, and they were good friends of mine. Actually, I needed to remind him that I’d already told him about The National a month or so earlier, when the two of us were out drinking with Donald Glover and Alison Brie. We laughed about the fact that we had done so much drinking and laughing and best friending that he had completely forgotten about the band I tried to introduce him to.

That was when he mentioned Beach House.

They are really great. I like them. (That last line is true.)


6. The Black Keys – Brothers

S: Just picked by iTunes as the album of the year, Brothers finds The Black Keys up to their old tricks; crafting songs full of bad-ass swagger and keen relational insight, all wrapped up in a fun musical package.

Whether you are getting dressed for a big night out and want a soundtrack that makes you feel awesome, are looking to rage against that asshole who jilted you, or are in the mood for some sweet, sweet, babymaking fun, this album has the right prescription for you. Just let Drs. Auerbach and Carney cure what ails ya.

B: I love Scott’s last paragraph! The Black Keys are masters of down and dirty garage blues/rock with a touch of refinement. Brothers is no exception. If you love fuzz box distortion, cool keyboard/organ riffs, kick ass drumming, and bluesy vocals (as well as everything Scott mentioned), you will agree that Brothers is one of the best albums of 2010, and The Black Keys best album to date.


7. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

S: Like many people I know, my relationship with Sufjan had sort of run its course. It seemed it was never meant to be one of those love affairs that turn into a happy marriage. Instead, it appeared it was destined to be the hot, short, flash in the pan sort of union that you look back on fondly because it was a lot of fun at the time. There was no part of me that was excited for this album to come out.

Yet, when the All Delighted People EP came out, I used some spare emusic credits to pick it up, and suddenly those old feelings started rising to the surface. Then the Age of Adz came out, and suddenly I found myself wondering if perhaps my love affair with Sufjan might become the lasting sort after all.

With Age of Adz, he has successfully balanced between reinvention of himself and continuity with what made him great in the past. He’s still full of audacity, as evidenced by all 25 minutes of the album’s final track, “Impossible Soul”; and the man still has the talent to back it up, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve heard all 25 minutes of said track aired on KEXP more than once.

B: Looking over this list, it seems that the bands here have at least one thing in common (maybe except Girl Talk, but he is a different animal), each has the ability to reinvent themselves and grow over the span of each release. It is something that takes balls and artistic vision. Not every band has these qualities. When you change, you run the risk of alienating a part of your fanbase. When you don’t change, you get criticized for not pushing forward into new sounds. Change is scary and hard. It takes balls. When a band is so sure of who they are, change is easier. They make music that is honest and free to go wherever the soul of the band dictates. Sufjan’s new album exhibits his amazing artistic vision and his huge balls. It is an epic tapestry of sounds where Sufjan pulls out all the stops. We thought he was audacious when news first broke that he wanted to make an album for all 50 states, but listen to the Age of Adz and I think you’ll find that audacity was redirected into one beautiful and grandiose album.


Kid Cudi – Maniac [feat. Cage & St. Vincent]

Driving home from work on Sunday night, I tuned into KEXP here in Seattle, to catch the last bit of the Sunday night hip hop show. So glad I did. This is the song I was treated to …

I love his use of St. Vincent’s “The Strangers”, plus, how awesome is the album cover? Cudi’s new album, “Man On The Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager” drops today, and if this track is any indication, it should be some hot shit.


Alexandra Lawn of Ra Ra Riot [photogenic.]

(via Soundcheck Magazine, © Randy Cremean)

Just wait until you see her move on stage … hot damn!

I saw Ra Ra Riot back in February of 2009 … they were my first show in Seattle as a resident of this fair city. Scotty and I were looking at t-shirts … well, he was looking at t-shirts, I was busy looking at the girl selling the shirts. She was already intimidating enough, so it was game off, but once I found out she was the cellist in the band, it was game over … needless to say, I don’t think I said a word to her, before or after the show. Still, their live show is fantastic … as evidenced by the videos below … one is from the in-store they played at Easy Street Records in Queen Anne at the beginning of last month, which two thirds of us at Roused attended. The second was also recorded in Seattle, and is just a favorite song of mine …


Out with the Old (Shit), In with the New (Awesome Shit)

I used to love Weezer … they were my favorite band from about 1995 up until 2002 … after that point, I was just deluding myself into thinking that they were still great, and would return to the brilliance of the Blue Album and Pinkerton … I thought that maybe Rivers just had to get some more generic shit out of his system before going back to honest, strong songwriting. He seemed genuinely hurt by the initial critical and commercial reception of Pinkerton, and from that point forward decided to go the “Eff you” route of songcrafting … generic lyrics, uninspired composition (using the song’s melody for every guitar solo??? in the eternal words of GOB Bluth, “C’mon!!!”), safe 4 chord power pop … it’s as if he was saying,

“I am way better than this, and I showed it on the first two records, but you bitches didn’t appreciate it … I poured myself into Pinkerton, and you hated it! and because that record had so much of me in it, by hating it and rejecting it, you have hated and rejected me. Don’t expect to see that Rivers again. I’m gonna write watered down lyrics that make no sense, I’m gonna make sure I flash some of my former brilliance, but that’s just to tease you mofos … sure the amps are still gonna go to 11, but don’t expect anything new and original to come forth.”

It is sad as shit … the last album I actually purchased was “Make Believe” … I can’t say that I’ve listened to the whole CD. I guess Weezer has released two albums since … The Red Album and Raditude … haven’t heard them … couldn’t bring myself to listen to see how far they’ve fallen … so what was it that compelled me to listen to a stream of their newest (and as of now, unreleased) record? Curiosity, I suppose. I don’t know … like a car accident you can’t seem to look away from, I found myself rubbernecking … looking back to see what has become of these four gentlemen from Weezer. Maybe I am just waiting for them to return to form … holding out hope that an album to rival Pinkerton’s rawness and beauty will be made again … After listening to all 10 tracks off the new album “Hurley” on their myspace, it is now safe to call off the search and rescue party, not because we’ve found survivors in the wreckage, but because there are no survivors. Weezer is officially dead to me. In case you want to hear for yourself: go here

But if you’re looking for something way more awesome [and this is the New (Awesome Shit)] …

Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, is the shit. If you’ve been around, you know that we here at Roused feel this way about him. Whether he’s doing stand-up, acting on “Community”, writing for “30 Rock”, or being a supremely talented MC, he is awesome. He self-released an album earlier this year, “Culdesac”, and he’s been playing a few shows, and filming the new season of “Community”, and he came to Bumbershoot to perform stand-up … but even with all of this, he’s still finding time to make amazing hip hop … See?


Bogle Phantom

Bogle Phantom is the shit.

I mean, this shit is good. Seriously good.

A blend of Petite Sirah and Old Vine Zinfandel, with a bit of Mourvèdre to round things out, it is inky and dark, intense and complex. On the Bogle website and on each cork extracted from Phantom, you will find some variation of this:

bogle \bõ’g?l\ n. [Scots, perhaps from Welsh] A goblin; a specter; a phantom; a bogy, boggart or bugbear.

This wine lives up to its name, as when it is released it disappears so quickly from the shelves … as if it were never there. An apparition. The same can be said of it when a bottle is opened in our house. We have a bottle on the wine rack now that we are trying to save until 2012 … every time I remember we have it, I am tempted …

Why do we love this wine so much? Well, let’s get right to it, Steinberg …

My experience with the Petite Sirah varietal is very limited … it makes up 53% of Phantom according to the label. Petite Sirah is typically marked by its dark color and intense acidity. It has a high skin-to-juice ratio which lends itself to highly tannic wines, but also lends itself to aging. It brings dark berries (blueberries, blackberries) and black pepper to the party … it has a full and round mouthfeel, but tends to lack a solid profile through the finish. So, basically it comes on strong, pushes through a bit, and then it’s gone. This is why it pairs so perfectly with our next varietal in this blend …

Zinfandel has been hit or miss with me. I’ve had some really terrible red zins that were like drinking liquified, candied fig newtons … just horribly jammy, overly sweet, and flat. But then I’ve had really amazing red zins where the sweetness was balanced by oak, pepper, and clove … where the fruitiness didn’t remind me of jamming 6 whole boxes of Sunmaid raisins in my mouth at once. The heat on the end lingered with the spice and oak. Bogle’s Old Vine Zin is one of the good ones … and here we find it in Phantom to the tune of 44% of the blend.

Where the Petite Sirah struggles, the old vine zin picks it up by offering depth and complexity. Oak and spice mingle with dark berries, adding some much needed punch in the finish.

I don’t know if Bogle decided to throw in the Mourvèdre only because they needed to fill the remaining 3% of Phantom, and I have no idea how much effect the Mourvèdre has on this blend, but let’s talk about what it can do for the blend … especially before we start saying 3% is too small to do much of anything. Mourvèdre is most commonly used in Rhone blends, which feature Grenache, another grape that yields wine with high alcohol content. So, theoretically, Mourvèdre would do the same for the high alcohol content of the Old Vine Zin, softening it a bit and adding body.

So, here we are … 53% Petite Sirah, 44% Old Vine Zinfandel, and 3% Mourvèdre … and what we get is a delicious red blend that is loaded with complexity … blackberries, raspberries, clove, toasted oak, leather, black pepper, a little anise … the longer it breathes, the better it gets. Once the bottle’s gone, you’ll be very sad … I feel like I’ve been going through withdraw symptoms … let’s hope I can hold out for the next bottle rather than opening the one waiting for 2012 … I can’t wait to see what a bit of in-bottle aging does for this already amazing wine.

Go. Buy some. Now. I’m pretty sure the new vintage will be released at the end of this month, so be on the look out for it. I will be.