Sunday, December 27, 2009

One Fast Move or I'm Gone : Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar

Reason no. 65 why Christmas was great this year.

Anyway, after streaming this album from the NPR website, I have my very own copy and am quite pleased with it. First off, I guess you have to be cool with a few things if you're going to like this album.

01. Jack Kerouac
02. Ben Gibbard's vocals
03. Cowboy folk

Still with me? Good. Obviously Gibbard is a Kerouac fan-- most of Narrow Stairs was written at Big Sur. He teamed up with Sun Volt's Jay Farrar and the pair decided to put music to text from Keruoac's poem "Sea" and his book Big Sur. After finding out that Kerouac was cool with folk music and not just exclusively into jazz, they put together this lovely album. According to Farrar, most of the songs were written in about 5 days and only received minor tweaks in the true fashion of Mr. Teletype himself.

Farrar and Gibbard really infuse the album with the right kind of spirit. One of the best parts of this project is the purity of the instrumentation. Many of the songs flirt with sparsity-- guitar and piano, plus the occasional well-placed slide guitar, harmonica, or organ. There's a slight ruggedness, a natural air to the album, and that's really what I've been chasing lately. Most days I am fairly confident I could live in a world without synth. This is an album of unpretentious campfire songs. It's beautiful like a California landscape, as it should be.

A few notables made contributions to the liner notes. Patti Smith wrote "It seems like [Kerouac]'s always been in the air-- in the curve of a steering wheel, the circling mandala, the rim of a bottle and the tip of a tongue." That line made me think about something else great about this album. Gibbard and Farrar let Kerouac's text breathe because they don't bury it under flashy instrumentation or their own musical egos. Kerouac is the big point here. They seem to know that.

Stand out tracks include "These Roads Don't Move" (Poetic and pretty), "California Zephyr," "Final Horrors" (dark and intriguing) and of course, "One Fast Move or I'm Gone" (easily the best song, Kerouac-brand wistfulness and maybe aversion to commitment).

* This album actually accompanies a documentary on the book Big Sur. Though, I'd say that the former has somewhat overtaken the latter at this point.

On a barely related note, I got to thinking about how much I like music and other things stripped down and somehow got to the idea that I'm taking a break from all social media-- no Twitter, no Wave etc. for a little while. It's nice.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

T.I. Released from Jail. Hallelujah.

Such a nice young man.
I just saw this story pop up in my Google Reader and couldn't resist fondly reminiscing about the zoo that was the first night of Vanderbilt's annual music festival Rites of Spring 2009. At the time T.I. was starring down his 366 days in jail and I was fairly certain that my press pass wasn't bullet proof, so my crew didn't hang around too long.

In any case, we can all breathe a sigh of relief as that musical mastermind has been released 7 months in to his sentence. After 3 months at a halfway house and an additional 23 days under house arrest, he's ours again, folks!

Mostly I remember reading the Rites of Spring line up and being disappointed when I realized he wasn't the guy with the top hat responsible for "I'm on a Boat."


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Musically Inclined Top 10 Finds of 2009

End of the decade. End of the year. It's a list-making bonanza! TMI is here to add yet another one to the mix.

2009 was an alright year for music. Once we got out from under the freak out over Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, 2009 couldn't commit to being an indie kind of year (The Avett Brothers gathered some major steam and the Decemberists did us proud again) or a not-so-indie kind of year (Bruce. U2. Need I say more?).

So, what did happen? Kanye interrupted people. Green Day released another rock opera. T-Pain took to the water. Lady Gaga... I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that one out. We kept our earbuds plugged in and refused to admit that The Black-Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" is our new Friday night anthem. (Wait, did I just write that out loud?)Oh, and somehow The Beatles managed to bring in big bucks 40 years after breaking up.

That said, here are The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Finds of 2009. In an effort to keep things fresh, I made up some rules that dictate who can make it on the list.

1. It can be any artist or band that was unheard by TMI before January '09.
2. Songs have to be good. Catchy? Bouncy? Quirky? Yes, but mostly they just have to be solid. Doesn't hurt to be fun and mildly screwy, either. (See #4).

That's all. These tunes just had to survive my music turn over rate, and survive they did! I included YouTube links. Happy exploring.

1. Anonanimal : Andrew Bird

The shift to the breakdown towards the middle of the song alone would have earned Bird the top spot on the list. Noble Beast is a fine record-- unusual in its intricacy and beautiful in its instrumentation. It was the best I heard all year, and to think it came out in January. Listen

2. Auto-Tune the News #5 / Butter on My Roll : The Gregory Brothers

Miles away from the no. 1 entry, The Gregory Brothers have found fame by auto-tuning news clips and turning the boring punditry of Sunday mornings into catchy hip/hop/pop ditties that will have you singing the strangest phrases on loop. ("It's the smooooke!"). Yet further exploration revealed that The Gregory Brothers also have a brand of really cool, soulful tunes that and some killer voices that are far from needing auto-tune. For this Jekyll and Hyde of a band, TMI selected a song from each mode. The Gregory Brothers win the longevity award this year, as months have passed and I still can't shake Katie Couric singing about Fidel Castro. Listen / Listen

3. Blue Skies : Noah and the Whale

The National and Andrew Bird had a love child. True story. Found these guys thanks to a minor road trip and a friend with exceptional taste. It was hard to pick out just one track from the album, The First Days of Spring, but this represents the band pretty well. Listen

4. Meet Me in the Garden : Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele

So bad it's good? So weird you can't look away? Maybe. TMI was intrigued by this over the top tongue-in-cheek (I hope) crooner. See for yourself why Dent couldn't have been left off the list. Listen

5. Cable TV : Fol Chen

Synthesized beats, blips, buzzes, sort of bored-sounding (or are they alluring, hmmm?) vocals-- that sort of thing. This song is just so cool and strange. Fol Chen is on the cryptic, mysterious side, covering their faces in photographs and the like. In any case, the video for this song fits so perfectly, it's ridiculous. Listen

6. When She's Near : Fiction Family

One part Nickel Creek, one part Switchfoot-- what a fantastic side project. Fiction Family has a warm folksiness that pervades the entire album. Think brightly colored fall leaves. This group is like the smart grandchild of the kind of music people used to play on their front porches-- aware of its roots but not consumed by them. Listen

7. The Crook of My Good Arm : Pale Young Gentlemen

Wisconsin. Eastern Europe. It works. Wrote up these folks in early January after finding them on a Paste Magazine Sampler CD. I think I used the term "gypsy rock" at the time. Yeah. Still works. A smidgen of Gogol Bordello. Unique without sounding gimmicky. Also still applies. Or you can just click here to read the entirety of what I originally wrote. Listen

8. My Girls : Animal Collective

Remember what I said about being catchy? Totally applies in an off beat way. Do we care what adobe slats have to do with anything? No. Listen

9. Worry About it Later : Brakes

Besides being a solid motto for how to live your life, this short, fast-paced little number goes by so quick you just have to back up and listen to it again. And again. Listen

10. Mimizan : Beirut

Oddly enough, this is the second Eastern Europe- channeling entry on this year's list. I first heard of Beirut in 2008 from a friend while sitting at my kitchen table, but it wasn't until I got the Dark Was the Night compilation that I actually heard them. The song sounds like it was put made by carnival folk, or put together from sounds off a merry-go-round. And somehow they pull it off. Listen

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Musically Inclined's Top Albums of the Decade

Several weeks ago, every music publication and their mother('s publication?) started putting out "best of the decade" lists. Of course, until that moment I hadn't actually thought about the fact that the decade was ending until Bob Boilen was waxing nostalgic about OutKast or whatever.

That said, if everybody's doing it (always solid justification to do anything), TMI would be remiss not to throw together a completely subjective list of albums from this first decade of the millennium, in the effort to celebrate (and to impress the reader-- more solid justification) the finer points of the past ten years.

Criteria: Must own album.

Note: I got 99 albums and Jay-Z ain't on one. Or Bon Iver. Or any White Stripes before 2006. Never bought the Arctic Monkeys album. Refused to buy anything by Arcade Fire. No, Wilco is not on this list either.

So here, not truly grounded in anything but my mood this afternoon, are The Musically Inclined's Top Albums of the Decade.

Send your eye-rolling grievances to

Much love,


Greetings from Michigan : Sufjan Stevens : 2003

Everyone always raves about Come on Feel the Illinoise, but Greetings from Michigan was the album TMI was interested in. It was partly due to my undying love for states that look like articles of clothing, but mostly it was because when I heard it, I knew Stevens hit Michigan on the head. Things have been rough up there, but there's a lot of natural beauty when you get past the economically depressed cities. Stevens managed to balance some of the grim realities of Michigan, with a sound that matched icicles on tree branches and the gorgeousness that is the Upper Peninsula. Plus, TMI first heard "For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti" on The O.C. in the Spring of '06. It felt significant.

Tranatlanticism : Death Cab for Cutie : 2003

Still the best Death Cab for Cutie album to date. More refined than their way early sound on Something About Airplanes, yet these were the edgier days before computers took over on Plans. Transatlanticism is Death Cab for Cutie at its best. Of course, this is not to say that TMI wasn't crazy about Plans... in fact, TMI would probably buy a box set of the band tuning their guitars, but really. Just about every song on Transatlanticism is a winner - "The Sound of Settling," "Expo '86," "Title and Registration," "Passenger Seat"-- this is the place to start if you haven't already.

Home : Dixie Chicks : 2003

Random country album? Maybe. Back in the day before The Dixie Chicks wrote mildly bitter songs about being wronged, they decided to go acoustic on their (in their current line up) third album, Home. It was ridiculously good-- a reprieve form that glitzy glossy commercial crap that passes for country these days. It was a little bit rootsy, a little bit folksy, but mostly just really solid. From "Long Time Gone," to the cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," to "Lil' Jack Slade," to the super powerful "Top of the World," The Dixie Chicks laid down the direction that country music should have gone in-- "More Love," less Miley.

American Idiot : Green Day : 2004

It was like those angsty kids in middle school grew up a (little) bit and made a somewhat serious statement. Who knew? Between "Give Me Novacaine," "Tales of a Broken Home," and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," we started to get a grim picture of a generation raised by the media and popular culture. Or you could just sing along and pretend like you're angry. That's fun too.

Continuum : John Mayer : 2006

Room for Squares was an album for lusty teenage girls. Heavier Things spoke of potential. Continuum was the product of not a teen heart throb or one more drippy, sensitive singer, but of a highly talented guitarist and lyricist. Continuum was bluesy and soulful in a manner we didn't think Mayer was capable of, and it put him on track for "guitar great" status. Continuum is so rich, I only like to listen to it on occasion-- don't want to take it for granted. I also treat mangoes that way, but that's a separate issue.

In Rainbows : Radiohead : 2007

Maybe it's that I'd never listened to Radiohead seriously before. Maybe it's their avant garde marketing strategy. Maybe it's the way "15 Steps" is some strange breed of entrancing and infectious. "Videotape," "House of Cards"-- being classified as "un-radio friendly" never sounded so appealing.

Wincing the Night Away : The Shins : 2007

I bought this album after hearing the Garden State soundtrack for the first time a few years back (and who didn't?!). "Australia" is my most-played song on iTunes-- which is funny because I can never remember specific times when I've listened to this album. It's like an unconscious instinct pulls me back to Wincing the Night Away and I gladly follow. Cryptic, catchy, lightly sprinkled with 60's Brit pop, TMI eagerly awaits whatever James Mercer (and whomever he's wrangled for the line up) releases next.

Boxer : The National : 2007

Describing The National as "orchestral pop" does not do the band justice. Sophisticated sounds back the uncertainty of drifting into an oblivion of adulthood. Beautiful, often poignant imagery almost makes you want to be 30, if only for the drama and doomed romance of blue blazers, swanky apartment parties, and friends you can barely recognize anymore. Also, there seems to be a critical consensus that front man Matt Berninger's voice sounds like a variety of liquors. How could they go wrong?

Which albums made your list?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Maybe the Vampires are Why the Rabbits are Frightened

March 9th. Mark it down in your calendar. Now. Why? Frightened Rabbit. New LP. You should be excited. But in all seriousness, the Scottish band is all set to release their follow up to 2008's Midnight Organ Flight. This was a really great album, partly because Frightened Rabbit has a way of coming off honest and human while at the same time being gritty and somewhat uncouth. It's fascinating and really terrific.

That said, TMI is obviously looking forward to The Winter of Mixed Drinks. And no, that's not TMI's holiday plans. Check the track list below.

01. Things
02. Swim Until You Can't See Land
03. The Loneliness and the Scream
04. The Wrestle
05. Skip the Youth
06. Nothing Like You
07. Man/Bag of Sand
08. Foot Shooter
09. Not Miserable
10. Living in Colour
11. Yes, I Would

*Note- I've seen writers refer to Frightened Rabbit recently as "Frabbit" and I think it's a riot.

In other news, Vampire Weekend released the B side to "Cousins." It's called "California English Pt. 2" and as Pitchfork observed, it's got this weird Animal Collective thing going on. Have a listen.

Friday, December 4, 2009

21 Guns Gets Musical Treatment

It takes skill for a cast to stand in a straight line and emote in unison.

Spinner debuted a new version of "21 Guns" today-- one recorded by Green Day and the cast of the new American Idiot musical. It's interesting. One would think that Green Day would be against musical theater type pomp and over earnest "ahhhs," but who knows. They can be pretty theatrical themselves-- and obviously this project's been brewing a while. Perhaps this is one of those situations where the song (or whatever) is good in its own right. Or not. Maybe it kind of sucks. You decide.

Check it out here.