This past year I discovered quite a lot of music that was new to me. Here’s a recap.
- The Hold Steady “Almost Killed Me” and “Separation Sunday” – this group based in Minneaopolis has great lyrics and vocals from Greg Finn. The music is loud and fun as well as funny. This one I discovered via Wikipedia or allmusic.com in searching for groups similar to Spoon (which I discovered last year). I started here with their first two albums and am planning to purchase their two more recent ones this year. I missed them in concert here in Paris earlier this year. Hopefully, I’ll catch them next time around. For those fans of KGSR Broadcasts, the 2008 edition (Vol. 16) features a toned down version of “Sequestered in Memphis”.
- Les Savy Fav “Inches” and “Let’s Stay Friends” – this group, originally from the state where I was born but never lived: Rhode Island, rocks pretty hard. They sometimes remind me of Flock of Seagulls or early U2 but on speed. A listen in particular to Inches is worthwhile to get a reverse chronology of the band’s sound.
- TV on the Radio “Return to Cookie Mountain” and “Dear Science” – I got a lot of suggestions of music from a friend that I got back in touch with (Thanks Al!) and this is one of them. Actually, Rolling Stone Magazine gave the latter album Album of the Year honors for 2008. There is some interesting music on that disc and I’d tend to agree with the R.S reviewers comment that you have the impression to be dancing on the edge of the abyss while listening to it. I will say that it is an album that grew on me – the first listen I wasn’t convinced but after a few more rounds I was able to appreciate it far more.
- My Morning Jacket “At Dawn”, “Z” and “Evil Urges” – this Kentucky based group has enormous potential which expands and improves up on their alternative country roots by pushing into punk, pop, psychedelia, what have you. It seems that they are constantly improving as I found that “Evil Urges” was the most listenable of the three albums I purchased.
- Old Crow Medicine Show “Big Iron World” and “O.C.M.S.” – my punk rock singer-Harley fanatic-tatooed-father of two-hotrod enthousiast cousin Ben suggested this one with the phrase “Bluegrass is the new punk”. This group is loads of fun although the punk/bluegrass genre seems to me to have been started in Austin by Bad Livers (all their albums are incredible as is Danny Barnes solo material). I probably need to purchase their 2008 effort “Tennessee Pusher” as well. Also related to them, or at least a group that I like that reminds me of them is the under publicized South Austin Jug Band whose first self-titled album in particular is yet another rock-n-roll attitude take on hillbilly music.
- Kings of Leon “After Shake Heartbreak” and “Only By The Night” – this group is on the poppy edge of what I normally gt enthousiastic about but after a few rave reviews that I read in Rolling Stone Magazine I decided to check them out. I was pleasantly surprised especially by the latest effort Only By The Night which sounds fresh and fun. Similarly to My Morning Jacket, it is a group that hails from the South (Tennessee in this case) and thus mixes alternative country roots with modern pop and rock-n-roll to form a sound that is addictive and innovative. For those that, like myself, love the Austin music scene and furthermore, living far from it grab any recording that gives me a picture of what’s happening there, on the Austin City Limits Music Festival 2003 CD, there is an excellent rendition of Molly’s Chambers – this is what initially sparked my interest in the band actually. An aside: it is a pity that the ACLMF will not release any more concert CDs after the 2005 one 😦
- The Fratellis “Costello Music” and “Here We Stand” – I purchased this band just based on an article in Rolling Stone Magazine about “Here We Stand” and boy was I glad! What an incredible group. Apparently, they are all the rage in the UK but almost unknown over here in France. Both albums rock your socks off but I think my favorite track is “Acid Jazz Singer” from the second album. This Glascow trio has great tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a brash rock-n-roll sound. My friend Al saw them in Austin at SXSW supporting the Costello Music album and was blown away. A group apparently not to miss live in a concert near you!
- The Dirtbombs “If You Don’t Already Have A Look” and “Ultraglide In Black” – I had the luck to be in Austin in March this year and visit one of my two favorite record stores on the planet – Waterloo Records on Lamar and 6th in Austin (my other favorite is Amoeba Records at the end of Haight in San Francisco). They have an amazing back-wall where the employees write reviews of their favorite albums. I suppose that is common practice now in the States but it has yet to catch on in France unfortunately. Anyway, I picked up the first album based on the recommendation of the back-wall and ended up listening almost exclusively to it for my entire Austin stay. I then bought the second one, Ultraglide, and was again blown away. This Detroit-based group is a completely insane mix of punk, motown, garage, grunge and just plain craziness. The group they grew out of, The Gories, is less well produced but has a similar energy. I can’t really give a higher recommendation – if you don’t have it, run don’t walk and grab “Ultraglide” – you won’t regret it. Between Mick Collins vocals and the constantly mutating musical styles, it is a passionately fun listen.
- Firewater “The Ponzi Scheme” and “The Golden Hour” – The next three groups are all thanks to my friend Al. Firewater is basically Tom A.’s brainchild. Incredibly creative and funny, both albums rock with a fusion of lots of musical styles. The second one is based on Tom’s tour around the world and brings in even more diversity as his travels infiltraed and deeply influenced his music. I find myself listening to this one almost once a week now.
- Okkervil River “Down the River of Golden Dreams”, “Back Sheep Boy”, “The Stage Names” and “The Stand Ins” – Another Al suggestion, this group has so much creative energy and desire to be the next big thing that it is almost scary. The style stays a very Austin alternative country-ish sound but the singing of Will Sheff has an immediacy that is addictive. I had the opportunity to see them live here in Paris and it was a helluva live show. I wasn’t sure whether they were stoned or drunk but it was a rambunctious show with spit flying everywhere but very tight compositions and just overflowing with enery and desire. I am repeating myself so I’ll move on…For starters, I’d suggest The Stage Names as this is IMHO their strongest most coherent studio work.
- Brian Jonestown Massacre “Take It From The Man”, “Tepid Peppermint Wonderland” and “My Bloody Underground” – I blogged about these guys already I think but they deserve a little more room here. Anton Newcombe is trying very hard to replicate the volcanic personality and incredible versatility and virtuosity of the band’s half namesake Brian Jones but hopefully without the sad and pathetic ending face down in a pool alone. In fact, I found in my first listen that the band sounded very much like the early Stones. And then I listened more and discovered yet more universes and layers underneath the surface. The movie “DiG!” captures at least one person’s perspective on Anton and the trials and tribulations of BJM as compared to the success rocket of their friends (at least initially) The Dandy Warhols. I’d probably suggest “Take It From The Man” or “Tepid Peppermint Wonderland” to start with one’s familiarization with BJM but I’d insist at the same time that the DVD DiG! is an essential document as well. I think my goal for 2009 is to somehow see this moving train wreck live because it must be one of those one of a kind performances that leaves itself engraved in one’s memory. Well, as long as Anton doesn’t bash your head in with his microphone stand.
Honorable Mentions: Bon Iver, M Ward, Colourmusic, Esperanza Spalding, The Gories, Black Kids. Avishai Cohen, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Pavement, Roy Hargrove Quartet, Cherry Ghost, Fleet Foxes, The Weepies, Stanton Moore, Bennie Maupin, Wolf Parade, Foxboro Hottubs, James Carter, The Raconteurs, The Black Angels, Nicole Atkins, Shelby Lynne, Death Cab for Cutie, Dinosaur, Jr., Oakhurst, Spoon,…