31 Jul 2009, 18:34 MST

Rachael Yamagata

Part 3: Salvation

My love affair with Loose Ends was…torrid. As a gentleman, I’ll abstain from detail, but believe me when I say this EP and I were close. Serving mostly to wrap up Happenstance, the disc played like bonus tracks to the now venerable debut, a Thinking of You card from Rachael to me. Loose Ends triggered an immediate return to heavy rotation for Happenstance and life was good. I had new music, I had my old friend Happenstance and I had renewed vigor for the long trek to The Promised Record. I felt ready, prepared to receive it.

I was not.

Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart was not what I anticipated. An album in two parts, a true Strange Case in Stevenson’s mould, the spacious and subdued Elephants draws you deep into dreamy reaches of melancholy only to be assaulted by the burning, moody rock of Teeth Sinking Into Heart, the dancing yellow inferno to Elephant’s cool blue flame.

Elephants is a fully-realized cosmology in the key of regret, narrated by Rachael’s emotional delivery. From the first delicate tones of the title track to the last lingering notes of hidden cut The Only Fault, you’re immersed in gorgeous orchestral tracks, cavernous expanses of lost love and woe. Even intimate moments like Duet span a wide sea of squandered possibility where star-crossed lovers float alone in vessels of their own good intentions. The first ten tracks of this two-face play like a concept album, a ten-track experience that is much more than the sum of its parts.

But just when you’re feeling safe in the otherworldly landscape of Elephants, Teeth breaks the reverie with sharp instruments and aggressive vocals, jangling rock and brooding melodies. Powerful drivers lead in, trailing brilliant fire into the smooth sound of Pause the Tragic Ending, and leaving you with Don’t, the mellow conclusion to Teeth. Here, the flames are perhaps the hottest, burning with white-hot control the way only jilted love can.

So here we are. This is right now. The saga continues, as the man says. Rachael has already begun writing for the next album, though if this epic has taught you anything, let it be that it will arrive when it arrives, and not a moment sooner.

You get three from this one. Take heed though, this album is an experience. You should get it. And experience it.

What If I Leave
Brown Eyes
Faster

PS. You can get it on vinyl. Just sayin’…

PPS. In case you missed them: Part 1: Falling Hard, Part 2: The Long Wait

27 Jul 2009, 13:02 MST

Erin McCarley

Imagine my surprise when, as I’m driving in this morning listening to the local ClearChannel CGPLS-friendly affiliate (92.9 The Mountain, You could do worse in Tucson), I hear something that a) I haven’t heard ad nauseum and b) I like! I know! Philosophically I know that The Dark Lord of The Clear Channel has designated Erin McCarley for fame, but that’s kind of ok when the quality is this high.

Erin McCarley fits snugly in a playlist surrounded by Meiko, A Fine Frenzy, Sara Bareilles and Brandi Carlile. She’s got a fair amount of novelty about her arrangements and though she has a small case of One Tree Hill voice, I’m honestly pretty indifferent to joining the CW-addled masses in a round of high-fives on this one. Pitter-Pat is the song that caught my ear this morning, and the eponymous Love, Save the Empty is just….well really good.

Pitter-Pat
Love, Save the Empty

PS. Among the reasons I’ve grown to love Amazon’s MP3 Store is stuff like this: Pitter-Pat Acoustic Amazon Exlusive, f-in’ GRATIS my friends. Hey Amazon, you guys are a-ok by me. Apple has some exclusive content as well (acoustic version of Pony), but as you’d expect, album only. As the Black Sheep might say “You can get with this, or you can get with that”.

16 Jul 2009, 13:27 MST

Letters to Cleo

No, it isn’t 1997. Letters has been making a comeback for me in recent weeks. A head-bobbing, rocking, “why did I ever stop listening to these guys?” kind of comeback. There’s something absolutely infectious about their sound, energetic and fun and everything that good pop rock should be. You’ve probably heard Letters to Cleo (or at least Kay Hanley, lead vocalist and lead cute girl) even if you think you haven’t. They had cuts on soundtracks for The Craft, 10 Things I Hate About You (and a cameo! That band they go watch? Yep.) and Kay provided the singing voice for Josie in the often-overlooked and always under-valued live-action film rendition of Josie and the Pussycats (1/2 star Roger Ebert? Are you kidding me?). If you haven’t seen any of those, just get out. Go, just…go.

I’m dropping a trifecta here. Two from Go! (my favorite-ist Letters album by a wide margin) and their Cheap Trick cover from 10 Things cause it’s epic good. I’m not even kidding here, I think their cover is superior to the original by a fair amount. That’s right, superior to Cheap Trick. What about it Cheap Trick? You want some? Huh? Come get some.

Veda Very Shining
I Got Time
I Want You to Want Me

21 Jun 2009, 18:45 MST

Kate Micucci

Ridiculously cute. No, seriously, I’ll let you take a minute.

You may recognize her from Scrubs as Stephanie Gooch, Ted’s dreamgirl. Turns out that the cute ukulele player thing she did for the show? She does that for real. And she made an EP. One EP. One, lone, solitary, EP. Is it a comedy EP? “Dear Deer” would seem to indicate so. But then you’ve got “Just Say When” and “Out the Door”. I don’t even know what to make of it. I know that I like it, and I hope there’s more on the way.

Observe.

Just Say When
Dear Deer

15 Jun 2009, 19:26 MST

Hafdís Huld

Perhaps the cutest girl to ever sing a love song and without a doubt the cutest SOUNDING girl to ever sing a love song, Hafdís Huld single-handedly restored my personal opinion of Iceland*. With simple arrangements and a voice that challenges buttons to a cute-off, Hafdís teeters on the edge of sugary-sweet, mixing stark-if-confounding lyrics and twee-pop melodies into delicious musical confections that sound surprisingly like hard candy tastes. Even at her most melancholy on Dirty Paper Cup, it still goes down like a Mary Poppins prescription.

Dirty Paper Cup is an album that’s hard to adequately represent in two tracks, but as is my sacred tradition, I will now attempt it. This is something like a triple salchow in difficulty, I expect to be rewarded for the attempt. I’m looking at you, East German Judge. If this cover of “Who Loves the Sun” doesn’t sell you then you cannot be sold.

My Heart Beats
Who Loves the Sun

And as a special treat, from me to you: Elf Watching with Hafdís Huld

* “What does that even mean, what did Iceland ever do to you?” you might be thinking. Well, I’m glad you asked. Prior to Hafdís Huld, I had decided that Iceland was some sort of quasi-reality where music didn’t sound like music thanks entirely to the efforts of the puzzlingly-world-famous and seemingly-never-diminishing Bjork, who is likely squeaking and a-tonally working her way to another Grammy nomination even now, continuing to defy convention in the most dissonant and sonically-displeasing ways imaginable. Bjork, if you’re reading this right now, man do I just not get your music at all. Not even a little. I think this may be applicable.

11 Jun 2009, 14:59 MST

Elizabeth and the Catapult

What a name, right? The visual is amazing and, coincidentally, so is the band. Elizabeth & The Catapult are truly marvelous. Innovative arrangements, brilliant vocals, depth and variation that constantly gesture toward a broad pool of musical capability and matter-of-fact-ly indicate that they do, in fact, have all the tools.

They just released their first full-length album, Taller Children. It’s real good. But I’m not gonna talk about that. They also released a self-titled EP in 2006 which is one of my favorite EPs of all time. I’m not gonna talk about that either. Today you’re getting two tracks from their City Sessions DVD. The DVD is available at CD Baby, which I’ve linked below. It’s out of stock right now. E-mail them and demand a restocking, but for now, just listen and love. You’ll want more when you’re done with these. I’ll do what I can for you, but like any good dealer, I only give it away to get you hooked.

A quick technical note, City Sessions has some epic sound engineers cause these tracks are beautifully mastered. Thumbs up to you, gents.

Worn Out Tune
Just In Time

cdbaby

08 Jun 2009, 12:35 MST

Adaline

This isn’t a TV blog, but lemme start out here with this. The pilot of Royal Pains on USA was pretty excellent. I’m feeling especially fond toward it because they featured one of Adaline’s songs, and it was thusly that Adaline and I became acquainted, in the musical sense, of course.

Evoking shades of several of my favorites, Adaline brings a nice mix of electronic effects and traditional instrument work to create an very engaging soundscape. I hear some Anna Nalick, some Hush Sound, some Priscilla Ahn, a little honeyhoney. It’s a nice amalgam and her vocals tie in well, even if they are a bit round at times for the edgy sound that surrounds them.

Whiter/Straighter is the track featured on Royal Pains, you’ll understand immediately why I bought her album when you hear it. Pioneering is my second favorite from Famous for Fire, but they hardly cover the range of sounds you’ll hear.

Whiter/Straighter
Pioneering

Update, June 10.

This was just a horrible post. Not because of the music, not even a little. All me, failing. Dry, uninspired…not a single witty nugget to take home and treasure. Friends, I owe you better than that, I owe you something for the favor of even reading what I write. I apologize. To both of you.

I want to make sure the mediocrity of the writing above didn’t, in some way, reflect on the quality of the music. Adaline’s music is real good™. Those two songs are super catchy and they really embedded themselves in my brain, but this album has many tracks of quality and you’d do it a disservice if you don’t at least click through to Amazon and check out the track previews. If you like A Fine Frenzy, you’ll likely enjoy Poor You, Carina Round fans will find some of that sauce at play in Chemical Spill (which was in the fight with Pioneering for my second track, it’s really quality), Broken Glass brings me a strong flavor of Halou… There’s a lot going on here. This is no album of knockoffs, I don’t mean to cast it as such, it just touches my special music place in many different ways. No, I cannot show you on the doll where the talented musician touched me, it’s a metaphor.

So, there you have it. Adaline, real good, go listen, ignore my Busch League writing skills.

25 Apr 2009, 19:20 MST

Blondfire

The Brazilian-turned-New-Yorker duo of Blondfire has been rattling around in my music library for a long time. Known as Astaire pre-2005, they were forced to change their name by, I kid you not friends, the Estate of Fred Astaire. What the hell Estate of Fred Astaire? Are two kids making really slick electro-pop really a danger to your cash cow? You people need to get a job, clearly you have nothing to do all day.

Anyway, I snagged their acoustic EP from the iTunes Store back in ’05, immediately after the name change. It was good. I decided to see what their full sound was like, turns out they do a kind of electro-lounge thing, something I’m pretty fond of. They’ve got a full LP out now, though I haven’t yet heard it. I’m still very attached to the Don’t Whisper Lies EP, and as such, here are a couple highlights from such. It’s conceivable that I might acquire the LP at a later date and regale the uninterested and silent internet with my thoughts about it. It’s kinda what the site is for, I guess.

L-L-Love
Don’t Whisper Lies

25 Apr 2009, 05:22 MST

The Bird and The Bee

Part 1 (in a continuing series): Please Clap Your Hands. The Bird and The Bee are crazy good. How could they not be? Brilliant production/instrumentation from the well-traveled Greg Kurstin (No kidding: Sia, The Flaming Lips, Kylie Minogue, Beck, Rilo Kiley, and Jane’s Addiction) and swoon-worthy vocals by perennial crush-inducer Inara George come together in a magical tropicália-infused electronically-augmented ear-gasm that just does not quit. At times evoking shades of Jem, Frou Frou and Bitter:Sweet, at times eschewing comparison, The Bird and The Bee deliver one thing consistently: quality.

I realize there’s a lot of material out there. I realize that. I’m digesting it in chunks. Currently I can be found weeping openly in public over the concept that Please Clap Your Hands has been out there for nearly two years and I’m only now experiencing the joy. If you see me crying, reader, just turn away. Seriously, this EP is patently outstanding. Just listen to that Bee Gees cover and try to convince yourself you don’t need it.

Polite Dance Song
How Deep Is Your Love

09 Apr 2009, 19:25 MST

Jakob Dylan

GASP (Shock!) /awe. Yes, friends. “And other music. Like, also.”

The year, lovers, is 1996 and I am positively enamored with Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers. One Headlight, 6th Avenue Heartache, Three Marlenas, The Difference, Josephine… What an album. Then they played a song for the worst Godzilla movie ever made, and we’re talking about a series of movies that relied on men in rubber monster suits trampling scale models of cities, for the most part. I don’t know why they did that. Right around then, I checked out. I know there were more albums, I remember hearing Letters from the Wasteland once and just not caring at all. Why? I honestly don’t know, I liked the Wallflowers.

But now I know. I was waiting on Jakob Dylan’s solo effort. This album is so good I almost can’t believe it. He’s stripped it back to a simple alt-country style, relying on brilliant guitar work, compelling lyrics and no-nonsense vocals to hold this music up. Let me assure you, you could put a bull elephant, 47 ACME anvils and a concert grand on top of these songs and they would stand firm. Dylan’s heartfelt delivery and zero-frills mix really contributes a welcome characteristic to this music: it is made entirely of substance. There is no filler. Zero MSG, folks. 100%, Grade-A, quality music.

I am a Jakob Dylan FAN. Listen, good reader, and join me.

Everybody Pays As They Go
War Is Kind

07 Apr 2009, 11:57 MST

Holly Conlan

Sometimes, I just go to last.fm and mine it. I mine it for precious musical elements the way a prospector, hefting his pick and brandishing his pan, might seek gold in 1850’s California. The process is arduous, the sheer volume of tabs involved would dissuade the faint of heart, but I know the prize is in there, obscured by the strata. The bulk of music on last.fm is waste mineral, cast aside into a great pile of insufficiency. However, there are precious metals. Beautiful elements reflecting the light of day, coloring it vaguely with their own nature. Holly Conlan is such a find.

Cut from the same stuff as Sara Bareilles (your time is coming, Sara Bareilles), Meiko and Priscilla Ahn (also pending…), Holly Conlan delivers in the piano-playing and delectable-vocal categories. Her arrangements are generally nice and open, with lots of space and strong positions for each of the elements. While I don’t feel that she breaks any new musical ground, her songs are strong under repeated listenings, which bodes well for her becoming a regular fixture in my playlists.

I’ve only delved as deeply as her most recent EP, Bird (2006, where are you Holly Conlan?), but here are a couple of the highlights from such.

Ok
Home

19 Mar 2009, 09:39 MST

Janine Jansen

Cute Girls Playing…violins?

I’ve been on a minor classical tangent of late brought on by a couple drive-time listenings to the superior classical DJs at AZPM Classical. These guys know their stuff. Anyway, one night they get on a violin and cello roll and oh man do I love strings. They’re playing some Paganini and Shostakovich and I’m in love, so I roll a Pandora station on Paganini. After a bit, Pandora busts out some Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto in Dmaj, and I started weeping, openly, on the spot. I go to find myself a “definitive” recording of the work to place on my iPhone and by a strange fateful twist, iTunes is suggesting I might like Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto as recorded by Janine Jansen. I don’t know how they know. I haven’t purchased anything from iTunes in a very long time, I don’t even have any substantial classical in my library. I think this is how fate works. So I check it out and not only are the recordings stellar, this girl is just beautiful. It’s like some kind of cosmic nexus of kismet. So anyway, iTunes Plus version comes with a bonus track, win win win, and now, here we are.

Janine Jansen is a phenomenal violinist. I am, by no measure, a seasoned pundit on classical musical technique and I readily admit that I have no substantial basis from which to draw any of these opinions. However, I’ve heard me some fiddlin’ and this right here is some good fiddlin’. She seems to really nail the keystone emotional emphases in the pieces. I know that’s kind of nebulous, but it’s all I’ve got. I don’t feel like she’s trying to paint the numbers, I feel like she’s trying to paint the picture.

Yeah yeah, I tried, ok? If nothing else, I’ve managed to take something as gravitas-infused as classical music and cheapen it with superficial commentary on how gorgeous this violinist is. She is quite the looker though, isn’t she?

Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, Op. 42 – Arr. Strings: II. Scherzo
Valse Sentimentale, Op. 51, No. 6 (Bonus Track)

16 Mar 2009, 16:54 MST

Anna Nalick

In the many seasons of my musical whimsy, the coming of the singer-songwriter is the most recent, and Anna Nalick was there at the beginning. Following on toe-dippings like Alanis, Sarah McLachlan, Jewel and the occasional Fiona Apple, Anna represented one of my first full-album plunges into the cool waters. I had rather forgotten her as she was over-shadowed by huge comers like Feist and Rachael, and she slipped into the obscurity of my musical memory. Tonight, though, by an excellent coincidence, she showed up on MHD while I was wakeboarding the figurative airwaves of HD cable, and so came this post.

Wreck of the Day is really decent. Anna has a great voice, powerful with just a twist of gravelly depth. If you’ve heard of Anna, you’ve probably heard her chart-topper from this album, “Breathe (2am)”. It’s good, but it’s not the best this album has to offer. Try these two on for size and check out the whole enchilada if you like what you hear. I’ve got high hopes for her sophomore effort, assuming it ever materializes. Another long wait. Apparently she studies at the Rachael Yamagata Institute of Album Release Scheduleology.

Forever Love (Digame)
Catalyst

09 Mar 2009, 15:23 MST

Kate Walsh

No, not that Kate Walsh. This is the other Kate Walsh, the British one that does the guitar stuff.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, Kate somehow flew beneath my radar for a quite a while. It was only recently that I saw the distinctive blip of an incoming cute girl playing love songs. By the time I had assembled my defenses, she had already dropped a musical Atkin guitar (I’d really like to play one of their OMs). Her songs are not musical revelations, but what they lack in bleeding-edge originality they make up for in masterful execution. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable listen, two thumbs up.

Confusingly, I’m Siskel. I know, Joe seems like a Siskel. What can you do, you know?

Update, April 7th: Kate Walsh deserved a better picture, so now she has one. Her MySpace delivered. That is the only change, you can go on about your business.

Your Song
French Song

18 Feb 2009, 18:06 MST

Rachael Yamagata

Part 2: The Long Wait

Key moments to this point:

– June 8, 2004, Rachael Yamagata releases Happenstance.
– September 21, 2006, I realize how unbelievably great it is.
– September 22, 2006, Rachael begins punishing me for my lack of vision.

Picture, if you will, two years of winter. Not Arctic Circle frozen tundra desolation winter, now you’re just being melodramatic. Regular old winter. Even if you like winter, it’s supposed to end. The close of fall carries with it the implicit promise that after winter comes spring. But even winter has it’s sunny days, and so went my long wait.

In this interim I discovered so many of my favorites. Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, Rebecka Tornqvist, Bitter:Sweet, Emiliana Torrini, Feist, Ingrid Michaelson, Over the Rhine, Hem, Elizabeth and the Catapult, Sara Bareilles, Clare and the Reasons, Priscilla Ahn (each of whom will have their own entry soon enough). So many that I follow, so many that I love, so many that were not Rachael.

I knew there were back-albums I should get, so I got them. I dug up the original EP, but it wasn’t…right. It was the seed, certainly. I wanted the flower. I dug up Live at the Loft, but I’m not much on live albums, even live albums from Rachael. Two and a half years had passed since Happenstance, I felt certain there must be another studio album due out soon. I was mistaken. I remained mistaken until May 22, 2008.

Loose Ends, it was called. Just an EP, yet such an EP. Introduced with a poem, delivered to the fans direct and digital. The first bloom of spring-time, the hint of fulfillment for the dusty promise that was Happenstance. And it was wonderful. At once an old friend and a new love, composed of what I wanted and providing what I needed. It’s hard for me to overstate the satisfaction this EP delivered, but moreover it came with a new promise of possibility and evidence that the magic was still happening. That the long wait was nearly over.

And so I present but one of three. I cannot encourage you enough to go to the link below and give your three dollars to a worthy artist. You will not regret the purchase.

Answering the Door

http://store.rachaelyamagata.com/

In case you missed it: Part 1: Falling Hard

13 Feb 2009, 12:50 MST

Katie Herzig

Katie Herzig is so right it defies common reason. Combining the better parts of bluegrass and pop with what must be fairy dust and unicorn musk, Katie delivers a sound both familiar and different, immediately identifiable for all the right reasons. Apple Tree is one of the most well put together albums I’ve ever heard. She swings seamlessly from uptempo numbers to stripped down acoustic tracks to expansive show-pieces. Her charmingly affected vocals preside over expertly layered orchestrations, co-mingling to produce a sound that is uniquely Katie Herzig.

This is a bit overly glowing isn’t it? Um. Something bad. It’s not a particularly long album, I could use some more Katie Herzig. How’s that, is that what they call “balance”?

Forevermore
I Hurt Too

07 Feb 2009, 07:23 MST

The Hush Sound

The Hush Sound make a big noise. That’s right folks, today I’m bringing the local-newscast-grade word play, try to keep up. The Hush Sound has been around for a while, but it’s only on their most recent release Goodbye Blues that singer Greta Salpeter has come into her own. Greta drives this album forward with her delicious vibrato and powerful piano work, so much so that I don’t mind the occasional interruption of co-lead-vocalist Bob Morris. I don’t mean to imply that Bob is bad. He isn’t. In fact, if there was no Greta I’d still listen to The Hush Sound, but since there is a Greta, I’m not ashamed to admit I prefer her stylings over Bob’s. Sorry Bob. I’ve provided an example of each below, so Don’t Take My Word For It.

The Boys Are Too Refined
Not Your Concern

05 Feb 2009, 17:32 MST

Rebecka Törnqvist

Rebecka Törnqvist, my Swedish crush. Melting Into Orange is a very unique album. Her mix of light electronic and jazz is novel enough, but with her bell-clear voice piercing the mix with just the right touch of reverb, there’s not much to dislike. I’m finding it difficult to present anything close to a representative sample of the album, so I just posted two I like. You should also listen to Wit Waltz, Cuckoo and The Poachers, if you’re serious about the process. If not, then, you know. Don’t, I guess?

Quick point of order, all Amazon has is the import of this album, no MP3s (this is no longer true). Far be it from me to advise you against buying from Amazon, I love those guys, but Rebecka’s own site has MP3 downloads, although they aren’t particularly cheap either. Anyway, linkage:
http://www.rebeckatornqvist.se/

I Wanted This To Be Your Song
Tell On You

04 Feb 2009, 17:48 MST

Rachael Yamagata

Part 1: Falling Hard

June 15, 2004. Rachael Yamagata is the iTunes free single of the week and I, without even pausing to consider the ramifications of the moment, download the single. The song: Letter Read. I listened to the song. “That’s ok, I guess.”, I thought. You were expecting a love at first hear story weren’t you? Sorry kids, real life ain’t like the movies.

Two years and three months later (I checked my iTunes purchase history) I find this song in my library. “What is this song? I don’t remember this.” I listened. I…was changed. I promptly bought Happenstance. I wore it out. Wore. it. out. I still listen to this album, I still love this album. This album never gets old.

Rachael Yamagata changed my listening forever. Nearly every Cute Girl I’ve found since Rachael Yamagata has been a direct or indirect attempt to find something that could satisfy my craving for more Rachael Yamagata. Her addictive amalgam of powerful, yearning lyrics, beautifully textured vocals and haunting arrangements is everything I want from the genre. Rachael Yamagata is my favorite Cute Girl, for certain, and may be my favorite artist of all time. I consider it one of the most grandiose and abject failures of my life that I missed her show when she came to town. It’s the sort of thing that haunts you. I’m aware those are strong words. Rest assured, I do not deliver them lightly or without consideration.

Rachael Yamagata, thank you for your music.

These two tracks are just two tracks. Get this album. Just, get this album.

Letter Read
Even So

Next time, Part 2: The Long Wait.

29 Jan 2009, 16:49 MST

Jaymay

What am I supposed to do here? This deck is stacked. I’m wired to be in musical love with Jaymay. And why not? Jamie Seerman has all the tools. The voice, the guitar, the uncanny insight into my musical desire, it’s all there. This is a no-words-required recommendation. Listen to these two songs on me and then you’ll just go buy Autumn Fallin’. You won’t be able to stop yourself. It’s ok, you’re not alone. Frankly, I hope Jaymay keeps overriding my purchasing willpower for a very long time.

Sycamore Down
Sea Green, Sea Blue