Phew, the end of the year really snuck up on me this time and it’s crazy to think we are moving on from the 2010s. Before we do so, Nathan and I of course want to share some of our favorite things from the year for those of you who care to hear our opinions. I am typically the songs guy and Nathan usually takes on the albums, so here it is, my favorites from this year. Hit the jump for my list and a Spotify playlist to take with you.
I have to admit that I lost the plot with Beirut somewhere down the line…those feelings of being overcome just sort of faded away…though I still put on Gulag O. from time to time. And then today, I dared to click on the new Beirut album, and lo and behold, the brilliance is back. The band’s latest tune has this softened percussive gallop and a wondrous horn section; I have to acknowledge I got swept up right away. Then Zach’s voice hits, soaring in its baritone manner, losing me in the great swirling storm of emotive pop. Maybe it’s time I revisit my old friend; look for Gallipoli in February on 4AD.
When I first heard this new Slow Dakota track, I was hooked. It’s that same sound that caught me with the early Beirut. Plus, there’s some mystery in the song itself, and in fact, in all the songs that are to come from his new effort The Ascension of Slow Dakota. There’s so many textural touches, so many pieces within the pieces…if that makes any sense. For instance, you’re enjoying this song, the voice soaring high in your ears, but all of a sudden there’s a vocal sample of an old woman. You close all the other windows on your browser, trying to get rid of it, but then it’s gone. So the song continues, your soul is soothed, then a blast of joy comes in just after the 2.45 mark; listening, it made me feel alive. I’m looking forward to the release of the album next week (July 22) via Massif Records.
Hey, I know the internet is already abuzz with this video, as any new video from Zach Condon’s Beirut ought to bring, but it’s possible that you missed it. Newsflash: Beirut has a new album for the first time in four years coming out very soon on September 11th from 4AD, which you can preorder here, and based off “No No No” and this new single, “Gibraltar,” we’re in for something special. Whereas that first single was smooth and very jazzy, this new one as you’ll gather from the music video below, is choppy and percussive; Condon’s buttery vocals act as the lush element that strings all the distinctive elements together. Watch some of the band walk around on the beach in white below.
You’ve probably listened to Kelly Pratt thousands of times and not even know it. He’s the multi-instrumentalist who has worked with Beirut, Arcade Fire and even LCD Soundsystem, but now is his time to shine as Bright Moments. His album Natives has just been released, and you’re going to enjoy listening to this track–I guarantee it. It’s definitely a pop song, but it’s got all the careful brush strokes you would expect from a talented musician such as Kelly. It’s filled with horns, unique percussion and an overwhelming sensation of joyousness. Try this one on for size.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/08-Travelers-1.mp3]
Download: Bright Moments – Travelers [MP3]
“We’re alright, we’re alright” sweeping over a slow moving beat and creeping along with wailing guitars screams as the farthest thing from being actually alright. Accompanied by Zach Condon of Beirut, “We Are Fine,” the eighth track on Tramp comes across as a bold statement of purpose for this album and Sharon Van Etten’s style itself—pushing through while exploring the emotional turmoil that perhaps plagues this songstress and perhaps plagues us all at some point or another. Tramp is yet another staple of this exploration for Van Etten, whose raspy voice is power, often made grim by the words that are carried by it, and haunting in itself.
The album begins at “Warsaw,” which is by far the most jangly/garage rock number on this release. Squalling guitar brings you in at its crawling pace, and then Van Etten’s voice makes its first appearance. Juxtaposed against the raw instruments, the vocals appear at their sweetest here and it isn’t until the next song that you can really grasp the true force behind them. Second up is “Give Out,” on which the focus is transferred to the voice that sails above the guitar and minimalist percussion, and is yet tethered to the music by its deep resonant force. When Van Etten belts “you’re the reason why I’ll move to the city,” she reaches a sinisterly arching, skin crawling tone that oozes strength amidst destruction.
After this powerful track, “Serpents,” the lead single from Tramp gets its bitter say in its own chilling notes. More prominent percussion and borderline angry vocals command this song, driving it into corners and then letting it all go. Here is where essentially my only qualm with this record can be found: song placement. The first three songs are all brilliant and supremely gripping in their strength and boldness, and then the fourth song immediately drops from outward reflection to inward contemplation. All of the caustic and edginess is lost and Van Etten turns to a softer, more acoustic sound, which carries through the middle portion of the album and may have some differing reactions by listeners. Some may find this breakdown alluring in its real nature, and others may find it weak.
She does not end on a meek note, however, and brings back the power on songs aforementioned like “We Are Fine,” that stretch the vocals to boil and “Magic Chords,” which strikes the same fancy as the first few tracks on Tramp. It is a devastatingly beautiful number, and the same can be said for the whole album. You are transfigured by the sorrow found in Van Etten’s voice, and held down by its overwhelming strength.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Sharon_Van_Etten_-_Serpents.mp3]
Download:Sharon Van Etten – Serpents [MP3]
The five photos featured are my favorite moments shooting music this year. I want to share some background about them, what was going on when they happened. These aren’t the “best” photos I have taken, but they are all my best memories captured. Thank you, 2011 Live Music, and thank you Austin Town Hall for inviting me to be part of the team.
Break it for the rundown and a gallery of other favorites…
Sad times are upon us my friends. Emos has begun to close its doors; it even made big waves with the people over at Pitchfork. As we near the closing of the original Emos, we culled our favorite memories of the venue, and we hope you’ll share your favorites with us as well.
Although Beirut first stepped onto the musical scene five years ago, front man Zach Condon had been making music for much longer. In fact, Condon had been writing and producing music since he was a wee lad, holed up in his bedroom. So it was no real change to his life when he started producing music that others would hear; all the songs on his debut just felt like the hundreds of other songs he had already furnished. Audibly, this means a certain intimacy from the start, one that caught the attention of a large number of fans of this band, and one that continues to hold the attention of indie music aficionados with The Rip Tide.
The first song, “A Candle’s Fire,” starts off with some quiet accordion and then jumps right in to the horn’s ablazin’, jangly, folk pop that they do so well. After a brief instrumental interlude, Condon’s deep, yet alluringly nasal tones chime in, and the song carries on, backed by the rolling, marching band-sounding drums. It’s a good opening number, but it is no “Santa Fe,” or “East Harlem,” the two songs that follow it, which happen to feel like the singles for the album, as they stand out from the rest of the tracks on The Rip Tide. “Santa Fe” has synth backing that weirdly fits in with the classic instruments that Beirut introduced you to on their recent EP’s. “East Harlem,” the third track on the album, plays with the cohesive elements of Beirut’s normal sound, by having choppy percussion and constant piano carry the song.
Sadly, as this record progresses, it does not climax as all good records should, but simmers to its mediocre end. When I say mediocre with this band, it does not really mean the classic definition of boring and blegh that may apply to other music. For Beirut, a mediocre track means one that is still significantly better than what most bands produce, but with the expectations that I have for them, the tracks fall a little flat. There just isn’t that explosion into new territory that will blow a new or old listener away.
If you’ve listened to anything that Beirut has produced prior to this record, and liked it, then you will find that you will probably like this just as much. Sonically, this band doesn’t really go anywhere that far away from previous efforts, but this should not be a deterring factor; the group doesn’t go in a negative direction either. The result is a collection of songs, some better than others, which should fit nicely into your regular listening queue.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Beirut-New-Harlem.mp3]
Download: Beirut – New Harlem [MP3]