Top Albums of 2012: 50-1

Here it is.  I know you’ll hate it; I know you’ll disagree, but that’s not the point in making an arbitrary list.  We here at ATH worked really hard to fit in the tastes of the four of us, and when we decided upon our Top 50, it really boied down to simple math.  What albums did we love when they came out?  Do we still enjoy spinning those records months later? If they’re in the Top 50, then the asnwer is probably yes.  I mean, our Top 2 records came out in January, and still play a vital part in my weekly listening.  There’s no disclaimer here.  We are who we are, we like what we like, and we hope that’s okay with you. If not, drop us a line and let us know where we went wrong.

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Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory

Rating: ★★★★☆

It would be an understatement to say that Andrew Bird is an accomplished musician, as his work in the musical field spans a great distance. Through his work with Bowl of Fire as well as his own well-developed solo career, he has made a name for himself in the singer/songwriter category. He has generated quite a number of fans to support him and was asked to write an entire soundtrack for a film. Folksy tunes are his game, and his talent shines through everything he does—Hands of Glory is no exception.

Though this album is a fairly short release at thirty-five minutes, Bird doesn’t compromise on substance in the slightest. The first song is an excellent example of the brevity, yet complete nature of each individual number on Hands of Glory. “Three White Horses,” at three minutes, blazes by, building to a dramatic crescendo at its finish. It’s pretty classic to Bird’s style—folksy and slow burning, at least in the beginning of the song. It starts with a bass-line and Bird’s bluesy voice, accompanied soon by backing harmonies and the track is mild, but then explodes into something more fiery; the wall of sound builds and then breaks in emotion that can be heard in Bird’s vocals.

The emotional quality of this album can be felt the entire way through, but it never gets too heavy. You have deeper cuts like “Spirograph,” on which Bird’s voice matches the guitar riff in a melancholy melody and the songwriting of this gentleman is exceptional if you really listen. But there are also lighter numbers like “Railroad Bill,” which evokes a classic country-blues number, complete with a barnstompin’ beat and a fiddle solo to match.

It all comes to a close with a blissfully serene nine-minute number whose simplicity overwhelms you. “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” is a treat to behold—the elegant over-arching string-work drifts in and out, alternating with opposing casual guitar strumming. I find myself swooning over the beauty of such a song, getting lost in the heavy violin sound and then picked up once more with the guitar and Bird playing out in his gentle way. Though it is nine minutes long, there isn’t a point in the song in which you even think about its length. On the contrary, you wish it would continue.

Here in Austin we’ve just experienced our first real cold snap of the season, signaling perhaps the hope of fall, but if you’re anywhere else really, cold weather is here. Hands of Glory makes a great listening companion to warm your inside with folksy bliss as you watch the leaves change colors. So throw on a sweater and jeans and let Andrew Bird keep you company.

Thao With the Get Down Stay Downs – Know Better Learn Faster

thao---know-better-learn-faRating: ★★★★☆

Prior to listening to Thao with the Get Down Stay Down’s new album, Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars), I knew absolutely nothing of Thao Nguyen or her band.  Boy, am I glad that has been remedied!  Know Better Learn Faster has got to be one of the most pleasant listening experiences I have had in some time.

Those who have met me know that I am not drawn to dance parties or music played at dance parties, but I have to tell you, Nguyen has crafted a tight and whimsical long player that is essentially a dance party on a five inch piece of plastic (or a twelve inch slab of vinyl, depending on your tastes).  Starting with rowdy hand clapping and foot stomping of ‘The Clap’ you are transported to a sweaty living room filled with pulsating bodies.  The thirteen tracks on this album are sweet and sexy and just plain fun.

The influences on this album tend to shift from song to song, which would normally irritate me, but somehow on Know Better Learn Faster, it works.  The music goes from Minus the Bear to Andrew Bird to No Kill No Beep Beep era Q and Not U sometimes in the same song (see the title track).  Nguyen’s vocals are a little harder to pinpoint.  They are at time reminiscent of Nico, Rebecca Pearcy, or Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, which are all really good things!

I have a hard time finding something  bad to say about Thao and the Get Down Stay DownKnow Better Learn Faster is perfect for the changing seasons; it will continue to bring sunshine into these dreary Fall months.

Andrew Bird In Austin

andrewbirdThe always incredible Andrew Bird is passing through our town this week and you’ve got two chances to see him.  The first comes at a Waterloo instore on Wednesday which should start at 5pm with free keg beer.  Get to the instore early as it’s sure to be a popular one. The very next day, Andrew will be playing an intimate set at The Paramount Theatre downtown with music starting at 9pm.  That show is sold out, so check yourself some craigslist to find tickets.


Download: Andrew Bird – Oh No [MP3]

Loney, Dear – Dear John

LD8pgCDBookFrBkCvrRating: ★★★½☆

When you first press play upon your record player, you will immediately be transported to the days of yesteryear, listening to Warren G and Nate Dogg.  Opening track, “Airport Surroundings,” off of Loney, Dear’s newest album, Dear John, is drastically similar to a famed song from years back, but in a more electronic folk presentation.  As the album moves forward, Regulators, mount up!

If you could discard the merry tones of Emil Svanangen when listening to this record, you will find that the pleasant acoustic driven album he created last time out with Loney, Noir, has been largely removed with this effort. Sure, the album is pleasantly coated with layer upon layer of various musical elements, but we found that on the last go round. Here, he has immersed himself, and his band, into a darker spectrum.

Electronic sound patchwork beeps throughout, as string instruments carefully accompany  the melodies the band created.  It all comes across a little denser than the previous effort, which one could  be led to attach a darker quality to this album.  But, the one thing you can’t do is erase the quality and tone of Emil’s voice, which is the driving force behind this group.

Sure, at times, his voice is shrouded in layer upon layer, but on songs such as “I Was Only Going Out” you find yourself presented with the favorable voice of this songwriter.  Like Jason Lytle, there is a deeper tone carried with the vocal, but he still manages to sound extremely humble and personal.  Listening, you want to put all your faith in every word that he shares with you, which is perhaps why this record wins you over.

At times, the various elements that present themselves in each song can be a bit overbearing.  It’s a more complete sound, more so than on the band’s debut, but at times that can be a bit daunting for listeners.  In your search to find some sort of sentiment in the mist of music, you find Emil Svanangen singing to you, almost as if he’s not singing to anyone else at all.  Personable voice is one of those rare qualities, but here it will allow you to go through the entirety of the album, even when finishing a song sings like a Herculean task.  You’ll thank him for it in the end.

You can find Emil and his band opening for Andrew Bird all across our great nation, and set to hit home here in Austin on February 12th at the Paramount Theater.


Download: Loney, Dear – I Was Only Going Out [MP3]

Stream New Andrew Bird

If you’re growing impatient for the new Andrew Bird album, the nice folks over at NPR are streaming the entire thing right now.  The new album is entitled Noble Beast and won’t be out in physical form until January 20th.  Here’s whistle heavy first single from the new album “Oh No”.  Don’t forget that Mr. Bird is also coming through Austin on the 12th of February at the ParamountObstructed view tickets are all that’s left so scalping or alternative action may be in order.


Download: Andrew Bird – Oh No [MP3]

ATH Interviews: Calexico

ATH recently had the good fortune of chatting it up with famed songwriter Joey Burns about his Tucson based band Calexico. The interview should give you an adequate preview for the band’s upcoming sure to be sold out show at Antone’s on Friday night. Mr. Burns answers the tough questions and also reflects on his one and done stint as an actor. Follow the jump to read this incredible interview with Calexico’s front man, Joey Burns.

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