Posts Tagged 'Avett Brothers'

This is what I done: Top Ten Albums of 2009

Let’s get right to it. In settling on my top ten albums of dearly/gladly departed 2009, almost all the tracks that I lingered on turned out to be the slower numbers. Could it be a commentary on the year, one that saw my own household and the nation at large work with considerably meager resources and disproportionately grand expectations, resulting in the need to draw something more than simple pleasant distraction from music? Or could it be that the weather outside is soggy and cold and I’ve been operating in my pajamas with a bit of a hangover, thus making peppy dance songs sound less enticing? It’s hard to tell. But like I said earlier, no further delay!

10. Why? ~ Eskimo Snow ~ Anticon

Like the clownish guy at a party, Yoni Wolf knows how to get your attention right off the bat, as evidenced by the first words on Eskimo Snow when Wolf explains, “I wear the customary clothes of my time like Jesus did, with no reason not to die.” But Why?’s work goes beyond non sequiturs and bon mots, not to mention bizarre punctuation tendencies. The lyrics come from an absurdist’s vigilant eye, and the bell-heavy music makes the horny preoccupations in songs like “In the Shadows of My Embrace” appear almost whimsical. The production gets a little silly on more than a few of the tracks, but you can think of that approach as the funny man from the party pulling out all the tricks he knows to get you to smile.

In the Shadows of My Embrace

9. mewithoutyou ~ It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright ~ Tooth & Nail

This past year, the Decemberists put out a record that barely sounded like the Decemberists of albums past. So while that band explored their hard and prog rock proclivities with mixed results, a band called mewithoutyou from Philadelphia assumed the helm of braying vocals and evocative, well-read lyrics. The rousing music giddily pulls the listener through mewithoutyou’s tableaus of modern-day mythology, drawn from pastoral imagery, religious folklore, and hyper imaginations.

Goodbye, I!

8. Fanfarlo ~ Reservoir ~ Atlantic

It’s a double-edged sword when a band boasts rich layers of orchestral instrumentation as well as lush production values, in that the final product can sound nearly clinical, too pristine to have been made by human beings. All the same, there’s no denying that Farfarlo’s Reservoir is a booming, gorgeous album that sounds just as eloquent in a miles-wide amphitheater as it does in the few square feet of one’s bedroom.


7. Neko Case ~ Middle Cyclone ~ Anti-

You could spill ounces of toner in rapturous descriptions of Neko Case’s cool and confident voice, her pretty red hair, and her impressive résumé of projects. The component of Case’s work that often gets overlooked is the honest, thoughtful quality of her song-writing. On Middle Cyclone, she assumes the forms of a lovesick tornado, a prematurely married girl, and occasionally, a smart and bruised woman who has allowed herself to indulge in romantic fantasy for just a little bit too long. There’s a lot of anger in Middle Cyclone on behalf of the wronged earth as well as its unjustly treated inhabitants. Since Case herself has tried to avoid the use of metaphor in her songs, I’ll back off the hackneyed “force of nature” reference and say flat-out that this album is lovely and, just below the surface, even more brutal than the sword on the cover.

Middle Cyclone

6. Laura Gibson ~ Beasts of Seasons ~ Hush

It’s extremely appropriate that I saw Laura Gibson perform at a big, old church in downtown Portland this last year. The obvious reason is her album’s, Beasts of Seasons, dual themes of communions and funerals and the related explorations of loss, grace, and self-improvement. All Christian associations aside, the main reason I’m grateful to have heard Gibson in that venue is because the broad acoustics serve her soft, husky voice and careful fingerpicking style perfectly. Part of the notion of church, part of the reason some of us failed Catholics squirm at the very mention of mass, is the requirement that an attendee sits quietly and attentively. But it doesn’t feel burdensome when you get to listen to Laura Gibson sing. It’s the best way to hear her.


5. Avett Brothers ~ I and Love and You ~ American

The brethren Avett became grownups in 2009. That’s not to say that the two thirty-something brothers and their bassist, Bob Crawford, haven’t done a ton of growth, from their country roots to their stellar 2007 album, Emotionalism. But despite the fact that I and Love and You is the band’s major label debut and supported by the magical ear of Rick Rubin, there is a profound level of humbleness in the thirteen tracks. There is confidence without cockiness, though the effortless harmonies and bobbing pianos certainly afford the band some bragging rights. There is also a dominant insistence on love and acceptance minus the need to shroud such a desire in irony or gimmicks. You might call such a perspective naïve or ambitious, but just a minute into the title track, you already understand that the Avett Brothers have earned the right to ask for something epic.

I and Love and You

4. David Bazan ~ Curse Your Branches ~ Barsuk

During his live performances, in the breaks between numbers, David Bazan famously has his audiences ask him questions, and when I saw him at Mississippi Studios a couple months ago, a person asked him why he fell out with his faith. Bazan’s response? “Because I determined that it was bullshit.” But somehow, in spite of his recent uprooted stance, Bazan’s work is free of self-pity. He holds nothing back as his narrator watches his grasp slip away in the slide toward alcoholism and helplessness. In a year that struck a healthy fear of the unknown in a lot of people, a voice as shrewd and generally hilarious as David Bazan’s is a welcome form of assurance.

Lost My Shape

3. Dirty Projectors ~ Bitte Orca ~ Domino

It might be easy to dismiss the Dirty Projectors as a hipster fad. They were covered by a ton of artists from college a cappella groups to famous sisters. They earned the devotion of Questlove. The band is from Brooklyn, for goodness sakes. All the signs of twee are present, but nevertheless, the eccentric mind of Dave Longstreth and the fresh-faced folks who make up the Dirty Projectors produced an inventive, thrilling record. While most music critics as well as fellow musicians remain stumped about how to describe what the Dirty Projectors sound like, the factor you can count on throughout Bitte Orca is that you have no idea what each song will do. With every dizzying run of Longstreth’s guitar, blast of sound after a quiet interlude, and choral spasm from Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle, the album may be too haphazard for some listeners, but the rest of us are too busy having our socks knocked off to care.

Temecula Sunrise

2. Rodrigo y Gabriela ~ 11:11 ~ ATO

If you’ve followed this blog, you already know that for me, 2009 was a year for a multitude of live music and a score of bizarre maladies. So when I contracted H1N1, it was less of a surprise and more like a running gag in a sitcom. I tried not to bitch too often about the various illnesses that plagued me, but I am still so pissed that the swine flu kept me from watching Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Schnitzer in October. “But you saw a bunch of shows, what does it matter?” some of the less perceptive of you might ask.  To that body of imaginary readers, I would direct you to obtain a copy of 11:11, press play, and proceed to have your aural cavities rocked in a way they have not previously been rocked. Because if you already knew what the duo is capable of, you’d be pissed at my side. Each track on the album is a tribute to artists who have influenced Gabriela Quintero and Rodrigo Sanchez, and based on the frenetic rhythms and enthralling guitar work, every listener should be just as thankful. If you happen to be in Australia, Japan, or Western Europe this year, see one of the band’s concerts for me.

Santo Domingo

1. Elvis Perkins in Dearland ~ Elvis Perkins in Dearland ~ XL

There is no algorithm to picking one’s favorite album of the year. You could arrange your iTunes library by the highest play count numbers then do a bit of fuzzy math under the influence of a few glasses of Malbec, maybe with some improvised program of Obscure Band Affirmative Action tossed in, so you appear open-minded but not indiscriminately so. But that just isn’t the case. Sometimes, you only need a snip of a given album, and you already hear that album playing on a days-long loop from your stereo. You memorize the words from a couple songs within a day. And even if you listen to technically more deserving albums afterward, if someone were to grab you at gunpoint and demand that you name a favorite album – because that’s totally what armed assailants want to know – you would give that album’s name.

As soon as I heard Elvis Perkins sing, “What am I if bound to walk in chains ’till I die?,” I knew what I’d be writing about in this entry.

While the song that the line comes from isn’t even the best one on the album, the emotional hooks that the song plants serve as a handy representation of what the rest of the self-titled effort does. Some of that response has to do with the music, which swings from deliberate and morose to airy and lively, all carried by Perkins’ passionate tenor and the band’s generous supply of instruments. Part of the album’s resonance is in its subject matter, which bids goodbye to loved ones from the past, present, and even future in the indomitable single, “Doomsday.” On a very personal level, however, I think the reason Elvis Perkins in Dearland tops my list is because it’s exactly what I needed to hear this year, as age and the nebulous notion of an impact started to weigh on my mind more than effective hangover cures and dinners that can be cooked within half an hour. This album has a few great tracks by which to brood, much like Perkins’ debut, Ash Wednesday. But at the same time, when I begin to take it all too seriously, the album hones in on the fluidity of joy in day-to-day existence. In 2010, I hope that the balance between documenting and living life becomes easier to negotiate, and I hope to do that with the kind of skill this album possesses.

Hours Last Stand


Don’t take your business to the big time unless it sounds like this

I am thankful for boys with strings

Nothing says America like home shopping, rock and roll with proud country roots, and breaking shit for no reason. As you embark on your Thanksgiving plans, whether they involve Tofurkey, bitter arguments fueled by red wine, or camping out at the mall at midnight, be sure to take a break and check out the Avett Brothers’ video for “Slight Figure of Speech” from their recent full-length, I and Love and You. This has been a breakthrough year for the boys from North Carolina. The band transitioned to American Recordings for their latest record, and with that step took on the masterful ear of producer, Rick Rubin. I and Love and You highlights the band’s skill and comfort with discussing love in its myriad shapes, from its abashed and slippery expression in the opening track, which shares its name with the album, to its wide-eyed, bare-boned declaration in “Kick Drum.”

But sometimes, all that waxing poetic on the subjects of desire and devotion can be a little much. The video proves that even though the Avett Brothers have made it to the big-time, they can still cut back and have the same hootin’ and hollerin’ fun they’ve had in their nine years of tireless touring and numerous releases on the Ramseur label. Although the music takes a while to start (roughly two minutes into the video), the result is the opposite of tryptophan.

  • “Slight Figure of Speech” ~ Avett Brothers ~ I and Love and You ~ American Recordings

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Don’t let it be their death knell

Yes, she's a man-a-man-a-maneater.

Yes, she's a man-a-man-a-maneater.

Lazy blogging ahead! Just to warn you, I’ll be dipping into not one but two pre-existing sources to bring you this entry today. In my defense, with American icons shuffling of this mortal coil left and right, there’s a lot to think about. But before I take a dip into the reflection pool, I want to let you know about a benefit concert where attendants can jamboree in the name of feminism. I hate to belittle the significance of the cause by mixing it in with the news of two celebrity deaths. On the other hand, just like a tightly designed Tinkertoy structure, it will all connect in the end.

Bitch magazine, like many media outlets, has been operating with a graceful but noticeable limp in the last few years, given consumers’ recession spending habits and the slow demise of print media in general. So the gals who write and run the publication are throwing a multi-band hoe-down to raise funds and keep themselves afloat. If you have no idea what Bitch is all about, let me direct you to the Yelp review I wrote about them last September:

Just over two years ago, I headed into Powell’s and picked up a coffee and a copy of Bitch. I had spent the last few months packing my belongings, carting them every which way, and then setting them in a garage before getting lost in the Mediterranean for about a month. I had no clue what the world outside of my own life was up to. Dubya and cronies still around? Damn it!

I was delighted to learn that the magazine’s headquarters had moved from the Bay Area to my new hometown of PDX. Maybe that had everything to do with self-identification, in that I also made the move from Northern CA to Portland with the objective of decreasing my overhead while continuing (starting, really) to crank out creative projects. But mostly, it was like walking down the block from your apartment, running into an old friend, and discovering she lives just around the corner. And your friend is that super-clever gal you met in your Feminist Theory class who always asked the most provocative questions but still managed to make appearances at the hip shows downtown. Your friend helps keep you informed and in touch with the third-wave leanings that drove you to register for that class where you met in the first place. And your friend is tireless in the promotion of gender equality in the most mundane of places, from the trashy reality shows you love to the people you put into public office.

Some have accused Bitch of striking too self-righteous a tone. Some might call the writers humorless (untrue, as it takes a remarkably strong sense of humor to comment on the state of our world). Some consider it a shot in the foot that the magazine strives to remain free of corporate influence through its limited range of sponsors. I fully disclose that as a writer and a feminist, I’ll defend this publication to the devastating end. But I’d rather not use the played-out dogma of “Support it! It’s edgy! Keep Portland weird! Waaah!” Instead, I encourage a trip to the bookstore or library of your choice to check it out for yourself. Gain that extra perspective so you can either further inflate or adjust your ideas, or let it preach to your Le Tigre-listening, Ehrenreich-reading inner Grrl. All I know is that should the McCain-Palin machine invade my womb and plant a None Yo Business No Mo’ stamp on my uterus, I want well-made implements to fight the incursion. And they say bitches can’t handle tools.

Fortunately for bitchy-minded people of all genders, the show includes Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside. Ms. Ford sings with a childlike warble similar to Joanna Newsom’s, and in the spirit of empowered women, vigorously sings and strums her guitar as the bandleader. If their music doesn’t make you bounce, then it’s quite probable that your knees need a check-up. Hopefully, it’s just the added dollop of whipped cream you need to encourage your support of a publication dedicated to outspoken critical thinking. Bitch has certainly influenced my ideas, not to mention presented countless examples of nerdy women and men who make a living in the creative sphere and keep my writerly barometer constantly percolating. I’m more than certain that the Bitch writers will have some astute commentary on the cultural legacies of both Farrah and Michael, and any opportunity to help those bitches maintain their outlet is worth at least some attention. Have a gander at this footage from Sallie Ford’s opening set at the Avett Brothers concert last in May below.

Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside will play at the Mississippi Studios on Thursday, July 9. Boy Eats Drum Machine, Katie Sawicki, and Sugar Shortwave will also play.

  • Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside ~ Not an Animal EP ~ unsigned

“Not an Animal”

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Offing one’s offspring is surprisingly catchy

At the McDonald Theatre in Eugene, OR, courtesy of BrainPie on Flickr

At the McDonald Theatre in Eugene, OR, courtesy of BrainPie on Flickr

Speaking of this South by Southwest business, one of the anticipated events of the festival is the Decemberists playing their whole upcoming album, The Hazards of Love, at Stubb’s on March 18. The album will hit stores on March 24. I’m pretty deflated that the likelihood of my traveling to Austin next week is on the same level as my venturing up to the moon. Especially saddening (for me, not so much for anyone fortunate enough to be at this show) is that the Heartless Bastards and the Avett Brothers are on the bill as the opening acts. Somehow, this makes the prospect of moon travel just depressing instead of exhilirating.

Still, I guess things could be worse. I could be the immoral narrator of the Decemberists’ teaser track off of The Hazards of Love. I’d have been married at age 21, saddled with more rugrats than I wanted (meaning any), and the solution to my unwanted parenthood would be calculated familicide. Actually, it could be even worse than that. I could be the wife of the rake, or much more dire than that situation, one of his children. But the chilling, descriptive details of murder are par for the course from the same band that brought us such gripping bedtime-story songs as “The Bagman’s Gambit” and “The Chimbley Sweep.” And really, we wouldn’t want it any other way. Stay away from foxglove, children!

  • Decemberists ~ The Hazards of Love ~ Capitol

The Rake’s Song

Superbowl recap in song

"So the doc says I got a fever, and he says the only cure is more cowbell."

"So the doc says I got a fever, and he says the only cure is more cowbell."

Whether you watched Superbowl 43 yesterday, became blackout drunk by the second quarter, or think I’m talking about a Marvel Comics character, on one thing I’m sure we can all agree: Football season is over. Halle-frickin-lujiah, bring on baseball. OK, that sounds kind of weird. But what’s that? Some of the players from yesterday’s game want to interject before they fall out of our consciousness for another seven months or so?

Hi, I’m Kurt Warner. You probably heard a lot about my road to redemption, with pit-stops at the St. Louis Rams MVP Triumph Court and Washed Up Backup QB for Arizona Lane. I thought it would have been really cool to have gotten a victory this Superbowl, but I’m not greedy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to inject some more lamb blood into my knee so I can make the walk to my car.

  • Coasters ~ Charlie Brown single ~ Atco 6132

Charlie Brown

Hi, I’m Ben Roethlisberger. If you’ve seen me play football, you know that I plow through 300-pound linemen to get the first down, throw crazily accurate bombs across the field, and now own two Superbowl rings that I can wear on my bratwurst-sized fingers. I won the game because of my fellow Steelers and because I am two parts tank. That one time I wasn’t wearing a helmet on my motorcycle? I lived because of the tank genes. Now if you’ll excuse me, another deli in Pittsburgh is naming a sandwich after me.

  • Avett Brothers ~ Mignonette ~ Ramseur

Hard Worker

Hi, we’re the Arizona Cardinals fans. Yes, we exist. And we’re not in the best of moods. You can save all your jokes about moving from Chicago to St. Louis and finally to Glendale and only winning a single championship game that occurred before the Superbowl even existed. It’s not easy being the perpetual underdog, all right? But we put up a pretty good fight for a while. It looked like we could have won until that damn James Harrison popped up and raced away with our dreams. We’ll keep at it next year, though. Really! We just need to review the broadcast of the game. Wait, what’s — Oh for the love of God! [Spoiler alert! There’s a penis in that link. And it’s waving hello.]

  • Glasvegas ~ Glasvegas ~ Columbia

Flowers and Football Tops

Hi, I’m Bruce Springsteen. 2009 is sure shaping up to be my year! I released that one record that I’m very, very sorry about. The Academy Awards totally snubbed my titular song from The Wrestler because they’re all corporate squares who just don’t get it, man. And I blessed the Superbowl-watching public with a crotch slide. But for all the uptight folks who don’t know how to cut loose, put down the chicken fingers, and have fun, all I can say? You’ll watch me preen onstage no matter what, so long as I play, “Born to Run.” I’m Bruce Springsteen, man!

  • Bruce Springsteen ~ Working on a Dream ~ Columbia

The Wrestler

Hi, we’re the Superbowl commercials. Remember when we used to be fun and loud and almost as big a deal as the football game? Well, we’re in a state of flux, what with declining consumer spending habits and growing public dissatisfaction at the excesses involved in advertising. Hell, we couldn’t even air that PETA ad that everyone saw via our arch-nemesis, The Internets. We did pretty well with the Conan O’Brien beer ad and even that treacly Bob Dylan/Pepsi retrospective. But no matter how many creepy and sexist commercials with Danika Patrick that puts out (huh huh), we know nobody really uses’s services anyway. And that Clydesdale in love offering was inexcusable. It’s telling that a ton of our ads this year were movie trailers for sequels and re-toolings. Now if you’ll excuse us, our writers need a nap. We’re just soooooo tired. If someone taps into the Next Good Original Idea, let us know. [Normally, I’d include links to all the things I’m talking about, but these are commercials. They’re well-exposed enough. Go to Hulu if you’re desperate.]

  • Bjork ~ Selmasongs: Dancer in the Dark OST ~ Elektra

I’ve Seen It All