A collection of musically themed musings by Brendan Bush in Burlington, VT

Favorite new (to me) albums of 2011

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Wicked Good Music
Written by Brendan
Tuesday January 10, 2012

My (mostly-inherited) vinyl collection got a lot of play this year – I’ve been trying to expand my musical knowledge & interest outside of the material that’s come out in the past 10 or so years.  I really never listened to much classic rock, jazz, folk, etc – I spent most of my childhood listening to hip-hop and (I’m not afraid to admit it) stuff like Dave Matthews Band.  So I missed out on many of the bands who influenced a lot of the music being created today.

I’ve worked my way steadily through 100 or so albums, and while some have been real duds (looking at you, Seals and Crofts), I’ve really taken to more than a few of them.  I’m not accustomed to writing about music from previous generations, but in the interest of sharing what I’ve been doing during the pretty sustained silence on this blog in the past 6 months, here’s a look back at some new (to me) favorites:

Steely DanCountdown to Ecstasy

I’m now ashamed to admit how little I knew about and how little I’d heard of Steely Dan.  I’ve listened to Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied, Can’t Buy A Thrill and Aja a few times each, and while the others have highlights, I really think Countdown to Ecstasy is the most impressive, cover to cover.  Speaking of, the photo on the back cover of this album has inspired more than one “who would you be in you were in Steely Dan” conversation, and is likely to inspire more as it’s definitely one of the most played LPs I have.

Countdown To Ecstasy on Amazon mp3

Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection

Packaged in a glossy, heavy duty cover and accompanied by a full-sized lyric booklet, this 1970 release, Elton John’s third, has also become a favorite.  With vague echoes of some of his better known tunes, this album has a really different sound than anything I’d heard of Elton John’s (which was admittedly mostly pop hits from later in his career).  A “concept album” about the American West, this album didn’t have any released singles, though I have a few favorites (“Son of Your Father” among them).  If you can get past some of the clunkier thematic elements and accept this as a concept album, it’s a great listen.

Tumbleweed Connection on Amazon mp3

Roberta FlackFirst Take 

Part soul, part jazz, Roberta Flack’s 1969 debut album was recorded when she was still playing intimate shows in tiny venues like D.C.’s Bohemian Caverns, a spot I frequented for a spell when I lived down there.  It is absolutely magical to put this album on, crank up the volume and close your eyes.  First Take has started me on yet another exploration, delving into the Jazz bins at Burlington Records.  If you’re in the mood for something a little different, you should definitely give this a spin.

First Take on Amazon mp3

If you’re unfamiliar with these albums, I highly recommend giving them all a listen.  If this post is old news to you, maybe it’ll at least serve as a reminder of how awesome these albums are, and encourage you to listen to them again.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Wet your whistle: The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Wicked Good Music
Written by Brendan
Saturday June 11, 2011

The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always HappyIf you hadn’t already gathered, I listen to a lot of music. I listen all day long – generally 6-8 hours a day. I buy 2-3 new albums every week. I’m a glutton for music. So it’s with no lack of consideration when I call an album the best thing I’ve heard all year. With their upcoming release I Want That You Are Always Happy, Australian band The Middle East has earned that honor and then some.

While the overall vibe of the album is bleak, haunting and sparse, it would be a grievous mistake to try and put this album into a single genre of music or even try to boil down the overall vibe into a series of adjectives. Its breadth is nearly as breathtaking as its depth, each carefully placed note just as important as the spaces in between. The absence of sound in many of the songs creates as much presence as the guitar, piano, saxophone, banjo, harmonica or any other instrument or vocal.

The abstract background noises on several of the songs remind me of CocoRosie’s 2004 album La Maison de Mon Reve. In fact, the comparison definitely doesn’t stop there – the ethereal nature of both albums leaves me wandering, mesmerized, searching for an unattainable reality. There is also a Paul Simon influence that appears on a couple of songs, but in truth, the sound that The Middle East creates is all their own, almost incomparable.

It’s only slightly ironic that I mostly feel like crying when I hear this album — one thing is for sure, The Middle East wasn’t talking to their audience when they named this record.

There are also a couple of downright rocking, gut-punching tunes on the album. “Jesus Came To My Birthday Party,” a guitar drenched, tambourine smashing bliss-out is probably the best song I’ve heard all year, and the raucous, saxophone laced “Mount Morgan End” proves The Middle East to be unpigeonholeable. I might have just trademarked a word…

So with that in mind, knowing that no one song could possibly represent what this album has to offer, I do want to share one single with you, “Hunger Song.” It’s by no means my favorite, but because I know I can share it with you legally, I’ve included it here to wet your whistle, as it were.

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If you’ve made it this far into my gushing review, the only thing I have left to tell you is that you must buy this album. It comes out on July 12.

Extra special thanks goes to Patrick at Missing Piece Group for bringing this album to my attention, and for looking beyond the BS-laden “exclusive release” nature of so many modern buzz bands. I can’t possibly do this album justice, but I appreciate your willingness to let me try.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Wrapup: Split Tongue Crow @ Shelburne Steakhouse 1/22/2011

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Concert Reviews
Written by Brendan
Tuesday January 25, 2011

I wrote about Split Tongue Crow’s self-titled debut album last year. What impressed me then was the same thing that I enjoyed about their show last weekend at Shelburne Steakhouse: vocalist Cara White’s voice.

Though I was a little skeptical of the venue, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the general ambiance and setup of the “stage” area at the Shelburne Steakhouse. For the most part, folks sat at tables that basically surrounded the floor to enjoy the easygoing folk sounds of Split Tongue Crow. The majority of their music doesn’t exactly lend itself to dancing, so the empty dance floor didn’t feel as awkward as it might have otherwise.

The show was well attended, and the band played many songs from their new album as well as several others. They had a good rapport with the audience, and drummer Matt Marro’s dry-humored (if perhaps overeager) banter kept things light.

Electric guitarist David Anderson, who spent much of the night re-tuning his cold weather averse instrument, could have spent a little less time with his back to the audience, as his impressive guitar work is certainly worth watching. Lead vocalist Eoin Noonan and bass guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Woods both sounded great — particularly Woods on “Midlife Missile Crisis,” my favorite from their album and from the show.

Like I said, Cara White was definitely the highlight for me. I didn’t actually pick up how much her vocals play into harmonies throughout their album, but her impressive contribution was on display on Saturday. Not to diminish how good the band sounded as a whole though – I’m significantly more into their music than I was before seeing them play live.

I definitely recommend seeing Split Tongue Crow when they come to your town (they play The Skinny Pancake in Burlington on Feb. 5). You can check out their full schedule, listen to their songs, and buy their album via this link.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

2010 Albums That Fell Short

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Guest Post
Written by Preeti
Monday January 3, 2011

[ed. note: to help me get through the holiday mayhem, I asked a few friends to write a post. Here's Preeti's contribution.]

I know I’m always asking what music other people recommend — bands you might never have heard of, exciting new albums from old favorites, etc. I mean this blog is a perfect example since it highlights just those artists (if you haven’t checked out Brendan’s 2010 Favorites you should). Here’s the thing, there are also those bands in the last couple years that you loved and then somehow, after waiting at long last for their next album it just didn’t seem to match up OR it was a vicious disappointment. The 10 albums below are just some of those for me this past year.

Maybe I’m whining but imagine it this way, one day you go to Cirque de Soleil and the next you go to a Circus. Mine ears have seen the glory.

I write this not in criticism (though I guess one could take it as such) but really, some of these artists have made amazing near perfect albums in the past, albums I play over and over and over. I write this as a proposition to these artists to reach back into their Mary-Poppins-like bags of talent and dig deep for what again could be musical mastery. In the interest of being concise I will follow the Twitter-inspired 140 character limit for notes below.

P.S. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — what may be disappointing for me, may be listeners gold for ye.

Band of HorsesInfinite Arms
Love the band but Infinite Arms lacked heart. Similar calm and ease from Cease To Begin but felt too rehearsed.

Belle & SebastianWrite About Love
Love The Boy With The Arab Strap forever. Couldn’t play this album more than twice. Need more instrumental (strings/brass) less synthetic.

Broken BellsBroken Bells
I was all psyched for Mercer + Danger Mouse but this album was less than the sum of its parts. [ed. note - though it didn't quite make my favorites of 2010, I thought this album was fantastic]

Hold SteadyHeaven is Wherever
Hopefully this is a transition album (to something better), until then we still have their other three albums.

M.I.A/ \ / \ / \ Y / \
WTF? Let down + crazy town. “Born Free” video controversy is the only reason this could have been popular. Maybe her wedding distracted her?

The NationalHigh Violet
Is everyone overproducing these days? Boxer, Alligator – great albums. I wanted to like it but just didn’t feel growth here.

Of MontrealFalse Priest
After Skeletal Lamping I wanted to like this but I couldn’t. Nothing stood out. Too much orgy, not enough music. I’m sure this is just temporary.

Rogue WavePermalight
Hard to beat Out of the Shadow & Descended Like Vultures, Permalight didn’t succeed. Reinventing with poppy electronic is a trend this year.

Indie band with a long history of great albums. This was not one of them. Everyone has a bad day.

Sufjan StevensAge of Adz
I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m not supposed to get it. Electronic + Sufjan = disaster.

Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Split Tongue Crow, Split Tongue Crow

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Local Bands
Written by Brendan
Friday December 3, 2010

Split Tongue Crow - Split Tongue CrowI often feel that there is some pejorative connotation to a qualification of a band as “local.”  It feels like by using “local” I am somehow putting a band in a lesser class.  I don’t know if that comes across to you or is just in my head, but it’s something that I don’t intend.

Because the fact is that while cities like Los Angeles and Brooklyn are well-known incubators of quality musicians, there are a number of Vermont-based bands who are putting out extremely high-quality music, but simply lack exposure.

The better for me of course, because I get to see these bands perform for a few bucks a pop, but I do feel like many of them deserve more recognition.

One such band is newly-named Split Tongue Crow (formerly Rogue Eyebrow), an alt-country outfit out of Rutland.  They’ve just released their self-titled debut LP, an easygoing, tender slice of Green Mountain Americana.

While much of the album has a fairly laid back feel, echoing roots in traditional American country music, there is definitely some guitar-laden country rock bubbling just beneath the surface.  “Avalon” which opens the album with Spanish-style string work, “Horizons,” and “No Reservations,” a slightly drawling tune that leans a little too far country for my tastes, show the potential to be fleshed out into heavier hitters at a live performance.

The songs featuring vocalist Cara White beside one of the male singers, like “Easy Come,” “Mother’s Okay” and “Midlife Missile Crisis” stand out as favorites of mine.  I dig the songwriting of the latter(“I’m hiding out in my own reverie, oh clever me/ no, never me, I’ll never grow old”), which to me is the highlight of the album.  The sorrowful tenderness, drowsy guitars and male-female harmonies are really touching.  Oddly I find myself craving Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” every time I hear the song.

“Manuel” picks up the pace a little bit, offering a bass-laden, danceable groove that keeps my feet tapping and my head nodding, while not feeling out of place on such a mellow album.

“The Day You Left This Earth (Dragonfly)” has a particularly personal connection to me, as the story of the dragonfly was related to me by my mother as a young kid, to help me come to grips with the death of a close family friend.  It may be an easy metaphor, but it worked for me then, and I can feel it working for White in this song.

One of these days, I’m going to catch Split Tongue Crow at a Burlington-area venue, and I can only hope that their live show captures the same character, emotion and honesty as this album.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Standout album: Out of the Shadow by Rogue Wave

Filed Under: Album Reviews
Written by Brendan
Wednesday October 27, 2010

Rogue Wave - Out Of The ShadowAs happens in the last several months of every year, I’m getting worn out from new music overload, and I’ve been re-exploring stuff in my music catalog from 2004 and 2005. Among the gems that I’ve found is Rogue Wave’s debut album, Out Of The Shadow. If this one isn’t in your collection, I highly recommend you pick it up.

At the time the album was re-released by Sub Pop in 2004, the band consisted of Zack [Schwartz] Rogue, bassist Evan Farrell, drummer Pat Spurgeon and guitarist Gram Lebron, though most of this album was written and recorded by just Schwartz.

The album evokes a gamut of emotions with its stripped down acoustic ballads and full-band, hook-driven pop songs. It has sunny, laid-back California vibes and darker, lonely undertones. There isn’t a misstep or a bad song on the album. Even in places where Schwartz’s lyrics seem trite or pun-based (in this postage stamp world / you can all get in line / and lick my behind), the lush musical accompaniment and the genuine emotion in his voice manage to overcome.

I saw Rogue Wave two or three times between the release of this album and their followup, 2005′s Descended Like Vultures, and they definitely stand out as one of the more entertaining acts from that period. Though I can’t say that I love the direction their most recent two releases have taken, I do think that Out Of The Shadow ranks as one of my favorite pop-rock albums of this decade.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Still Disappointed By Spoon’s ‘Transference’

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Guest Post
Written by Aaron
Friday August 13, 2010

Ed. Note: Brendan asked me to fill in for a few a few days. I’m happy to oblige.

I’ve struggled all year with Spoon’s latest album, Transference. With the band on the road this month (supporting Arcade Fire), I thought I’d revisit this record. I’ve tried to find more to like on Transference. I’m not sure I’ve been successful.

Some of Spoon’s more challenging and typical gimmicks are on display throughout — but the reverb, the left/right pans, and the abrupt cutoffs aren’t adding much anymore. (To wit, the end of “Mystery Zone.”) Maybe it’s just that the element of surprise is gone for Spoon. Or just played out.

But enough about my hangups. There are some subtle good things about this mostly ungreat record. My favorite spots:

  • The cover art – More on that later.
  • “Trouble Comes Running” – A neat little rock song with trademark sharp drums and fun melodies. Simple but good.
  • “Goodnight Laura” – A sparse, sweet, un-Spoon ballad that only seems Spoon-ike in it’s “alright, you’re alright” repetition.
  • “Got Nuffin’” – Not too bad. A great buildup from “darkness and shadows” traces its way to some pleasing guitar rock. But then it peters out. I love the line, “the flowers bloom and the trains collide, I’ve got nothin’ to lose.”

Transference isn’t Spoon’s best work. By far. If it hasn’t been obvious before, now it’s certainly clear how much Britt Daniel drives this band. A January New York Times interview painted a picture of bandmates who live in scattered cities, waiting for Daniel to send along his latest material. There’s nothing wrong with that model. And there’s nothing wrong with a band that has one very-central frontman. [As an aside, the 2002 split EP that paired a solo Britt Daniels with Bright Eyes is something you should definitely have in your collection.]

In that same Times piece, the band talks a bit about their carefree aesthetic. They’ve never done beards. They don’t care about hair… Whatever. It seems like they care a good deal about appearances these days. And it’s commendable. It’s hard to watch their live performances and not notice the stark black and white uniform — with Daniel himself often dressed entirely in white. The video for “Written In Reverse” carries that look forward with high-contrast black and white treatment throughout.

But nothing points to a keen non-musical aesthetic like the smart cover art on Transference. They’ve chosen a great photo from William Eggleston. The famed photographer (who died after Transference was released) snapped this image in Sumner, Mississippi in 1970. It works for the album and it keeps me looking back at the image when I’m listening to the tunes. [Spoon aren't the first band to choose an Eggleston photo for their cover.]

Perhaps Transference will grow on me. Perhaps I’ve already spent enough time trying to come to different conclusions. It’s a darker and less-fun record for Spoon. I would have really enjoyed a return of the horn section that graced some of their more recent records (and that joined them on tour as recently as last week). There are elements in Transference of Spoon at their best — or of Britt Daniel doing some great writing — but still… something is missing here.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.


Vampire Blues: reprise

Filed Under: Album Reviews, New Releases, Old Music
Written by Brendan
Monday June 21, 2010

Earlier this month, my friend and musical mentor Aaron wrote about the relevancy of Neil Young’s timeless album On The Beach. I want to both acknowledge that post, as well as pay the album, and particularly the song “Vampire Blues” some respect.

Since I purchased their 2010 release Vol. 2 earlier this year, I’ve been incredibly impressed with Wooden Shjips. And they certainly give a strong tip of the cap to Mr. Young in their cover of “Vampire Blues.” Amidst the throbbing rhythms and pulsating beats of this, Wooden Shjips’ second album of b-sides and singles, comes a tale foretold so long ago by one of America’s rock greats.

“I’m a vampire baby, sucking blood from the earth” opens the song.

“I’m a vampire baby, I’ll sell you twenty barrels worth.”

I find it hard to even discuss the catastrophe that is the Gulf oil spill right now. It’s too hard to comprehend the emotions that I’m feeling. But I feel like if I could possibly turn up Wooden Shjips cover of “Vampire Blues” to the point where every oil man and politician in this country’s ears were bleeding, it still wouldn’t be enough.

If you haven’t, pick up their album today.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Standout Albums: “A Balloon Called Moaning” by The Joy Formidable

Filed Under: Album Reviews
Written by Brendan
Wednesday June 16, 2010

The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called MoaningDuring my weekly music search, I’m often annoyed at the amount of Arcade Fire references used to describe bands. Having had my mind (and ears) blown by the muscular, triumphant sounds and crushing decrescendos of The Arcade Fire at The Orpheum Theatre in May of ’07, I have no tolerance for it. It’s just not possible to make as much noise as them and still make it sound beautiful.

So I’m going to try my hardest not to be that cheap with my descriptions of The Joy Formidable‘s A Balloon Called Moaning, despite the obvious ease of such a comparison (see how I worked that in there, while at the same point dismissing it?). I’ll also try not to draw any simplistic connection between this album and Metric’s latest release, Fantasies, but know that I’m trying really hard.

The Joy Formidable are Ritzy Brian on vocals/guitar, Rhydian Dafydd on vocals/bass and Matt Thomas on drums – a London-based rock trio with serious sound. They’ve filled A Balloon Called Moaning with thrashing drums, driving guitar riffs and haunting vocals. I’m a sucker for accents – any accent will do, really – and The Joy Formidable don’t disappoint. Ritzy’s voice manages to shine through all of the sound, and on some songs – notably “The Last Drop” – almost serves as a sedative to offset the gushing energy of the music.

“9669″ is fairly stripped down compared to the other songs, and shows shades of a the theatrical male-female duet mastered by Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan of Stars. But you could almost miss the song entirely with such rich, powerful and emotionally charged music surrounding it.

It is definitely impossible to sit still while listening to this album. And I don’t run, but Rachel swears by A Balloon Called Moaning as a motivational jogging (soft j) companion. I guess my twitching, tapping feet and nodding head would tend to agree with the sentiment.

I highly recommend this album, and think you’ll find yourself turning it up and bobbing along with me in no time.

Check out the official video for their tune “Austere” from A Balloon Called Moaning:

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Old Music: Neil Young’s “On The Beach” (1974) is an album for our times

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Guest Post, Old Music
Written by Aaron
Friday June 4, 2010

Ed. Note: Brendan asked me to fill in for a few a few days. I’m happy to oblige.

Neil Young promo photo for On The Beach

Promotional photo for On The Beach.

With summer approaching and oil gushing from the sea floor, I’ve been thinking this week about a classic record.  Neil Young’s dark, introspective On The Beach is a reminder that things can get messy.

Darkness abounds.  In “Vampire Blues,” Young sings about the thirsty oil industry.  Organs back his slow, hopeless romp.  The words are prescient given our current catastrophe:

I’m a vampire, babe, suckin’ blood from the earth …
Well, I’m a vampire, babe, I’ll sell you twenty barrels worth…
I’m a black bat, babe, I need my high octane…
Good times are comin’, I hear it everywhere I go.
Good times are comin’, but they sure are comin’ slow.

Have a listen:

In spite of the doom and gloom, there are plenty of reasons to love this album.

The track you may know best, “Walk On,” kicks off the record with guitars moving from bright to chunky to whiny.  And back again.  It’s a pleasant-sounding recollection of good times with good friends.  But the good times don’t last.  Some friendships crumble and our protagonist sings that, “sooner or later it all gets real.”  He looks back fondly but he knows when it’s time to move along.

The messy, sad beauty continues in other songs.  “Revolution Blues” follows a paranoid militiaman or perhaps a cult leader.  “For The Turnstiles” ends with the image of perpetually unsuccessful baseball players.

Neil Young, On The Beach, Front cover photo.But summer brings an escape.  In the album’s title song, Young reminds his audience that road trips can solve problems:

Get out of town, think I’ll get out of town. I head for the sticks with my bus and friends, I follow the road, though I don’t know where it ends. Get out of town, get out of town, think I’ll get out of town. ‘Cause the world is turnin’, I don’t want to see it turn away.

On The Beach is a beautiful record — recalling the politics and paranoia of a not-much-simpler era.  It’s a solid classic for your collection.

It’s worth noting that this was a tough album to find a few years back.  On The Beach and a few other Young records fell prey to the artist’s distrust of compact discs’ audio quality.  An online campaign a decade ago called “Release On The Beach” sought to change that.  You could illicitly download a set of scratchy MP3s from that early petition site (and I did).  In 2003, On The Beach was among the first batch of Young’s older albums remastered to CD (and I was eager to buy it).

Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.