Return to 2007 #6 – Iron & Wine – The Shepherd's Dog

danieltalsky | Albums,Best of the Year,Reviews | Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I'm returning to 2007 to see how my Best Albums of 2007 list has fared this year before tackling the best of 2008.

Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

My review from the tinyblog:

If folk music has a future, this is it. Here's a guy pulling together the history of country music, indie music, rock music and folk music. What he makes doesn't sound futuristic, it sounds like American music at it's best. I could still be listening to this album when I'm sixty.

Sam Beam has a beautiful voice, I'll give him that. I was never so impressed by him before, as it sounded like just another pretty voiced folk music guy. It really takes more than that to impress me. M. Ward did it last year with Post-War, winning me over with his sheer brilliant songwriting and explosively pretty guitar interludes. This year Sam Beam is the man to win me over, but for different reasons.

First of all, this is not just a guy with a guitar. This is an incredibly rich and harmonious instrumentation: organs, steel guitars, an amazing mix of different percussion elements, and even a few electronic sounds thrown in there. But, it doesn't jar, and the whole album has a rich, unified sound. When I close my eyes and listen to this album it's like a golden grahams commercial, with pouring streams of honey colliding mid-air with tiny crunchy graham crackers. This is not a gimmick, this is a serious album. Whatever he was going for sonically, he nailed it on every track.

Next, this is some real, mature songwriting. You want to impress me? Write a song called Resurrection Fern and don't make it painfully obvious.

If you like your music straight-up beautiful and that's your highest ethic, then this album would have been #1 for you this year.

My Sweet Snob Commentary, a year later:

I sent the song Lovesong of the Buzzard to a friend in a mix CD and she said, "If I were stranded on a desert island with only that song, I'd be happy with that."

It's true, this is an album you can listen to a lot, and I don't know if I've found the bottom of its well of beauty. It's at once serene and exciting.

Sam Beam's sweet whispery voice goes down easy, sure, but this album alternately coos and clatters and he leaves little treasures in every song.

Lovesong of the Buzzard (I probably would pick a different song if I only had one, myself):

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/03-lovesong-of-the-buzzard.mp3]

House by the Sea:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/05-house-by-the-sea.mp3]

The Astounding Jagjaguwar

danieltalsky | Reviews | Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

JagjaguwarLogo

What the hell is a Jagjaguwar?  Who the hell knows.  Okay, due to Wikipedia I do know.

For one thing, it's a record label.  For another thing it's evidently a name that was randomly generated using a Dungeons & Dragons random character name generator.  Nerdy enough?

But this label, out of Bloomington, Indiana of all places, is putting out some of the most amazing music of the past two years.

If they had put out nothing but albums by Bon Iver, Okkervil River, Black Mountain and Sunset Rubdown, they would already be one of the most impressive labels out there right now, but they have an amazing (if uneven) roster of amazing indie names.  This is a serious up-and-comer.  Let's put it this way, I'd take a paycut and move to Indiana to be their web developer.  That's how serious I am about these guys.

They put out folk-rock albums and more by songwriters that rival Bob Dylan in his heyday.

Right now, these are my guys to watch. If they put out an album, I give it serious attention.

Return to 2007 #7 – The National – Boxer

danieltalsky | Albums,Best of the Year,Reviews | Sunday, December 7th, 2008

I'm returning to 2007 to see how my Best Albums of 2007 list has fared this year before tackling the best of 2008.

My review from the tinyblog:

Okay, I'm always going to be tempted to call them The Nationals, or American Mary, which they almost called themselves back in 2001.When I first heard this album I thought it was pretty boring. I thought their 2003 album, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers was way more inspiring.

It has grown on me, though. I'll admit, my top 4 songs carry the whole album, but those songs are great! This guy reminds me vocally of The Magnetic Fields, but without so much of the debauch sexual brokenness. The National is so much more Springsteenlike: political, a little defeated, pretty damn rockin'. By the time they shout, accusingly: "You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends!", I'm hooked.

One of the songs I love is Racing Like a Pro.  For days I had this in my head: "Your mind is racing like a pronoun." I thought for days about what such a lyric might mean, so impressed by it. Like, which pronoun? Did pronouns race? But no, that's not The National's style. The girl in the song's mind is racing like a pro, now. Oh god, that was a million years ago.

My Sweet Snob Commentary, a year later:

It's possible this one is a keeper.  There's always a Sunday late afternoon time doing errands where this is the perfect soundtrack to "last night before the work week".  The National's older albums don't even do it for me as much.  The National is the new soundtrack of being a half-awake city dweller.  And… if you live in the city you almost have to be that some of the time.  Even the I'm-so-aware-yoga-mommies of Seattle go around in a daze from the sheer weight of rules and schedules city life forces us into.

Racing Like a Pro(noun):

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/10-racing-like-a-pro.mp3]

Mistaken for Strangers:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/02-mistaken-for-strangers.mp3]

Return to 2007 #8 – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black

danieltalsky | Albums,Best of the Year,Reviews | Saturday, December 6th, 2008

I'm returning to 2007 to see how my Best Albums of 2007 list has fared this year before tackling the best of 2008.

My review from the tinyblog:

There is just no doubt that Amy Winehouse is a tremendous talent. I think that her bizarre life and substance abuse have somehow sullied her musical legacy in some people's eyes, but that's like saying Billie Holliday's musical legacy is somehow sullied because of her personal problems, and that's absurd. And yes, I think they approach being in the same league.

Amy is a songwriter and vocalist of the highest order. Her dark vision of the world matches her life, and it's as if a motown great of the 60's was transported to the present. If Amy survives her vices and personal problems and keeps making music like this, she will undoubtedly be considered one of the greatest pop female vocalists of all times. I tend to like Neko Case's less universal, more symbolic style of songwriting, but they are both very similar to me in terms of being the female vocalists that I'll chastise kids for not knowing about when I'm 60.

I did like Rehab and You Know I'm No Good when they came out, but the songs that I just find amazing these days are Me and Mr. Jones and Tears Dry on Their Own.

She shares a band with the similarly spectacular Sharon Jones (the Dap-Kings) and their new albums are remarkably comparable. I didn't hear Sharon's new album until pretty recently so it hasn't had as much time to grow on me, but to me, Sharon Jones fell short of the almost explosive brilliance of the best of Amy Winehouse. Maybe another dozen listens will change my mind. I don't care, I'm glad music like this is getting made today. This is a dirty, dirty, beautiful album.

If you already love this album, she just finally released her first album, Frank, in the US. It's no Back to Black, but it's still awesome.

My Sweet Snob Commentary, a year later:

Oh how I wish that Amy Winehouse had somehow got her shit together and was on her way to becoming the modern Aretha Franklin-like soul powerhouse of a generation.  Instead she actually did go to rehab a few times, her husband went to prison, and her life generally went to shit.  If she comes out with a new album in the next two years… well, let's just say I don't think it's going to happen.

This album is pretty timeless on its own though.  Let's just put the hits aside and talk about some of the other phenomenal songs.  For my money, I'd go with Tears Dry On Their Own and the astounding Some Unholy War.

If you really don't feel like you can live without a dusky-voiced damaged British soul singer, you could always try Adele.

Some Unholy War:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/09-some-unholy-war.mp3]

and the super-tuff Me and Mr. Jones, she's pissed because she missed the Slick Rick gig, but she'll let him make it up to her:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/03-me-and-mr-jones.mp3]

Return to 2007 #9 – Minus the Bear – Planet of Ice

danieltalsky | Albums,Best of the Year,Reviews | Thursday, December 4th, 2008

I'm returning to 2007 to see how my Best Albums of 2007 list has fared this year before tackling the best of 2008.

My review from the tinyblog:

The only person I know who was into Minus the Bear before this album doesn't like this album. She says it sounds like "something you'd hear on the END", basically generic alterna-rock. I listened to one of their older albums and it sounds just as much like it would fit in there.

In spite of that, I love this album and can't get enough of it. I have to admit, part of that is because it's so blandly listenable. The lyrics are poetic and evoke some sort of strange medieval journey. They've been compared to older prog rock like Rush or Yes, but I like how much less cheesy it is. There's some amazing guitar work, and the whole thing has a bit of an epic feel, but they don't do any 13 minute solos or anything. It just keeps moving and I feel a little twinge of regret when the journey is over and have to decide if I just want to play it again or not.

The vocalist, Jake Snyder, has a damn fine voice, and just keeps it easygoing and a little mysterious. I don't know what these songs are about exactly and he seems to like it that way.

They're local boys, and when this album was released, they did the record release party at the laserama here in Seattle with a little custom laser show. I remember thinking that was cool when it came out, but now that I'm into the album I'm kicking myself that I didn't get to see it. The Planet of Ice Laser Show would have been awesome.

My Sweet Snob Commentary, a year later:

Yes, this one is still a major comfort-food album, and to this day I still wish I could have seen the laser show.

I think I get the album a little more now.  I think I was unduly influenced by the mountainous album cover and first moments of the album.  When I originally reviewed it, I said I didn't really know what the album was about, and now I think I have a much better idea.  I thought the album was about some kind of quest on a planet of ice.  I don't think so anymore.

In the excellent HBO drama, Six Feet Under, there's a scene where one of the main characters has just begun dating after the death of his wife.  He befriends a hot yoga instructor who also has a young kid.  When he gets a little too needy on the independent single mother, she disdainfully puts him in his place.  He goes home and lays in his bed, and the camera pans out from his bed, showing it as it is in his mind: in an endless icy field, populated by no one.

This is the planet of ice Minus the Bear is singing about.  Most of the songs are frankly kind of chauvinistic, with some pretty old-fashioned ideas about male/female relationships.  There's a thread of masculine nobility throughout, but also a yearning for real human relationships that really fit, and not glorified romantic business relationships as in Dr. L'ling:

Don’t give me no hand-me-down love
It don’t wear the same
I want love that looks good on
With a fit that screams my name
Yeah, I was afraid

Of becoming a casual business man
On matters of the heart
Of becoming a casual business man
Or something even worse

I still love it's intricate, prog-inspired guitar work, and so now I understand why I liked the album's world-weary lyrical tone.  They're not going on a quest, they're just sick of what's been going on.

The lyrics I quoted are from Dr. L'ling:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/05-dr-lling.mp3]

and the totally lovely Ice Monster:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/02-ice-monster.mp3]

Pitchfork Web Developers – Rating: 3.4

danieltalsky | Reviews | Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

(…as snottily posted to the Pitchfork Media contact form last night after seeing a stupid error on their site)

In the modern 2.0 era of web development, AJAX and Social Networking features are easy to come by.  It seems that people need to be able to see each message they type to fade out to a soft grey before it's promptly cross-posted to Twitter, Friend Feed and Facebook.

It seems strange then, that meta-meta-meta reviewers Pitchfork Media have managed to leverage their brand online so poorly.  Like the sad old print media music reviewing they've only barely begun to edge out, they seem stuck in the past, with an "if it were good enough for my grandpappy, it's good enough for me" attitude.

Either that, or the poor publication is so impoverished that they can only afford to whip a poor tired intern into writing and maintaining a sadly aging PHP web application.

For basically a glorified blog, it doesn't have to do much to succeed at its task: serve ads, produce a competent full-text search (not too difficult in 2008, Lucene, guys), perhaps even separate its content into one RSS feed for the reviews and one for the news, and serve ads.

Alas, it fails even in these regards.  The design is pretty enough, but I suspect "Some Odd Pilot", much like some agnostic's conception of God, created the site and left it for dead.

For instance, one thing professional web developers tend to do, is in their PHP config files, turn debug output OFF, so that hapless users don't see a stack trace including SQL statements and file paths like tonight's excellent partial-showstopper:
Warning: Table './pfork_media/sessions' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT u.*, s.* FROM users u INNER JOIN sessions s ON u.uid = s.uid WHERE s.sid = '6c20c3ddb945e1dcb13e6c0bfcdd2e43' in /usr/www/users/pforkm/media/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 128

Really though, all of this is nitpicking.  Reviews are the core of the site.  Why can't I see a list of reviews by month?  Why do reviews show up on the RSS feed before they show up on the website?  Why is there no good way to page back chronologically through reviews on the site?  Why can't I sort them by Artist?  Album?  Are these guys actually generating revenue?  They seem so smart!

And hey, I don't want to drop the 2.0 bomb on you guys.  It doesn't have to fade or anything, but has anyone heard about this idea of building community around a website by allowing users to have profiles and communicate with each other?  Want a tip guys?  WordPress, out of the box could do a better job.

(Final note: I love Pitchfork Media and totally worship at their altar.  For those who don't get the joke, this is me writing a Pitchfork-Style review in something like their format.  I hope they find it 1/3 as clever as I do, they're kind of the original music snobs.)

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