In the three years following Grizzly Bear’s full-band debut, Yellow House, Edward Droste and company didn’t exactly take great pains to keep the details of their new record a secret. And we, the indie faithful, paid very close attention. We read Stereogum and Pitchfork, lingered on Droste’s mod est eloquence when he granted interviews to a smattering of publications. We learned that the record was conceived and written at the famous Glen Tonche estate in upstate New York, recorded at Droste’s grandmother’s home off Cape Cod, and completed in a church in New York City. We learned that the songs were written by all four members—Droste (guitar), Daniel Rossen (guitar), Christopher Bear (drums) and Chris Taylor (bass/woodwinds/electronics)—instead of Droste and Rossen only. We learned that Nico Muhly would provide string arrangements on several tracks, and that Beach House’s Victoria Legrand would sing on one ("Two Weeks"). We breathed a sigh of relief when “Cheerleader”, an album track released earlier in the year, didn’t let us down. Some of us even managed to hear an awful quality rip of the record months prior to its release, although this was certainly not the band’s intention. It’s almost as if Veckatimest came, saw, conquered and peaced out before stores even began to sell it.
Are the Avett Brothers the Next Big Thing? They certainly bring formidable weapons to the sweepstakes. The Avetts, guitarist Seth and banjoist Scott, are two sweet-singing, super-handsome bros who harmonize on idiosyncratic, soulful folk songs about love and family and connection, the kinds of tunes that inspire lots of linked arms and swaying heads from their fiercely-devoted fans. Signs at Avett Brothers shows often read “Avett Nation”, which feels accurate enough when the crowds of plaid-clad grad students dig deep and sing along in ecstatic unison. The North Carolina band, rounded out by bassist Bob Crawford and touring cellist Joe Kwon, have built up quite a head of steam lately, releasing the well-received Emotionalism in 2007 and the Gleam II EP last year, which marked the boys’ strongest songs yet (and some sweet beards—Seth was looking pretty Pennsylvania Dutch there for awhile). It’s no wonder that the Avetts caught the attention of Rick Rubin, who signed the band to his Columbia/American imprint and produced their new major-label debut, I and Love and You.
This is country music the way God intended it to be. On his second set for Lost Highway, this Texas-reared singer-songwriter delivers a dozen tunes full of hard living, hard drinking and hard rocking. The album could just as well have been called Roadhouse Son as Bingham’s biography reads like the lyrics of a country song, the tale of a young talent nurtured by roughnecks and raised on rough times.
The first Fuck Buttons LP, last year’s Street Horrrsing, sprawled without actually doing anything. Empty gestures and energy directed towards no eventualities. Folk were disarmed by their readiness to balance the noise with big melodic statements, but it was done without finesse. Their live shows around the time were predictable in the way they dealt in such monochromatic shades as the album—we were either building and exploding, or just whis pering. It is heartening that with their second, Tarot Sport, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power seem to have found some semblance of intent and an appropriate outlet for that manic energy. They have discovered that there are infinite shades in between the extremes. You might describe it as ascending from Duplo to Lego.
Wilco’s success is largely due to their ability to continually surprise, if not outright confound, their audience. Their first five albums saw the band transform from alt-country torchbearers to Wall-of-Sound sculptors to post-rock deconstructionists. Facilitating this transformation was a steady rotation of band members, moving both into and then out of the ranks, eventually leaving frontman Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt as the only two orig inal members. Looking back over their career, it’s easy to see that this constant shuffling of members propelled Wilco’s sonic evolution.
Back in 1973, Arlo Guthrie made a record about being The Last Cowboy in Brooklyn. But that statement has, for better or worse, proven false. Plenty of dudes are sitting in the meat district right now plucking on an acoustic and listening to their Willie Nelson records, doing their best take on lonesome in the crowded city. And there’s not hing wrong with bringing the country to the city—in fact, there’s some downright classic music that has resulted from just that action. But country also does just fine on its own—you know, out in the country—so it begs the question of why more artists don’t inject some more city into that country sound.
Brother Ali, you bad mufucka, you have done it again. But should this come as a shock? Each and every album or EP he releases is, at the very least, good, if not great. With six previous efforts under his belt, this Minnesota emcee—known for his storytelling, incredible lyrics, and gripping voice—very rarely disappoints. At the most, he might record one track or verse that sounds forced or out of place every few years. Yet, even that sounds like a stretch for this nearly flawless artist. He has touched on topics from across the gamut, brought us into his family life, told us just why he’s such a bad mufucka, and so on in his nine-year career. He really is the whole package and then some.
In today’s culture, the blogosphere moves with such spitting tenacity, and wields such a ruly force over independent music, that once-loved darlings of the self-appointed press become enemies of the state before their first scrap of music is ever officially turned out for public consumption. While the whole issue of today’s scene vs. yesterday’s scene is, of course, one of subjectivity, the issue over the immediacy of release and influence—and the rapidly diminishing gap between the two—is one of absolutely no debate. Enter Real Estate, whose debut album this week has been precipitated by indie stalwarts the globe over generating a steady stream of ever-glowing buzz. Their detached emotionalism, ragged endearment, dominance of atmosphere, and consolidation of a scene’s worth of musical attributes may make them prime candidates for scorn, backlash and overzealous categorization, but underneath all of those lingering, superficial observations lay several crucial elements that separate Real Estate from the wild pack of indie up-and-comers and anoints them a certain degree of transcendence over their peers.
Beyond (2007) found the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr.—J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph—reunited after 20 years. That album began with a head-spinning, fuzzed-out guitar line on “Almost Ready” that triumphantly announced the second coming of a classic American band. The songwriting and execution found on “Almost Ready” and on the rest of the fine work that followed, displayed a singular focus even in the midst of all that muddy shredding. Barlow and Murph sounded as rhythmically locked-in as ever and J’s guitar heroism moderated, but never overwhelmed, the proceedings. The unexpected rush of the reunion and the direct, enthusiastic playing gave the album a sonic giddiness, a certain crackle of energy. Two years later, the resurrection of Dinosaur Jr. continues unabated with Farm, but even if the band sounds a bit too comfortable at times, their second post-reunion record won’t disappoint.
Unlike many young bands that need time to find their identity, Baroness arrived five years ago with a fully-formed sound that immediately separated them from the rest of the American metal pack, the early First and Second EPs and the 2007 split with Unpersons, A Grey Sigh in a Flower Husk, subtly morphing from monstrous, sludgy post-metal to the broad, all-encompassing style of 2007’s acclaimed Red Album. Theirs is a sound that’s difficult to pin down, with traces of mainstream American metal, early 1970s progressive rock, Southern rock, the dissonance of Fugazi, the classic gallop and twin guitar work of Thin Lizzy, and the stripped-down, straightforward approach of a jam-oriented indie rock band, pure heaviness offset by an often startling knack for arresting melodies, either from guitar or John Baizley’s robust vocals. For those who are wary of the seeming impenetrability of more extreme-minded contemporary metal, the Red Album was far more welcoming, its openness to sounds outside the genre and ability to integrate everything seamlessly lending itself an inclusive rather than exclusive quality.
No one would make the mistake of calling Watch Me Fall a polished album. If 12 raucous songs in 32 minutes is pretty much par for the course for punk, then Jay Reatard is getting his PhD. After stints with the Reatards and Lost Souls, Reatard is something of a seasoned pro, but he still sounds delighted by the newness of the music he’s making. This is his second solo release after over a decade in the music business, and it’s properly brill iant.