Here are 50 songs that defined 2011 for me. This year, I only included one song per band, as I wanted to feature as many bands as possible.
Listen. Enjoy. Tell me what you think.
And yep, that's my ugly mug on the cover.
Here's the playlist:
1. Wilco - One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)
2. City Reign - Anywhere Anyway
3. The Mountain Goats - Never Quite Free
4. Zaac Pick - Whitewater
5. Yuck - Holing Out
6. The Tallest Man on Earth - Weather of a Killing Kind
7. Ryan Adams - Dirty Rain
8. Laura Marling - My Friends
9. The War on Drugs - Best Night
10. Bright Eyes - Shell Games
11. Radical Face - Always Gold
12. Beirut - East Harlem
13. Carter Tanton - Murderous Joy
14. Air Review - America's Son
15. Michael McGraw - Poorboy
16. The Middle East - Land Of The Bloody Unknown
17. The Antlers - Putting The Dog To Sleep
18. Megafaun - State / Meant
19. Bon Iver - Holocene
20. Robbers On High Street - Monkey
21. The Whiskey Saints - Curtains
22. The Far West - Bound to Lose
23. Dan Mangan - Oh Fortune
24. James Vincent McMorrow - Sparrow and the Wolf
25. James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream
26. Siskiyou - Twigs And Stones
27. Foo Fighters - Walk
28. The Black Keys - Lonely Boy
29. Iron & Wine - Walking Far From Home
30. Joshua Hyslop - If I Was a Better Man
31. J Mascis - Is It Done
32. Kurt Vile - Baby's Arms
33. Girls - Die
34. R.E.M. - It Happened Today
35. Fruit Bats - WACS (ft. J Mascis)
36. the august arrival - Through it all
37. Young Liars - Colours
38. Sporting Life - Immigrant
39. Alela Diane - To Begin
40. The Rest - The Last Day
41. William Fitzsimmons - The Tide Pulls From The Moon
42. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Stamp
43. Wye Oak - Civilian
44. Jim Ivins - House Of Three
45. Real Estate - It's Real
46. Snowmine - Curfews
47. David Thomas Broughton - Apologies
48. Creepoid - Old Tree
49. Cut Off Your Hands - You Should Do Better
50. The Dodos - When Will You Go
I've been thinking a lot about the list-making process. Someone recently asked me: What is the purpose of making a list? My initial reaction - because it's fun - is actually somewhat shallow. Is it really? Yeah, probably...somewhat...maybe? But if so, still: Why? In listening to me think out loud about this, my wife commented that she doesn't make lists for fun. Why, then? "To keep myself sane. To make sure I don't forget things I need to do."
In other words: To make order out of chaos. To provide structure to an unstructured world.
As humans we strive to impose order on that which has none. The world is big, random, and diverse. It would be cognitively overwhelming to even try to take it all in. So we put things into groups or genres or what-have-you, and then further lump them into sub-categories, and then start numbering them. It's a coping mechanism in the face of chaos. Otherwise we might go insane.
But I don't think that's the extent of it. Making these end-of-year lists IS fun. For those of us who write about culture (in any form), creating these lists is like trimming a tree, or whatever your own winter tradition entails. It's a conversation-starter and a community-builder. Seth Colter Walls of the Awl has a slightly different (okay, completely different) take, suggesting that lists bring people together in anger, not solidarity. He says a lot more than that, so of course I'm unfairly over-simplifying his article, but that's why you got the link above. While on the face of it, he's right - anyone reading this list is probably going to scoff that Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, Wye Oak, and Destroyer aren't here. (I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't get into any of those albums.) And others might point out that there's no hip-hop, jazz, dubstep, or whatever your favorite genre to defend is. Yes, my list has a bunch of rock, country, and folk, along with their indie- and alt- varieties. That's what I like. And you're going to enjoy scoffing about it. Nobody really gets so worked up about these things that there's ever any real manifestation of "anger." You'll think I'm an idiot for neglecting Kaputt, and I'll smirk that you actually fell for the saxophone trend this year.
Anyway, here's a list of albums I liked in 2011:
The Middle East first captured my attention with the easygoing "Land of the Bloody Unknown." The album's first few songs are rather unassuming in their quietude, but things really open up beginning with "As I Go To See Janey," the female/male vocals of "Jesus Came to My Birthday Party," and the aforementioned "Bloody Unknown." Other highlights included "Dan's Silverleaf" and "Hunger Song." Much of the remainder is fairly sparse, so your interest may vary depending on your appreciation for delicate folk arrangements. Either way, there was a lot of potential for this band, so it's a shame that they've already broken up.
Tripper was a solid collection of tunes from Eric Johnson & Co. There's some weird and unusual stories being told if you spend the time to dig into the lyrics. I feel compelled to mention "WACS," which wasn't even included on the record (unless you bought it digitally through iTunes), as well as the fantastic music video for "You're Too Weird." But beyond that, I think my favorite was the organ-romp "Dolly."
It actually took me a while to get into Days, which is somewhat strange, considering that other reviewers tended to talk about it in terms like "sun-drenched," "accessible," "effortless," and the like. "It's Real" grabbed me pretty quickly, but the rest took a while. Eventually I discovered that there's a lot to love in its wistful end-of-summer sound, especially with songs like "Green Aisles" and "Out of Tune."
Aggressive and dark, There Are Rules was the Get Up Kids' triumphant reunion record (not counting last year's Simple Science EP). It's not emo, but how many non-emo records does Matt Pryor have to record before people stop using that term? I count at least seven. (Completely arbitrarily-picked number, by the way.) My personal favorites were "The Widow Paris," "Regent's Court," and "Tithe."
Beirut's third album is full of songs that are pretty and charming, mixing horns, strings, and Zach Condon's confident crooning. "East Harlem" was one of my absolute favorite songs of the year. "Goshen" is a gem, as well. The Rip Tide is one of those records that seems to have been underrated this year (including by me), and I'm willing to bet I'm going to enjoy when I really begin to appreciate it sometime in 2012.
I wanted to make some joke about how I've been thinking about this album's title since January - you know, how kissing doesn't make you clean - but it's kind of vulgar and personal and my wife would likely divorce me. So, anyway...this isn't my favorite Iron & Wine record, but it's showing up here because I have a lady to please and she makes awesome meals and pays half our mortgage, so I feel like I shouldn't upset her by snubbing it. It's got some pretty good tunes on it, too, especially the first and last tracks.
Colin Meloy has one of the most distinctive voices in music. There's no way you could hear him sing and not think, "That's a Decemberists tune." I'm not sure how that's relevant to The King is Dead, but...there ya go. The Decemberists stripped things down a bit on this one, opting for simpler song structures and more of a back-to-basics Americana feel. And it worked really well, especially on songs like "January Hymn," "Down By the Water," and "This is Why We Fight."
A seemingly overlooked album, The People's Key contained one of my favorite songs of the year, "Shell Games." There's always the December complaint among list-readers that list-writers tend to neglect stuff released in January and February, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case here. It's like everybody forgot that Conner Oberst is indie rock's darling. I can almost imagine the guy as he's reading these lists, thinking, "Um, hello? In case you hadn't noticed, I put out a record this year."
Bright Eyes - Shell Games
Along with the People's Key (above), Mascis' solo album was one of the great overlooked records of 2011. Almost entirely acoustic, Several Shades of Why showed a different side of the Dinosaur Jr. frontman. With lyrics that often speak of isolation and self-doubt, Mascis normally buries his voice beneath a wall of distortion. This time, the themes aren't so different, but Mascis' vocals were confidently front and center. "Is It Done" was one of my early and enduring favorites from the year.
The Far West made me excited about country music in 2011. Channeling the spirit and sound of "outlaw country" pioneers like Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt, the Far West combines great storytelling with expert musicianship, bringing traditional country into the modern era. Like any great country act, the Far West weave gut-wrenching tales of love gone wrong, even on the upbeat numbers like "Bound to Lose" and "Nothing Like You."
I was so pleasantly surprised by the Whiskey Saints this year. I said it my review, but every time I listen to this record, I'm struck by how its songs absolutely deserve to be on the radio, especially rockers like "Curtains" and "Before My Time," but also the more delicate ballads like "Karianne." Melding alt. country with raw garage rock, the Whiskey Saints provide a glimpse of where modern rock should be going.
The Dodos nailed that aggressive acoustic (or perhaps aggressively acoustic?) rock thing on No Color. Most of these songs are two guys, acoustic guitar, and forceful percussion. Neko Case shows up on a few tracks, but her influence is subtle. "When Will You Go" was in heavy rotation at Casa de Given and Taken in Ink for most of the year. "Don't Stop," "Companions," and "Black Night" are other highlights.
Man, there are days when this album rockets up my personal list. Occupying the #18 spot seems far too low, and I'm sure when I inevitably re-write this list, as I did for 2010, its position is bound to improve. Diane's voice is arresting, and the storytelling is at times both forceful and delicate. This record is a treasure. There are so many great tracks, but I think "To Begin" and "Heartless Highway" are my favorites - today, at least. And beyond the music, it features the most visually captivating album cover of the year.
How could anyone resist a band whose album title name-checks a beloved 80s wrestling icon? CoCo Beware has little in common with the Birdman, but I still found it to be one of the most irresistable records of the year. As someone who loves re-arranging songs into playlists, I am a sucker for good sequencing, and Caveman has done such a great job making sure these songs interact with each other. A song like "Old Friend" functions just fine on its own, but when placed in context of the album, is greatly enhanced by the instrumental lead-in of the previous track ("Vampirer").
I spend a lot of time on this blog teasing my wife for her complete disinterest in the stuff I write about, but she discovered James Vincent McMorrow on her own and introduced his music to me. I would not be surprised if she stumbled on Early in the Morning by doing Internet searches for bearded acoustic folk singers (it wouldn't be the first time...), but nevertheless, she found a really good one here.
John Darnielle (who, for some reason, I feel should be named "Matt") is like an indie-folk mad scientist. All Eternals Deck is supposed to be his metal album, I guess, because it was produced by some guy who is well-known in metal circles. And because it has a black cover with a metal-y font. Raaawwwrrr!! (Tyrannosaurus Rexes are so metal, yeah?) Anyway, really good record. Start with "Never Quite Free" for the awesomeness.
This is the album I've always wanted Robbers on High Street to make. Back when I reviewed the album in September, I wrote: "The band is full steam ahead, weaving keyboards, hand claps, a Hammond organ, and fantastic Daptone horn section into these dozen propulsive tunes. There's a sense of unbridled joy in the music, a side of the band only hinted at on "Electric Eye" (the teaser single released over a year ago). I never expected the guys to sustain that over an entire album, but Hey There Golden Hair never lets up. Hell, there's a triangle on this record. Yeah, triangle - an instrument which only the most badass of bands can handle."
Remember 2004, when the country was deciding between voting for George W. Bush or John Kerry, and there were all those stupid polls asking "Who Would You Rather Have a Beer With," and nobody answered The Guy Who's Less Likely to Fuck Up the Country? Well, I would like to have a beer with Dave Grohl. He seems like a fun dude. And I could stroke his hair while he sang "Walking After You" softly to me....whaaaa?! I mean, we'd watch football or some shit like that and have burping contests. And I could tell him how "Walk" is possibly the best song he's ever written.
The great thing about Father, Son, Holy Ghost is the way in which it evokes the warm familiarity of great classic rock while still managing to sound new and captivating. As I said in my review, "You'll feel like you've heard all these songs before, but in the sublime way an old song comes on the radio and makes you remember a time you were truly happy. And that's the masterstroke Girls have played with this record: These are bittersweet songs that will still make you smile."
Aren't stoners supposed to be bad at stuff? That's what my 80s upbringing taught me: Don't Do Drugs, Kids, Or Else You'll Be Bad at Stuff. If so, then I ask: How does Smoke Ring for My Halo exist? Vile may wrap his songs in a slacker aesthetic, but it's a feint - the guy is a master songwriter and composer. And he's just so damn good at finding charming ways to be dreary, like "I get sick of just about everyone / And I hide in my baby's arms."
Kurt Vile - Baby's Arms
Justin, be careful. For some reason you are walking a fine line between Folk Disciple and Cool to Hate-On. I don't know why. Probably for "Beth/Rest." I'm just saying. Lay off the auto-tune and 80s tricks for a bit and I think you'll be fine. And don't call Record #3 Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon Iver...or BI3...or whatever crazy idea you're dreaming up. Trust me, dude. I'm still not sure whether your second record is called Bon Iver or Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and that's a problem. Moreso for me than it is for you, but whatever. BI2 was a great step forward for you, and I probably should be spending more time talking about that and less about how many times I have to write your pen name.
I was afraid of this record. I was so afraid I waited for it to go on sale at Amazon.com for like $2.99 or something. And wouldn't you know, I fell in love with the damn thing. So now all I have are some fucking mp3's and no liner notes and no album art. And I love liner notes and album art. Well, not so much anymore. Now I just throw the CDs on my handy-dandy CD rack. But when I was a kid I loved liner notes and album art. And I would like them for Collapse Into Now. It's R.E.M.'s best album since Automatic for the People. The band did a really nice job making something new and interesting (I can't really think of any old R.E.M. album which sounds quite like it), which has got to be tough at the end of its career. The album is muscular without being heavy, if that makes any sense. "Uberlin" and "Mine Smell Like Honey" are probably the most radio-friendly and/or catchiest, but for whatever reason I kept getting drawn back to "Oh My Heart." The vocals on this record are really great; just when you think a song like "It Happened Today" is going to fall into the stereotypical Stipe talk-sing, the band surprises with a transcendent, layered woah-a-ooh outro. "Mine Smell Like Honey" overcomes its title to turn in the best R.E.M. hook the band has written in years.
Slave Ambient is a bit of an enigma. Album-opener "Best Night" emerges almost out of nowhere, with layered guitars over a vocal track that almost tries to go unnoticed. And yet, somehow, the track is absolutely infectious. This is not an album to put on in the background and expect that the best songs will jump out and grab you. Adam Granduciel & Co. seem content to be overlooked; but how unfortunate for anyone who complies. Paying attention...I mean, really paying attention...reveals Slave Ambient for what it truly is: a masterpiece.
Hobbled by a near career-ending disability (Ménière's disease, an inner-ear disorder), there was a very real possibility that Ryan Adams would never be able to make music again. Selfishly, I hoped he would still be able to write some quiet, acoustic tunes - something that would allow him to keep filling the world with his knack for songwriting without crippling him. And he's been able to do that here, with great results. Ashes & Fire is the calmest, most reserved collection of songs Adams has released, but it's his best work in years.
There's a prettiness to Burst Apart that is nearly unmatched by any other record released in 2011. I wrote a lot of words about this record's cover and my guesses on the meaning behind the word "burst," but none of that was meant to detract from the sonic beauty that begins with "I Don't Want Love" and continues all the way the final notes of "Putting the Dog to Sleep." There's a definite thematic progression on this record, which opens with the desire to push people away and eventually concludes with restrained hope for connection with others ("I'm not gonna die alone / I don't think so").
God damn the Black Keys are good at what they do. For a split second, I remember thinking, "Ah, fuck. This is going to be a re-hash of Brothers. Another band finds 'the formula' and now it's all over." But that couldn't be further from the truth. The thing about El Camino, especially if you like this kind of music, is that it's just going to make you happy. You will be cruising in the car, grinning like an idiot, because these guys just know how to rock out.
Oh, Yuck. I wanted you to be #1. I tell everybody about you and how much I love you. And you were so close. But the second half of 2011 was just titanic for music. And I can't be with you anymore. Well, I mean, I can. But you can't be my #1 Main Squeeze anymore. I'm sorry about that. I still love you, like bigtime. We can still hook up on the side, right? You were there for me at a time when I really needed you, and I won't ever forget you.
Radical Face came out of nowhere and blew me away this year. The Roots is both heartbreaking and beautiful, a triumph of storytelling that follows the lives of a fictional family in the 1800s. First of a three-part series of albums, I cannot wait to see where Ben Cooper goes with the second and third volumes. But even without the backstory, Cooper has pulled off something truly inspiring here.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ryan Adams talked about how Laura Marling's previous record, I Speak Because I Can, inspired him to throw out a large portion of what he was working on, before finally writing and recording Ashes & Fire. That must be immensely gratifying for Marling, who is all of 21 years old. I still can't get over this woman's age; these songs, these lyrics, that voice - they're just not the product of someone so young. And here she is, three albums into her career, already penning records that other artists would kill for.
Ultimately, what makes a great album is great songs, and the Whole Love has great songs in spades. Wilco nailed every aspect that makes them a great band - catchy pop songs, weird experimental slowburners, poignant ballads - and found a way to make them all fit together in a seamless whole. It's not the most unusual or genre-defying record the band has done, but it's eminently listenable and a joy to hear. In many ways, this is my favorite Wilco record, and without a doubt my pick for Album of the Year.
Stay tuned soon for GTI's Top EPs of 2011.
And here's the list without all the pictures and jibber-jabber:
30. The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy
29. Fruit Bats - Tripper
28. Real Estate - Days
27. The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules
26. Beirut - The Rip Tide
25. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
24. The Decemberists - The King is Dead
23. Bright Eyes - The People's Key
22. J Mascis - Several Shades of Why
21. The Far West - The Far West [self-titled]
20. The Whiskey Saints - 24 Hours
19. The Dodos - No Color
18. Alela Diane - Alela Diane & Wild Divine
17. Caveman - CoCo Beware
16. James Vincent McMorrow - Early in the Morning
15. The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
14. Robbers on High Street - Hey There Golden Hair
13. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
12. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
11. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
10. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
9. R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
8. The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
7. Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
6. The Antlers - Burst Apart
5. The Black Keys - El Camino
4. Yuck - Yuck [self-titled]
3. Radical Face - The Family Tree: The Roots
2. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
1. Wilco - The Whole Love
Sam Beam, the man behind Iron & Wine, recently contributed to the 4AD Sessions with acoustic performances of four tracks from his new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, and one old favorite, "Upward Over the Mountain."
1. Tree By the River
2. Biting Your Tail
3. Big Burned Hand
4. Half Moon
5. Upward Over the Mountain
I really hate to say this, because I think it's obnoxious when fans complain over a musician trying new things, but I love these stripped-down renditions of Kiss Each Other Clean tracks so much more than the album versions. In my own defense, I thought Beam did a brilliant job expanding his sound on The Shepherd's Dog. I don't dislike the new album, but its style is not really my thing. I think it might be all the backup vocals; I'm not really sure. "Tree By the River" is a good example of this. The acoustic version he did here for 4AD is just so much prettier than the album version. Likewise for "Big Burned Hand," whose original version felt like it had too much going on. The lone exception is "Biting Your Tail," a b-side left off the album. The acoustic version is fine, but the funky electronic original version is definitely worth hearing.
Jenny was horny.
So when a young, dapper gentleman arrived at her office for the first day of his new job, she made a beeline for his desk. She, a pretty twenty-something with curly red hair, introduced herself and explained to the gentleman that he was sitting at her former desk, which she recently vacated for one very unfortunate reason: People liked to steal things from this desk. It was located next to the copy machine, mailboxes - pretty much in the middle of everything - so other employees were often "borrowing" pens, staplers, and paperclips whenever they needed. Jenny found an ingenious way to stop losing her stuff: She framed a copy of a picture (right) to ward off the "borrowers."
But Jenny was also shy.
This was the last time she'd talk to the young, dapper gentleman. Instead, they exchanged emails. The young, dapper gentleman casually mentioned that he was DJing at a community radio station, and the two discovered that they both loved indie music. They exchanged CDs - Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, the Black Keys, the Reindeer Section - and debated the definition of "hipster."
Jenny was not satisfied.
She claims she made several attempts to get together with the young, dapper gentleman, although he remembers quite clearly that she only casually invited him to a Ted Leo concert (once) on a day he had other plans. Jenny thought she was making her interest obvious. The young, dapper gentlemen remembers it differently.
For example, Jenny would sometimes take a blank sheet of paper to make a "copy." Once the copier worked its magic, Jenny would take her two blank sheets of paper and walk back to her desk. The young, dapper gentleman thought this was a bit odd. Why would Jenny act friendly toward him and then say nothing while in his presence?
The young, dapper gentleman was a bit of a smartass.
When Jenny would "make copies" but not say hello, he would somewhat loudly remark to a nearby co-worker how rude this was. He was joking, of course, but Jenny did not know the young, dapper gentleman very well. Her face would get red and she'd run away. The young, dapper gentleman was pleased with his wittiness.
He also went home alone.
One day, Jenny invited the young, dapper gentleman to a rockabilly bar. They both finally had a chance to talk, and the young, dapper gentleman could tell that Jenny was nervous. He made a point to touch her arm or her back when they talked, and this only made her more nervous. They both had a great time, though, and the young, dapper gentleman could not stop smiling after he went home.
The young, dapper gentleman violated the three-day rule and asked her on a date the very next night. They went to another bar, and Jenny acted aloof and uninterested for most of the night. The young, dapper gentleman began to wonder if maybe he had mistaken the signs. But then the conversation turned to the only topic Jenny and the gentleman knew they had in common - music - and Jenny asked him if he knew anything about Architecture in Helsinki.
"Are you asking me to run away with you to Europe?" the young, dapper gentleman replied.
And the rest is history. Jenny and the young, dapper gentleman got married, and the gentleman started a music blog. He called it Given and Taken in Ink - a line from "A History of Lovers," written by Jenny's favorite musician (Sam Beam of Iron & Wine). And now he writes stories about the music he loves and his attempts to introduce it to Jenny. At one time he thought she loved music as much as he does, but he has since discovered that she'll only pay attention if he writes a story about her in relation to it. He now knows that the CDs were Jenny's ruse to get in his pants, which is fine by him. After all, getting it on with a redheaded Jenny is pretty much the ultimate fantasy of every indie music fan.
When I last saw Iron & Wine live, at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA (outside of Philadelphia), Sam Beam was drowning. His face was covered by an enormous beard and even more enormous head of hair, and his songs were swallowed up in dense layers of instrumentation. He was surrounded by what seemed like a dozen other musicians on stage, and his interactions with the crowd were minimal at best. Yelling out requests for classic songs seems common at Iron & Wine concerts (and really, at anyone else's, too), but Beam would only occasionally respond to these shouts of old song titles with mumbled remarks like "That's one" and "That's another one." While the show itself was great, it felt like Beam was retreating into himself, hiding from his audience with as many outward layers of other...stuff...as he could muster.
The sold-out Radio City Music Hall saw a very different Sam Beam. Beard and hair trimmed short, he walked out on stage in a suit and minimal ensemble - a banjo player, a pianist, and two backup singers. The crowd greeted him warmly, and Beam asked possibly the greatest opening line I've ever heard at a rock show:
"Are you ready to get fucking mellow?"
The band began with straightforward arrangements of "He Lays in the Reins," found on Beam's 2005 collaboration with Calexico, and new song "Half Moon." I say "straightforward" because the band has developed a reputation for playing wildly different live versions from those found on the studio albums, especially since the tour supporting 2007's The Shepherd's Dog. Thus, after playing a more ominous "Fever Dream" and stripped-down, saxophone-less "Big Burned Hand," Beam thanked the audience for appreciating the new arrangements, adding, "A song should be a living thing," possibly a response to fans who gripe about deviations from note-for-note renditions of Our Endless Numbered Days.
Beam seemed to be in a great mood, joking with the crowd in a style reminiscent of the late Mitch Hedberg. After someone yelled a request for a song I couldn't hear (but I'm guessing was "Freebird"), Beam laughed and said, "Are you serious? Get that shit out of here. Do you eat the same thing every day? This is New York!"
After performing the always pretty "My Lady's House," he invited another six musicians on stage - a saxophone/flute, baritone sax, trumpet, bass, and two drummers - to complete the rest of his band. Beam was not about to be overwhelmed by this ensemble, though. He stood confidently front-and-center, with the band arrayed in a semi circle behind him. Despite the large backing band, Beam carried himself with an easygoing swagger, a frontman fully in control of the show. It was a display of tremendous growth as a performer from his days of whispering confessionals into a home demo recorder.
Throughout the beginning of the set I had been talking about capturing some of the show on my iPhone. So, as the band started to play the most upbeat rock n roll I've ever heard from Iron & Wine, my wife whispered, "Maybe you should record this one, whatever it is." As the vocals came in, we looked at each other in shock - they were playing "Love and Some Verses," the song we danced to at our wedding just six months ago, and at first neither of us recognized it.
The alternate arrangements did not stop there. The audience was treated to a Caribbean-flavored "House by the Sea," a reverb-heavy dirge of "Sea and the Rhythm," and a lounge-style "Cinder and Smoke." Overall they sounded great, particularly Kiss Each Other Clean b-side "Summer in Savannah." Next to the song's name on the setlist I was writing, my only note was "epic."
After the band left the stage, Beam returned for a solo encore. He asked the audience whether they wanted to hear "the short one or the long one." Of course the universal response was for the long one, yielding a heartwarming and poignant performance of "The Trapeze Swinger."
This was my first concert at Radio City, and I have to say the sound there is absolutely fantastic. The only odd moment of the night was when opener Edie Brickell answered a text message during her set. (In her defense, it was from her daughter, asking whether Brickell could drive her to a friend's house later. "After about five songs," Brickell announced to the audience.)
Here's the entire setlist:
He Lays in the Reins
Big Burned Hand
My Lady's House
Naked As We Came
--full ensemble introduced--
Tree by the River
Love and Some Verses
House by the Sea
The Sea and the Rhythm
Me and Lazarus
Summer in Savannah
Boy with a Coin
Rabbit Will Run
Glad Man Singing
Cinder and Smoke
--band leaves for solo encore--
The Trapeze Swinger
What do you think about artists playing alternate versions of their songs? Would you rather hear a song similar to the way it was recorded, or do you prefer to hear a new rendition?
Iron & Wine performed selections from their upcoming record, Kiss Each Other Clean, for NPR's First Listen series. Host John Schaefer said the band played the album in its entirety front-to-back, but I don't think that's what actually happened. The performance starts off with "Tree By the River," listed everywhere as track 3. The band did not play leadoff single "Walking Far From Home" single, but did play b-side "Biting Your Tail." So while it's probably not the entire album, it's still a nice sample of what to expect on January 25.
1. "Tree by the River"
2. "Big Burned Head"
3. "Biting Your Tail"
4. "Half Moon"
5. "Monkeys Uptown"
6. "Mouth of the River"
7. "Summer in Savannah"
8. "Godless Brother in Love"
9. "Rabbit Will Run"
10. "Me and Lazarus"
11. "Boy With a Coin"
12. "Naked As We Came"
You can find an mp3 rip of the performance at The Steam Engine.
As part of Record Store Day's Back to Black Friday event, Iron & Wine have released "Walking Far From Home," the leadoff single from the band's new album Kiss Each Other Clean (due on January 25, 2011). Vinyl and CD versions are available exclusively at independent record stores starting today. Digital downloads will be available on November 30, 2010. My wife and I rushed off to a record store almost 20 miles away to luckily snatch up the last vinyl copy in stock.
"Walking Far From Home" track list:
1. Walking Far From Home
2. Summer in Savannah
3. Biting Your Tail
A quick look at the song titles for Kiss Each Other Clean reveals that Sam Beam is still preoccupied with religious metaphors, animals,and rivers. However, if the new single is any indication of the upcoming album's sound, Kiss Each Other Clean is going to be an even bigger departure than The Shepherd's Dog was. Structured a bit like "The Trapeze Swinger" (only in that neither song has a true chorus), the title track leads off with distorted vocals and guitars before breaking into gospel-tinged backing ooh-ooh-ahh's. The single's b-sides veer into R&B territory, and Beam actually lets his voice elevate beyond a whisper. "Summer in Savannah" employs saxophone and synths, while "Biting Your Tail" dabbles with electronica. It's astonishing (my wife accidentally put side B on first, and our necks snapped in each other's direction as "Summer in Savannah" began), but somehow it all works.
Kiss Each Other Clean track list:
1. Walking Far From Home
2. Me And Lazarus
3. Tree By The River
4. Monkeys Uptown
5. Half Moon
6. Rabbit Will Run
7. Godless Brother In Love
8. Big Burned Hand
9. Glad Man Singing
10. Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me
Welcome! For a while, I've been thinking about starting a music blog, but there's been one seemingly insurmountable obstacle: I could not think of a title!
My first idea was to simulate a record label, something like Rewind Records. I'd been listening to some of the albums I loved as a teenager, so I had an idea to start a blog featuring exclusively older releases. However, I spend far too much of my time looking for new music, so I knew that the "rewind" idea would never last. I tried coming up with other [Something] Records titles, but nothing else resonated like the original. My fiancee suggested I abandon anything having to do with "Records," since, after all, I'm not creating anything. (Ouch, right?)
Instead, she started pitching song lyrics as blog titles. Her favorite artist is Iron & Wine, so of course every suggestion was from one of their songs. Finally, she suggested one that sounded as good to me as it did to her: "Given and taken in ink," a line from "History of Lovers," a collaboration between Iron & Wine and Calexico on their In the Reins EP .
The problem here is obvious: If we ever get divorced, I have to change the blog title. If I'm willing to take that risk, it should suggest how serious I am about this thing. (Hmm. I think I just wrote my half of the vows...)
What you can expect from this blog:
I love music, I like to write, and I like to share the music I find with other people. I'll do my best to post links to actual song files when I can, but I don't really know how other music blogs coordinate this. I assume they have FTP servers and permission from artists (or at least a posted agreement to honor any requests of copyright-owners to take anything down). It'd be great if I could get artists/labels to send me CDs/mp3s for promotional purposes, and from my time as a radio DJ I have some sense of how this is accomplished. However, I currently do not have any such relationships. As a result, for now my posting of mp3s will probably be somewhat limited. In the meantime, I'll try to link to other blogs also featuring these artists, YouTube videos, or online distributors. Sometimes, you'll just have to take my word for it that these songs are awesome.