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Hello 2011!

Ok, I know we’re halfway through June, but cut me some slack. I’ve got a lot going on and the pay for this stinks. There have been quite a few noteworthy albums this year already. I’ll give you a quick run down of my top 5 favorites of this year. Since I didn’t do a proper 2010 top ten, I owe at least this much to you. Starting with number 5

5. Drive By Truckers - Go Go Boots

A follow up to 2010’s “The Big To-Do”. This is a sort of sequel. Much of the album revolves around several characters. The main one being a preacher who cheats with a prostitute. He also ends up murdering his wife. Good times!

4. Okkervil River-I Am Very Far

It’s been almost 3 years since we last heard from Okkervil River (unless you count them being Roky Erickson’s backup band last year). They deliver here with some very tense songs.  The first track “The Valley” made it to my summer BBQ playlist after I heard the drums kick in at about the :10 mark.

3. Radiohead - The King of Limbs

Radiohead returns with another journey into the weird. This is a tough listen, but if you are patient, it’s a rewarding record.

2. TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

The most accessible album by TVOR. It has an eerie sound to it since bass player Gerard Smith passed away less than 2 weeks after its release. It’s also odd that after the bass and drum heavy “Dear Science” that the bass is really scaled back on this record.

1. The Decemberists - The King is Dead

After 2 rock opera-ish records, The Decemberists return with a country rock album. The opening track, “Don’t Carry It All,” is a big time foot stomper. Peter Buck from R.E.M. contributes with some fun results. “Down To The Water” sounds like a vintage R.E.M. song (think “The One I Love”).

That was a tough list to make, and it’s only June! There’s a good chance I’ll have scrapped this once December rolls around for the top 10. For example, I just haven’t had time to digest new albums by My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie and Arctic Monkeys.

Hopefully I can get back into doing some more writing, because there is a lot to write about. I have a new band that I can’t wait to write about. I got to see them in concert a few weeks ago and they blew me away. I’ll give you a full report on them soon. Until then, happy listening.

I have finally emerged from my work bunker to write a few lines about something I have listening to.  First off, let’s quickly recap some of the stuff that I’ve listened to over the last few weeks:

Tokyo Police Club-Champ
The Gaslight Anthem-American Slang
Against Me!-White Crosses
Stars-The Five Ghosts
The School of Seven Bells-Disconnect from Desire

A quick word on what I found surprising. I really enjoyed both the School of Seven Bells and Stars records. The funny thing is they are both in the “Electronic” genre, which is something that I normally don’t get into. But the songs are well crafted and have good melodies. Check out “Wasted Daylight” on the Stars record and “Dust Devil” on the School of Seven Bells.

Now, onto the main event. In the world of Indie Rock, there aren’t too many names that are bigger than Arcade Fire. For those that haven’t heard their album Funeral, I’m sorry. Go pick that up as soon as possible. After you’ve digested that, pick up their new album The Suburbs. It’s rare for me to listen to one album multiple times in one day, but I think I’ve listened to this about 10 times over the past 2 days.

The album starts out with the title track “The Suburbs.” It sounds unassuming with a gentle piano rift that has a backyard BBQ feel to it. As a fan of backyard BBQ’s, I am all for this. The loose, joyful sound quickly deteriorates into “Ready To Start.” Win Butler croons about businessmen drinking his blood and wanting to be alone. A fairly stark contrast to singing about learning to drive in the Suburbs.

The funny thing about this record is that in a sense it is smaller that the previous two albums. “Funeral” dealt with big questions. Life, death and heartache. “Neon Bible” was more spiritual dealing with religion and a whole bunch of things I didn’t understand. “The Suburbs” is more focused. It deals with the trapped feeling of being in the suburbs and the trapped feelings that some feel in the suburbs (I am a suburbs liver and do not feel this way).

One of the things I like about this album is there are phrases that reappear throughout the album. “Grab your mothers keys/We’re leaving” appears in the title track. Then in “Suburban War” we hear this, “So grab your mother’s keys we leave tonight.”  I don’t know why, but I love this stuff. I don’t think enough artists incorporate running themes or characters.

“Suburban War” is an interesting song because it comes smack in the middle of the album. And at first listen, it sounds like the album is coming to a close. However, the next song, “Month of May,” is a clear start to Act II of the album. If you are scoring at home, I would say Act I represents the feeling of a need to escape the daily routine of The Suburbs. “Month of May” sounds like, to me anyway, the escape. Over the course of Act II though, I am reminded of Red from “Shawshank Redemption.” These guys just don’t know how to exist outside of the Suburbs.

This all comes to a head in “The Sprawl.” This two-part epic chronicles the return to The Suburbs (Took a drive into the sprawl/To find the house where we used to stay in). Part I has a defeated feel to it. Sort of like when you realized your parents were right all along and now you have to own up to it. Part II is less morose in texture, until you listen to the lyrics (They heard me singing and they told me to stop/Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock).  The song continues to chronicle feeling trapped between shopping malls (Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains/And there’s no end in sight). Clearly they have returned.

We end our journey back where we started, in “The Suburbs-continued.” Decidedly more sad and less hopeful than the first track of the album, Win Butler is remembering the suburbs in a far more painful way than in the first track. He sounds like he’s home, but not happy about it.

Well talk about a Sprawl! I wrote way too much on this and broke one my rules: don’t try to interpret an album. Oh well, it’s good fun. And everyone who reads this should buy “The Suburbs” and put it on repeat for at least 2 weeks straight. Happy listening.

I have been super busy recently. I hope to write more in the coming weeks, but unfortunately, my day job has been keeping me busy. It would be reckless of me to not point out next Tuesday (May 4) as a fantastic day for new music. These three bands will be dropping new albums that day:

The Hold Steady
The New Pornographers
Broken Social Scene

Holy Moly! That nearly made my head explode when I saw that. I love, love, the first two bands. BSS I’m not completely sold on. The stuff I’ve heard from them is a little too directionless for me. From what I’ve heard, this is a more focused record. So this is your last chance to win me over guys.

As far as the first two bands go, I couldn’t be more excited. The can both be streamed at NPR. Here’s a link for The New Pornographers, and here’s The Hold Steady. I immediately love the new Hold Steady album and hope to post some notes on both of these later. As always, happy listening.

New Hold Steady!!!

The Hold Steady (who inspired the name of this blog) have a new song out from their upcoming album “Heaven is Whenever.” Here it is. The song is called Hurricane J.

Let me know what you think!

Since I’m not smart enough to review albums, I’m going to leave album notes on the blog. These are more selling points to albums that I think deserve some recognition. The first album I’m writing notes on is Frightened Rabbit’s “The Winter of Mixed Drinks.”

I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that this is my favorite album so far in 2010. I loved their 2008 “Midnight Organ Fight.” WMD (that’s kind of funny) comes across bigger than MOF. Usually that’s a big turn off to me when bands take a smaller sound and try to grow it out to fit arenas (I’m looking at you Kings of Leon), but for some reason, it works here. Maybe it’s the Scottish draw. Maybe it’s the lack of gratuitous f-bombs that were laced throughout MOF. Whatever it is, it works.

The lead single, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” is a song about trying to get away from everything. FR tend to write sad songs, and this one falls under the mopey sadness from prior records. The big difference is this track has a little more jangle and hopefulness than before. Which is good. Since Scott Hutchinson has a depressing voice in general, they have to fight a little harder to have some uplifting music.

The standout track, in my opinion, is “Nothing Like You.” I was not surprised when I read an interview with Hutchinson where he said the chorus was a leftover from MOF. This makes sense since it sounds like a breakup song. I really like the chorus “She was not the cure for cancer.” I have no idea why, it just grabbed me. The song’s tempo is really pushed hard, but sounds natural. Something I hate is when there’s an unnatural sounding tempo. But this fits perfectly.

Critics will hate this album. Too polished, not personal enough, not as good as MOF. But whatever, it sounds good, and that’s the most important thing to me.

What’s coming up

To say the next couple months in the rock/pop category is an embarrassment of riches is the understatement of the year. The lackluster year that was 2009 is definitely making up for it in the first half of 2010. March 9th we get the new album by Frightened Rabbit, whose album Midnight Organ Fight was one of my favorite albums of 2008. And although I’ve never been a big fan of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks may be what gets me into them.

March 16 gives us a new album from The Whigs. I’ve enjoyed their last 2 albums, although I liked Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip better than Mission Control. There have been mixed reviews on this record. People say it sounds too polished and too much like Kings of Leon (who they toured with last year). I guess we’ll see.

April is a little slow, but May brings us a major mother load. Until then, happy listening.

After some thought about this, I’ve decided to start blogging. I guess in the end, it’s not a huge decision, since I think everyone has a blog these days, but I tend to over analyze everything. So my first issue was what do I write about, and does anyone actually care what I have to say? In the end, the latter question is probably no. So I figured that I’d focus on the former.

So what to write about? I don’t know that I’m an overly interesting person. I’m in my late 20’s, an accountant, married with 2 kids. There’s literally nothing in my day to day life that I would think is worth writing about. So what am I interested in? Well, my family is interesting, but stories about what kids say get old after a while. I like sports, but not enough to write about it on a semi-regular basis. I am a Christian and a conservative, but in my non confrontational self, I’d prefer to not write about things that will end with people getting mad at me or each other(again, this is assuming someone is reading this).

So this leads me to music. For a while I thought I was fairly well listened (not sure if this is a word, I’m thinking along the same lines as someone who is well read) until I realized that I couldn’t name anything worth listening to that had come out in the past 5 years.  What I decided was that I needed to figure out what wasn’t on the radio that I should be listening to. I read a few publications and blogs, but it’s a little overwhelming when starting from scratch.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this. This is for anyone who wants to have an insight on current music. Notice I don’t say popular music. You don’t need some schlub like me to tell you what’s good on the radio. For example, if you watched the Grammy’s this year, you would have no idea that that Animal Collective put out an album last year and was considered the top album by many critics (I did not, but that’s beside the point). In order to be well listened you have to take some considerable time to figure out what’s out there.  Not everyone has the time or patience for that, so that’s my mission here.

The title “Stay Positive-An Idiot’s guide to Current Music” came from the last album by The Hold Steady. At least the “Stay Positive” part. The Hold Steady is one of the best bands of the past decade and kind of represent what I was looking for when looking for new music. If you listen to major radio, chances are you’ve never heard of The Hold Steady. However, they are a critic’s favorite. There’s really no big secret to what they do. They play guitar driven rock music that has a good story behind it. They make it sound simple, yet it seems there really isn’t anyone else out there trying this. So why aren’t they more popular? I have no idea. My quest is to make sure that bands like The Hold Steady and The National get their just due. That being said, they deserve more than this puny little blog can offer, but this is all I got.

I hope to stir up some conversation and point some people to some music they may have never heard before. If you’re an indie listener, you’ll probably have heard all the stuff I’m going to say. But for those who aren’t in sync with the lesser known bands, this is your place. Happy listening.

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