The oppressive heat caused me to hunker down into the basement this week. I worked from that cool den of darkness trying to forget the world above me was burning. As a result, I listened to a ton of new albums seeing as how I only had my headphones for speakers. I personally like to listen to most albums on headphones for the first time. It's truly the only way to hear the richness of the music. As a matter of fact, every album on this list was a headphones first album (though not all from this week, but most). A smattering of new and old, this is what I bring you:
Smoosh - Withershins: Here's my super-freaked-out-excited-when-I-saw-this-came-out album of the week. Seattle sisters Asya and Chole began their musical careers when they were in elementary school. Their first album She Like Electric is a great record capturing of the musicians at that age. Their next album Free to Stay is an amazing, amazing album, capturing the sorrow of middle school heartbreak and uneasiness. Now in their mid-to-late teens, come Withershins and it's pretty spectacular. Having matured as musicians, they tread the same wistful melancholy as the previous album, but explore it from a different perspective. Certainly the best piano heavy album I've heard in ages and Asya's voice is just so beautiful. A definite contender to be around for the best of the year list.
Jakob Dylan - Women + Country: Let me start off by saying I've never been too into any of the son's projects. I thought Wallflowers to be really generic as well as his other solo efforts. So I was skeptical when I starting seeing all the great reviews for this one. Thankfully, my good friend the dANIMAL convinced me to give this one a try. This is a pretty epic record. Nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering in the folk-americana-country vibe of the tracks, but still they are done to perfection in most cases. There's also a blend of a Tom Waits sound into some of the tracks and when that clicks in, the results are pretty awesome.
Charlie and Lola - Charlie and Lola's Favourite and Best Music Record: Some time last week I wrote gushing about this BBC show and in the process discovered there was an album too and had to have it right away. In some ways this plays out like the show with the characters talking over music but it's so much fun. The music is great, ranging from jazz to big band sound but think it of it more as a spoken word record. "Boo!" is hilarious and so is "Germs" in which poor Lola feels "extremely and terribly not well at all."
Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles: This came out in 2008 and got quite a bit of buzz, as has their newer album. Always somewhat intrigued, I checked it out and was speechless. I can't remember an album I've hated so much that is enjoyed by people whose opinions I trust. I found it "extremely and terribly not well at all."
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Ask Forgiveness: An 2007 EP from the prolific Will Oldham that I missed simply because sometimes he's too prolific and it's easy to skip a release here and there. In hindsight, this is one I should have picked up in favor of some others. This has quickly become my second-favorite Will Oldham release behind the masterpiece "I See A Darkness". For me, this is the only other album of his that keeps that same vibe throughout, the very dark sad deep folk that he does best. The cover of "I've Seen It All" is heartbreaking. I never thought the original Bjork/ Thom Yorke version could be improved upon, but this surpasses it.
The Ivytree - Winged Leaves: More lo-fi psychedelic folk from San Fran area that continues to please me immensely. Part of the whole Birdtree, Skygreen Leopards, Giant Skyflower Band scene, this is another beautiful release of slowcore bliss.
The Thermals - More Parts Per Million: The first album from Portland's garage power punk outfit that came out in 2003 is raw and delightful. The songs burst out of the speakers and just kicks through the walls. I truly don't understand how Green Day can be so popular and yet nobody knows The Thermals.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy: This 1970 album is pretty much a gem of country rock in the same style as Gram Parsons. So many of the songs were familiar to me from my childhood spent listening to folk station on the car radio for countless hours. Just a really good listen that comforts me the same way "The Wonder Years" does or America's "Horse With No Name." And the bluegrass elements certainly make it stand out from a lot of its contemporaries.
David Crosby - If I could Only Remember My Name: The landmark 1971 album from Crosby is certainly the highlight of his solo career. A truly great folk rock record that in many ways mirrors the albums Neil Young was making in the same era. It's beautifully unfocused and just moves through the mood much like later Jefferson Starship or early Grateful Dead records, which makes sense seeing as he was a part of both of those outfits at this time. If you're a fan of that kind of folk-rock, this is worth having.
George Harrison - Thirty Three & 1/ॐ: There is a clear downward trajectory in The Dark Horse's solo career, starting with one of the best albums ever made All Things Must Pass and ending with that horrible Cloud 9 album. Unfortunately his 1976 album is a definite progression toward Cloud 9. A handful of decent songs can't save the blandness that really began with Extra Texture (the album prior). For a completest only.