This week was a strange week in my musical habits. I did very little writing this week. My tasks were the thinking out of two completely different books for the purpose of writing summaries and proposals. What often happens when I'm in one of these deep think periods is that an album will play, end, and I won't notice that the music has been off for over an hour at a time. However, when I wasn't working, I was either resting by the fire place with the vinyl spinning or trying to reorganize some of the chaos in my office. This week's list is partially brought to you by both of those events. Enjoy.
The Decemberists - The King is Dead: The new album by one of my favorite bands of the last decade is one I've been holding off on reviewing for a few weeks. Each of their albums have been somewhat important releases for me and I wanted to fully absorb this one before I wrote about it. I'm glad I did, too. On the first listen, I couldn't tell if this was simply a good album or a great one. Many listens in, I'm convinced it's a great one. Unlike last year's The Hazards of Love (which unlike most, I thought was quite brilliant), this album is more a collection of songs. In my opinion, it actually echoes the band's earliest works, most notably the fantastic 5 Songs EP. These are scaled down folk rock songs imbued with emotion and meaning. Another quality release worth getting.
Esben and The Witch - Violet Cries: This is the debut album from a Brighton trio and something I listened to on a whim. This is a dense album of British goth atmospheres but with a strong modern indie sound. A swirling sort of sound with dreamlike vocals, but never boring. Reminds me a bit of a tamer The Horrors or Klaxons. It doesn't hurt that the singer sounds like Holly Miranda either. I've been enjoying this album during the dark snowy days.
The Notorious B.I.G. - Blue Eyes Meets Bed Stuy: I'm a little late to the game with this fantastic mash-up of Biggie and Frank Sinatra released in 2005, but better late than never. Ever since hearing the Wu Tang vs. The Beatles mash-up around this time last year, I've certainly listened to my share of inferior meetings of hip-hop and other genres that just didn't mix. Oddly, this one may seem like the most mismatched, yet the two sounds work together perfectly. The key for a mash-up album to work is that it must make both artists sound new. This does that. Somehow the mix creates an eerie album. Great stuff.
medal - stuntman: This is the second album by the little heard UK band medal. I'd been looking for this 2002 album for many years with little luck and finally it came up used and I was able to snag it for cheap. The band's 2000 debut Drop Your Weapon is one my top 100 hundred favorite albums of all time. It's a great example of what British indie music was sounding like post-Britpop and electronica heyday of the late '90s, perhaps best represented by Radiohead's Kid A album. Medal was never as abstract as Radiohead but created soundscapes that were just as rich. Unfortunately the album was a commercial failure and stuntman was essentially self-released to no attention whatsoever. Though certainly this album lacks that special magic of their first album, this one isn't bad. I'm glad I got it to complete the collection (along with the bands two 1999 EPs). IF you ever come across the band's work, I suggest giving it a listen.
Savoy Brown - Looking In: I bought this on vinyl shortly before Christmas based solely on the cover and not knowing anything about the band. It turns out this is the London band's seventh album, released in 1970, only 3 years after their debut. It's a heavy British Blues album that sounds like John Mayall gone psychedelic. There's an excellent heavy bass on it and "Poor Girl" is pretty awesome. A very solid offering in the transition of British Blues into heavy metal.
Al Stewart - Year of the Cat: This is Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart's seventh album, released in 1976 and probably his best known. I found this album sort of uneven. At it's best moments it sounds like Ziggy Stardust lite. Unfortunately there are a good number of sanitized soft rock tracks too. But the good tracks are real good. Definitely worth a listen.
Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees: This 1972 album is one of the band's two transition albums (along with Future Games) after the departure of Peter Green and before crapping it up with the line-up that produced hit after hit. Both of these albums move away from the blues sound of the Peter Green days and have a California country folk feel. I enjoy both of these under appreciated albums. "Homeward Bound" is a fantastic song.
Guided By Voices - Crying Your Knife Away: This double-album bootleg concert was released in 1994, right in the middle of the band's most creative period. Bob Pollard is obviously smashed as soon as they take the stage and there's a charged atmosphere throughout that suits the band well. After "Gold Star for Robot Boy" kicks in, the album blazes. There's the Joy Division sounding "Lethargy" followed by a blistering "Striped White Jets". Then there's a beautiful drunken stumble of "Non-Absorbing". A soaring "Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory" and the Stooges kick of "Shocker in Gloomtown" with it's British punk guitar work. Then comes the brilliant "Tractor Rape Chain" and that's when you know you're listening to a masterpiece.