There was a lot of great music released in the last few weeks and I'm finally catching up on my listening. I've also been catching up on reviews for the splurges of vinyl I bought in the past month. Somehow, this week ended up as a pretty steady diet of folk. Mostly because the weather and the manuscript called for it. As I've mentioned before, this is the time of year that I gravitate toward darker, moodier acoustic music. But there's so many different moods in a week, so I made room for some other kinds of albums as well. There's some really exciting stuff on here that I hope you get to check out. Enjoy.
The Decemberists - Long Live the King: This six song EP, released this week, is a companion to the Portland band's album The King Is Dead, released earlier this year. Like the full-length album, these songs continue the band's country rock phase, hearkening back to early to mid-70s California movement. There's even an amazing cover of the Grateful Dead's "Row Jimmy," a classic of the genre. "Sonnet" feels a little like a song that could have been on Five Songs, the band's first release, a sound of theirs I've missed. There are no weak songs on here and it once again affirms this is a band still at its peak. I've been listening to this non-stop this week and love it more with every listen.
Mazzy Star - Common Burn: When this single was announced a few weeks back, needless to say I was pretty excited. These two songs are the first material released by the band since 1996's Among My Swan, which is one of my favorite albums of all time. Despite the 15 year hiatus, the band doesn't miss a beat, picking up exactly where they left off. Their magical blend of dream folk sounds like nothing else in my opinion. Hope's voice is one of the best ever put to record. Simply beautiful. I can't wait for the new album.
The Wooden Sky - City of Light: Released last week, this EP is the first release from the Toronto indie folk outfit since 2009's superb album If I Don't Come Home..., one of my favorite albums of that year. The five songs on here follow the same direction as the band's previous work, straight-forward beautiful folk songs with a Midwestern feel. Definitely a great grab and a nice addition to their catalog of work.
Slowdive - Hide Yer Eyes: I picked up the bootleg vinyl a few weeks back and it's been hard to find any information on it. Judging by the feel of the songs though, I would say these ten tracks date earlier then their 1991 debut Just For a Day, or at least from the same period. Still present is their unique take on the Shoegazer genre, very moody and beautifully muddled songs. Not their strongest set by way of writing or performing, but still quite good. The band would later go on to produce such masterpieces as Souvlaki and Pygmalion. This hard to find, vinyl only release is most likely for fans only, but that said, fans won't be disappointed with this lost album.
Dave Van Ronk - Gambler's Blues: Originally released in 1959 under the title Sings Ballads, Blues & a Spiritual, this album was re-released in 1966 under this title. Dave Van Ronk was a NYC native and an early figure on the folk scene that developed there. He has a remarkable feel for the blues and turns many traditional folk tunes into killer blues tracks on here. Last week I reviewed a bootleg of Nick Drake home recordings consisting mostly of covers. Six of the songs on that album appear on this album, and my theory is Nick Drake had this album (as well as Jackson C. Frank's album), not the originals. Truly a great folk blues record from someone who deserves more recognition.
Smif-n-Wessun - Dah Shinin': The 1995 debut from Brooklyn's hardcore hip-hop duo was a staple in the streets of NYC during the mid-90s. Along with Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, Nas, and Biggie, this album was part of the great hardcore awakening taking place at the time with "Bucktown" being the hot single. I recently revisited this album, and though it's certainly uneven, the best songs still hold up. Hard hitting lyrics and dope beats, that's what NYC hip hop's all about.
Mando Diao - Above and Beyond (MTV Unplugged): This career spanning set, with nearly twenty tracks, is a great overview of a relatively unknown Swedish band here in the States. I've been following this band for nearly a decade, and though they haven't progressed much, they are at least consistent, putting together a string of Oasis type power pop rock records. It's nice to hear some of their best songs in this format. "Song for Aberdeen," "Ochrasy," and "Dance with Somebody" are particularly good. There's also a nice guest appearance by Ray Davies (of the Kinks) and a surprising good version of "High Heels" with Juliette Lewis. Overall, the album does run a little long, with songs that probably could have been cut, but still a nice addition for fans.
Nico - Chelsea Girl: The debut album from Velvet Underground's Nico, released in 1967, is easily the best of her solo work. The songs, a combination of lo-key moody folk with complicated string arrangements, suit her strung-out tone perfectly. There are some truly groundbreaking, iconic songs on this record including the title track, "Somewhere There's a Feather," and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams." The lyrics feel like an ode to depression in some surrealist underworld. There are still a few songs that are bit of a rambling mess, but unlike with some of her other work, I feel they don't detract from the power of the record as a whole. Definitely the one must-have in her catalog.