Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Live Edition Part 2)

Last week I wrote about my lack of concert going and the need to support bands whenever they happen through my corner of nowhere. So last weekend when I saw Aimee Mann, I decided it would be a good idea to go back to the venue this weekend to catch Langhorne Slim on the last date of his tour. I've always enjoyed his albums and at $13 and only fifteen minutes away, seemed like I couldn't go wrong. Plus he's from near the area where I grew up and I always like to represent the hometown boys. (Next week, I promise a return to album reviews)

After a high energy set by the opening band, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, a band I hadn't heard before, the half-filled venue filed out to large bar area. The Missus and I swooped in and got our places right in front of the stage. Literally, I had my beer on the stage. Normally I'm not a that concerned with being close, but since the spot was open, I figured why not. It made for some great photos too.

Slim and his band came out firing, playing a blistering version of "Rebel Side of Heaven" that immediately got the crowd going. From his albums, I had expected a more low-key performance and was completely blown away by his dynamic stage presence. Through every song, he and the band were giving it their all, hopping around on stage and simply wailing.

They played songs from each album and included some remarkable new songs due out on the next album in the spring. I was thrilled that he played my favorite song, "Colette," about three songs in, saving me the trouble of yelling it out during each pause. I took a video of the song, it's at the bottom of the post. Overall, it was one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. He had such a rock star presence on the stage, the likes of which I haven't seen since Jack White. If you ever get the chance to see him play, I would highly recommend it even if you are only a casual fan of his music.

Below are some quick reviews of his albums that I own.

Langhorne Slim - Langhorne Slim: The first of his albums I heard, this is actually his third album, released in 2008. Though probably the most uneven, this album contains my favorite songs by him and therefore is the one I return to the most.

Langhorne Slim - Be Set Free: Released in 2009, this remains the last album released to date. A little quieter than others, it's more sincere folk than the rollicking bluegrass folk of the others. Yet it remains intelligent, thoughtful and worthy in a world filled with singer songwriter albums.

Langhorne Slim - Daytrotter Session 1 & 2: Slim has done two sessions at, one in 2008 and 2010. Both are exceptional and are among the best on the site. Each are four songs long and wonderful.

Langhorne Slim - When the Sun's Gone Down: Released in 2005, this album was later re-released in 2008 with bonus tracks. I have the later release and it's pretty phenomenal. Due to a track being used in a car commercial, this is probably his best known album to date. It really defines his sound and is probably the best place to start if you are unfamiliar with him.

Dream Memories

So it finally happened...a week went by without a post. I'm not sure how that happened, though it's been building toward it. Time has had a way of getting away from me lately. Or more appropriately, I suppose I've been allowing time to take me on its current without fighting the waves as is our usual habit in this modern world.

One thing that has haunted me all week is a dream I had Wednesday night. Every detail was so exact and real. I had flashes of it the entire next day. And more intriguing was the incredible emotional connection I had with one character in the dream, someone who doesn't exist in real life. But in the dream, it was someone I'd known and I had clear memories of this person and our relationship. I've had dream memories before, but never quite so vivid. I could remember circumstances, visits, time spent together, etc. An imagined life to be sure.

The main character in my novel Life is But a Dream has dream memories of someone she's never met. It's a major part of the book. Perhaps it's gotten to that point where my life is now imitating my art rather than other way around. If so, that's not an entirely bad place to be.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Live Edition)

Living in the middle of nowhere has many advantages for a writer, but one the drawbacks is being far away from a consistent music venue. Not that I went to a ton of concerts when I lived in NYC, but they were always there when I wanted on. Over the past year and a half, Woodstock has slowly been becoming more of a popular stop for intimate shows. Yet it's still a limited selection, so whenever anyone I like is playing, I certainly try to go, often seeing bands that I frankly would've skipped in the city.

Last night the Missus accompanied me to see Aimee Mann at the Bearsville Theater. Having been a musician we were really into at one time, though had since lost track of over the past few years, we thought it would be a fun show to see. It turned out to quite good. I've always loved her voice and she was very lively on stage and interacted with the audience. She played a lot of songs I didn't know, having not listened to her last album. I really enjoyed hearing the unknown songs though. It made me realize I needed to pay more attention to this artist again.

(photo by the Missus)

She played a decent length, about an hour. She also grouped her songs by album for the most part and actually played a few songs from the Magnolia soundtrack, which were amazing. "Save Me" was perfect and then the show ended with an amazing version of Harry Nilsson's "One." The encore ended with my favorite song of took all night, but she played it. Below is a quick rundown of her albums that I have in my vast, and increasingly rarely ventured, CD collection:

Aimee Mann - I'm With Stupid: Her second album dates to 1996. That was really a dead time for singer-songerwriters and certainly for folk. This record tries to be more power pop as a result, lacking that real singer songwriter quality that Aimee does wonderfully.

Aimee Mann - Magnolia (Soundtrack)
: This album was released in December of 1999, but wasn't really discovered until after Bachelor No. 2 was released five months later and become an indi hit. Plus it took time because the movie, being 3 hours long, wasn't a theater hit, but certainly was huge on VHS months later (remember going to the video store?). These are hauntingly beautiful songs and really caught a vibe of the pre-9/11, early George W Bush days.

Aimee Mann - Bachelor No. 2: This 2000 album is the one that made me a fan. I was initially drawn to it by the Lewis Carroll-y dodo illustration. Then I heard it and was blown away from the first listen. Perfect story-telling, great characters, and a wonderful example of L.A. indie folk. I never get tired of this album and actually listened to it recently while in Switzerland. It's always been a five star album. I also listened to this album with Missus many times while driving through Iceland a decade ago, the soundtrack to great memories. It's a sad album that somehow always manages to put me in a good mood.

Aimee Mann - Lost in Space: Released two years later, the follow-up to Bachelor No. 2 isn't very different. Most of the songs sound from the same series. I liked this album even if it never felt quite as special as the previous. Had they been reversed chronologically, it's possible they would have switched roles. But even after it came out, I still found myself reaching for Bachelor No. 2 instead.
Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm: I bought this in 2005 when it came out, but confess never really connecting to it. I don't even feel comfortable writing a review, because I think I've listened to it twice and that was nearly seven years ago. I do remember that I never really got the who boxer concept story. There have been two albums released since (though one is a Christmas album). Given the show last night, and many of songs probably being from the last one, I look forward to hearing it.

(Found a link to a video from the show. You can find it here if you're interested)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cyber Police

Yesterday the feds shut down the popular file sharing site Megaupload as part of anti-piracy campaign. Also this week, the government was considering two laws known as SOPA and PIPA that were also aimed at stopping online piracy. (They have since backed off after massive online protests on nearly every major site and retaliatory attacks by Anonymous). Not that I'm defending piracy, but both of these actions are extremely misguided and dangerous for a number of reasons.

Megaupload, for those not aware of it or it's like sites, is a place for people to upload their files for offsite storage and for easy sharing. Given the extremely slow transfer rate and file size limits when sharing large files via email, these sites have become very popular. Megaupload actually accounted for 4% of internet usage. Naturally these sites have also become very popular for sharing music, movies and video games illegally. However, these sites in my experience have always taken down any file that violates copyright law once they are informed of it. Some people say that's not enough. I disagree.

Essentially, the carrier is being held responsible for the content of its users. Now most of these files are uploaded as compressed files, meaning the carrier would have to invade the privacy of its customers by expanding the file and peering though its contents. The post office doesn't open your boxes to see what it's shipping, how is this really that different? And if they shut down a site like this for conduct of some users, then why couldn't they conceivably shut down Yahoo if someone sends a album via email to people? Same thing.

The SOPA and PIPA bills being considered are even more misguided. They will give broad powers to shut down sites that have very little illegal piracy going on. Essentially every forum type site is at risk. The laws would also give the U.S. police state more powers to go after sites overseas. I'm sorry, when did our nation's jurisdiction cross our borders?

Because it's too difficult to track down the individual uploaders, this has been the response. But what's really at stake here is file sharing of any kind. All services that allow open sharing of information will be a target. The internet is the world's greatest forum for information sharing. It's what the internet is all about. We can't allow them to shut that down for the sake of wealthy corporations. I fully agree that piracy is a major problem. But impeding free speech and communication is not the answer. Figure out a better way. That's your job.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Life is But a Dream...(Teaser 3)

- In the center of my collage is a black-and-white photograph of a mother and young daughter hugging in the snow at night. They are wearing heavy winter coats and ribbons in their hair because the picture is supposed to be of a scene in the 1800s and that was the way most girls and women wore their hair, I suppose. Around the photography, I glued pictures of flowers I'd cut from the stacks of magazines Mrs. Weaver set out for us to use. The flowers are bright and colorful against the black-and-white snow. I painted the sky with watercolors, I used dark purples and blues and painted them really wet so that the colors ran together in interesting shapes. I used a little bit of pink paint on the girl's cheeks. - Life is But a Dream pages 71-72

It's now only two short months before my novel comes out. I'm still very excited about it. It seems most readers are responding positively. I enjoy that. It's not so much about wanting something you write to be adored, it's more about knowing that people out there really got what you trying to say. So far, I'm pretty happy about that.

One of the big subplots in the book is the main character's struggle to separate art from reality. In a way it mirrors my own struggle of doing that during my teenage years. That's a theme that runs throughout my books, this idea that we dream so hard for what we imagine that sometimes we get lost in what is truly around us.

* The quoted passage was inspired by a photo still of Meet me in St. Louis which I manipulated to look like the above picture.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Winter moved into the hills with a vengeance this week, giving me a nice dose of slushy snow. Not enough to be fun, but just messy enough to mean hours of shoveling. Throw in the howling north winds and some sinus troubles and it was a pretty good week to stay indoors. Though I mostly sought out comforting music this week, I also ventured into some albums I've had for some time but had yet to listen to. As a result, this week's list is a little schizophrenic, mixing folk, experimental blues and indie pop. Enjoy.

White Denim - Takes Place in Your Work Space: This four track EP was released in November and after the Autin band's great full length album D, out earlier in the year, I was looking forward to hearing it. Instead of taking the '60s vibe of the album, these songs have a much mellower and poppy sound. I think it doesn't work as well for them, they are much better suited to the more unhinged vibe they're known for creating. Still though, nice to see them trying different things.

Stars - The Five Ghosts: This is the Montreal indie pop band's sixth album. It came out in 2010, and though I have all of their previous albums, I didn't listen to this one until this week. That is partially due to the fact that I was a little burned on them at the time. They have a consistent sound that doesn't vary much, however they do it very well. I was glad I waited because this album is very similar to the album that came before. But since I hadn't listened to it in quite a long while, this felt new in a way. They tell stories in their songs better than most and musically they go deeper than surface level dream pop. An underrated band to be sure.

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica: In the continuing theme of buying albums on vinyl that I've long owned on CD, I recently picked up this one. Probably one of my 10 favorite albums of all time, I first heard this album on Christmas Day 1993 and it has never really left me. Beyond the experimental blues framework of the album, this is one of those records that really transports the listener into another world, one of bizarre fiction and relics of insanity. It's a pleasure to have it now on the rich sound that comes only with vinyl.

William Fitzsimmons - Until We Are Ghosts: The Pittsburgh folk singer songerwriter 2006's debut is a wonderful blend of folk with Midwest influences. For the most part, the album doesn't sound much different than a lot of other indie folk artists doing the same sort of thing, but that doesn't make it irrelevant. There are moments where it gets a little too radio friendly for my tastes, but overall I'm looking forward to exploring his more recent work.

Sophie Zelmani -Sing and Dance: The Sweedish singer songwriter's fourth album released in 2001 is a beautifully easy album. Reminiscent of Amiee Mann's "Bachelor #2", released the year prior, this is an album of downbeat sentiment disguised in hopeful melody. I've been really loving this album all week long. She has a whole catalog of work that I hope to hear soon.

Peter Green - The End of the Game: In the earliest days of Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green was the driving force behind their British Blues sound, having come up with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. But as he spiraled further into drug madness, he would leave the band in 1970 and release this solo record. It's a free-form blues jazz record that allows a master guitarist to explore the range of his craft. There are certainly moments of brilliance on this record, but there are also moments of aimlessness. Overall, it's an enjoyable listen and can create a wonderful atmosphere, but can tend to get a little boring over repeated listens.

Little Dragon - Machine Dreams: Another Swedish band, Little Dragon is a electro-pop band, but not one that's abrasive. Their sound is more of a synth heavy dream pop. This is their second album, released in 2009. This not typically my favorite genre, but there are definitely a few songs on here that have a good reinvented 80's sound that I really enjoy. There's is also something about them that reminds me of the xx. But like that band, I find their songs to be hit or miss.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Windy in There...

Typically I try to be finished with a project before traveling. Time away from the writing routine has a habit of sending a war storm through the pages of a story in progress. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I took my holiday trip about the time I was starting the last third of my novel. Though I was able to work on it a little, the storm front certainly swept in. Luckily I've dealt with this type of weather before and know how to fight my way through the elements.

After a long week, the path ahead once again looks clear.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

A new year means new music and new music is always something worth looking forward to. Getting back in the swing of things this week, I got to check out a lot of albums, plus I got to listen to some of the vinyl I picked up overseas during the holidays. For the most part, this week's list is a return to the classics. I've been in a big nostalgia period lately and my music selections prove that. Hope some of them are new to you however. Enjoy.

Hawkwind - Space Ritual Vol. 1: I bought this on CD when I was 15 and it has never fallen from my favorite albums list. While in Switzerland, I found a copy of it on re-released colored vinyl and picked it up. This is probably the best live album ever in my opinion. The band is in top form, ripping through their early heavy psych catalog with abandoned. "Orgone Accumilator" "Down Through the Night," and "Lord of Light" are incredible. Note that the CD includes Vol. 2 and has more tracks.

Soft Machine - Noisette: Released in 2000, this is a live recording from 1970 which shows the band transitioning from their early psychedelic sound into more experimental prog. It can be a bit aimless at times, but it's still a good listen. Certainly doesn't replace the first three studio albums, but makes a nice companion.

The Black Keys - El Camino: Had I gotten this a month ago, there is a good chance it would have found a place on my best of year list. It's another stellar modern blues album from the Akron boys, but there is a further exploration into a Led Zeppelin sound that really makes it yet another step up from their previous. With every album, I feel this band gets better and better. One day soon, I expect they'll make a masterpiece and I can't wait to hear it.

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo: The Philly native, and member of The War on Drugs, released his first full length album in almost two years last March. Though I'd been a fan of previous albums and the single from this one, "Jesus Fever," I hadn't checked out the entire record until this week. It's another one that would have made it into my top 25 or 30 of the year. He reminds me of J Mascis a bit, only with a more strung-out vibe.

The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn!: Released in 1965, this is the L.A. folk band's second album and includes many of their hits, which also happen to be Dylan covers. Though the band wouldn't hit their peak until their next album (1966's Fifth Dimension) this is album really demonstrates that the potential for greatness had already been set in motion. There's always been something attractive about the sunny California take on the folk movement that I really enjoy. Few did it better than The Byrds.

John Lennon - Walls and Bridges: Released in 1974, this is John's last solo album in the string of albums from his post-Beatles career. Already you can hear the softer side showing through that would later be defined by Double Fantasy. However, this is by far the better album. Though there are few songs on here that are widely known, there are several that probably should be, "Steel and Glass" being on the top of that list. This was the last Lennon album that I had yet to acquire and it was nice to hear something 'new' by him again.

Neutral Milk Hotel - Ferris Wheel on Fire: This bootleg is a collection acoustic studio tracks of unreleased material. Many of the songs have appeared in other places before, but this is a great set. Included are some rare songs like "Home," "Oh, Sister" and the title track. It's a fabulous album and worth having even if you know the material.

Otis Redding - Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul: A fantastic record of Otis signing many covers of classics like "My Girl," "Satisfaction," and "Respect." I'm a huge sucker for covers, especially when done this well. He has one of those voices that makes every song he sings unforgettable. Kind of a must-have record for anyone that likes classic soul music.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fiction Friday (7)

Winter has long been a time when I crave the world of talking animal fantasy. Something about the wind rattling the roofbeams and wood burning in the fireplace makes me want to escape into this particular stream of imagination. About a year ago, I was searching for a new series in the genre and decided on giving Erin Hunter's Warrior books a chance. Having cats of my own, and former strays at that, the concept behind the books intrigued me. Here are my reviews of the first two books in the series. Enjoy.

Warriors #1: Into the Wild
by Erin Hunter (Avon 2004)

Children's animal fantasy is a genre that one is either a fan of or not. Seeing as how Watership Down was the first novel I ever truly loved, it's safe to say, I fall into the category of one who loves talking animal stories. This first book in the Warrior series is a solid addition to the long linage of talking animal stories. Erin Hunter pays close attention to the traditional heroic arc, following kittypet Rusty on his journey to becoming Firepaw and then Fireheart. The action is extremely well written. The book is a constant page-turner. Solid middle-grade fiction with the promise of an expanding story.

Warriors #2: Fire and Ice
by Erin Hunter (Avon 2004)

Though the Warriors series lacks the timeless literary feel of some other high profile talking animal franchises for kids, it still manages to spin intriguing stories that at times are gripping and emotional. This second installment sees newly named warrior Fireheart once again dealing with several problems throughout the book. There is once again a threat from the other cat clans and these action sequences are done at a nice pace. However it's the personal issues facing Fireheart that are most interesting in this book. His faltering friendship with Graystripe, his renewed longing for his kittypet family, and especially his relationship with young Cinderpaw are the heart of this book and contribute to making it a notch better than the first installment. The growing mystery surrounding the clan's deputy Tigerclaw also builds quite nicely. I'm eager to finish the next four books in the series.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Luck for a New Year

(painting by Marc-Antoine)

There are often funny things that happen in the human mind that have no bearing on any sense of reality. One of those is the importance we place on the changing from December into January. It's only another day switching over into the next, but for some reason as the year clicks over, we feel the weight of it as though what had been the present suddenly has become the past.

I won't pretend that I didn't feel thankful that 2011 ended. I didn't even bother staying up to watch it end as a way of showing my disdain. For whatever cosmic reasons, odd numbered years have always been historically bad for me. Of course, in the universal spirit of what-goes-around-comes-around, even numbered years tend to be good in seemingly equal and opposite proportion. If that's the case this year, 2012 is looking to be spectacular.

This year already started off on a good note. Thanks to the Missus, the first words out of my mouth on the morning of the 1st were "Rabbit. Rabbit." Saying that as the first thing on the first of the month brings good luck. As readers here well know, my superstitious nature is quite prominent and this is one of those that I truly believe in. In fact, due to the nearly impossible nature of it, it is perhaps the pinnacle of good omens. I've only remembered to do it twice before in my life, but one of those times was also on January 1st and that year was quite a good one. Here's to looking for a repeat of past luck.

Best of luck in the New Year to all of you as well.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup BEST of 2011

The year that seemed to never end is finally over. That means it's time to roundup the best albums of the year. This year was surprisingly easy to pick the top 20 albums. There was a huge difference between these records and the other hundred or so albums I heard this year. There is also quite a big difference between 1-10 and 11-20. What I'm trying to say is that there were fewer albums that really wowed me this year than in years past. There were also less new bands that impressed me, with only two making this list. Perhaps I'm just getting older and more set in my ways. Either way, these albums were great and made the year worthwhile in music. Feel free to leave comments disagreeing with me...just keep in mind that there are still quite a few albums released in 2011 that I have yet to hear. Each album contains my review from earlier blog posts. Enjoy.

1. o'death - outside: The fourth album by the pioneering New York gothic folk outfit was one of my most anticipated albums of this year. Easily one of my favorite bands to emerge in the last five years, their previous albums all rank highly on my list of albums of the last decade. It only makes sense that this is hands-down the best album I've heard this year. Shifting slightly away from the death-folk harshness of their previous album, the band finds a something of a beautiful calm on this one. It's almost as if the last album, Broken Hymns, Limbs & Skin was an act of violent death and this album is the peace found afterward. Truly brilliant.

2. Uncle Acid & the deadbeats - Blood Lust: Heavy 70's prog metal music reigns throughout. Pounding swing drums, blistering guitar, and a singer that's absolutely phenomenal. From the first song when they sing, "I get my kicks from tortury and screams," I dare anyone not to take notice of the madness going on in this record. Easily near the top of my list for favorite albums of the year. These guys are from the UK and have a previous album released last year called Vol 1. A review of that album to follow soon.

3. Sivert Hoyem - Long Slow Distance: The new solo album from the singer of Madrugada is his first since 2009's Moon Landing. This is easily his best solo album since his first, 2004's Ladies and Gentlemen. It's also one of his best ever records, solo or otherwise. This is closest to Madrugada's masterpiece The Nightly Disease. The mood is dark and brilliant, something akin to the soundtrack of a mild nightmare. This has quickly become one of my favorite albums of the year. Exceptional tracks include "Warm Inside," "Animal Child," "Red on Maroon," and "Blown Away." This is a must have album, period.

4. Tom Waits - Bad As Me: The devilish howler's first studio album in ages, and first non-live album since 2006's outstanding three disc collection Orphans, this record has naturally received a lot of attention since its release late last month. Despite hearing the rave reviews, I went into it a bit skeptical. Artists that have been around as long as Tom, and who are as worshipped as him, tend to get undue praise when they do anything new. I worried that would be the case here, but how wrong I was. From the opening to the ending, this album is phenomenal. Musically and lyrically, it is what Tom has always done best, creating nightmarish tunes accompanied by his irresistible growl. Easily one of the albums on my short-list for best of the year.

5. 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.

6. The Bevis Frond - The Leaving of London: Nick Saloman has been releasing quality psychedelic indie rock records as The Bevis Frond since 1986. I own many of them, and they are all quite excellent. This is his first album since 2004 and is definitely worth the wait. With 18 tracks, spanning an hour and twenty minutes of great music. The formula hasn't changed much since the late '90s...driving guitars, piano melodies, and a wonderfully interesting voice singing songs representing a sense of disenchantment with the world. I've been listening to this a lot over the past two weeks and it's quickly becoming one of my favorites of the year.

7. Wilco - The Whole Love: The pioneer Chicago americana indie band is back with their first album since 2009's self-titled and it's their best since 2007's Sky Blue Sky. Every song on here is good and the album is bookended with two longer masterpieces. Incorporating strings and plenty of acoustic guitar, this album is simply beautiful and a perfect autumn pick. Stand out tracks include "Black Moon", a throwback tune to their earlier days "Dawned on Me," and "One Sunday Morning."

8. Alex Turner - Submarine: These six songs, recorded as part of a soundtrack for a film of the same title, show a side of the Arctic Monkeys and Last Shadow Puppets front man that is rarely heard on the recordings of those bands. Accompanied mainly by acoustic guitar and piano, these tracks are softer than the hard edged early Monkeys material, or their grander recent work. The result is a pretty wonderful little album by one of the best songwriters of the past 10 years.

9. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean: I immediately knew there were some songs on here that were brilliant and among his best (Rabbits Will Run, Your Fake Name...) but I wasn't feeling the others. After months of listening to my three favorite songs that made it onto iPod and loving them, I dug the album back out and have been listening to the whole thing pretty much every day this past week. The songs I wasn't sure about still aren't as good as the ones I was, but they are certainly better than I first gave them credit for. If this keeps up, this might end up on my year end list. Another lesson in why albums need more than one chance.

10. The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love: What started as a NYC dance punk outfit with 1999's Mirror had morphed into a more psychedelic sound by 2003's Echoes and more new wave by their last album 2006's Pieces of the People We Love. The five years off have certainly been spent wisely. This album sees the perfect combination of the greatness of Echoes with best bits of Pieces. It's still an alternative dance sound, but extremely well done. This has quickly become one of my favorite albums of the summer.

11. Okkervil River - I Am Very Far: The new album by one of my favorite bands of the last few years, this has certainly been on my highly anticipated list. However, two disappointing singles from the album over the winter kind left me feeling nervous. Thankfully, the singles were a bit of a fluke, and even those songs work much better in the context of the album. While it doesn't stray far from the folkish indie rock sound, it is certainly different from their last album, 2008's The Stand-Ins. This feels like more of a spiritual record to me. "The Valley" could be one of their best songs ever.

12. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing: Released in March, this the Toronto indie band's second album, following 2008's wonderful Hometowns. I really like the way this band captures the howl of the plains in an unexpected way. It isn't haunting the way in which that feeling is usually captured, instead it kind of kicks and fights against it. This reminds me a bit of a modern Eleventh Dream Day's Praire School Freakout.

13. Moonface - Organ Music: Moonface is basically just a Spencer Krug solo project (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes). The EP put out under the Moonfacename was one of my favorite EPs of last year. It was just one 20-minute song, but it was fantastic. This is a full album of five songs, all over 7-minutes long, which keeps the feel of the EP. These are definitely story songs, told in Spencer's wonderful Neil Young-esquehowl and experimental instrumentation. Of all Spencer's other projects, the Moonfacetracks remind me most of early Sunset Rubdown in structure, but with later day Wolf Parade soundscapes. The combination is excellent, like most everything he does.

14. Kitchie Kitchie Ki Me O: This 2011 album from a band born from the ashes of Norway's My Midnight Creeps and Madrugada has been one of my favorites of the year so far. It has a similar moody rock sound to those previous bands, but incorporates some prog elements and horns that really bring it to another level. Not to mention it has one of the best covers in year.

15. Low - C'mon with Acoustic EP: Another album, though it came out in April, that I kind of missed. I've been a fan of this Minnesota slowcore band ever since I heard their version of "Down by the River" with the Dirty Three in my friend's apartment in Queens, circa 2001. Their blend of indie spiritual songs played sometimes at a such a slow pace that you feel the tension between notes is addictive. This is one of their best albums in a few years, and the bonus acoustic EP, with versions of half the songs included, makes it spectacular. "Witches" is one of the best songs they've ever done in my opinion. Great stuff this. Great stuff.

16. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake: After finally hearing this album in its entirety, it's easy to see why it's currently the highest rated album of this year on Rate Your Music. Harvey has continued to reinvent herself and evolve over her career. The trek has lead to this stellar alternative folkish album about England. It incorporates many different genres in an effortless cohesion of moody songs. Not my absolute favorite album of the year, but certainly high on the list.

17. Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain in the Cloud: Over the past few years, this neo-psychedelic outfit has become one of my favorite bands of all time, delivering amazing album after amazing album. Released this week, this new album continues the trend. Though I find it almost indistinguishable from their last two efforts The Majestic Majesty and American Ghetto, that's quite okay with me because those are wonderful albums. More psychedelic indie rock with falsetto beauty swirling all around.

18. Man Man - Life Fantastic: One of the more interesting bands of the last decade, this Philly's band's previous three albums are chaotic blend of Captain Beefheart meets the current world of experimental indie rock. Sounding a bit like a roving band of gypsies is what has always given Man Man their original appeal and this album is no different. Starting with 2006's Six Demon Bag (a masterpiece) to 2008's Rabbit Habits (an album I loved and have recently been listening to a ton) to this album, the band has mellowed a bit. Though anyone who knows these albums knows that 'mellow' is a relative term. There's something of a Burrough's surreal nature to these albums, like a Tom Waits album on a dust. Life Fantastic is fantastic indeed.

19. J. Mascis - Several Shades of Why: The new solo acoustic album by the Dinosaur Jr. front man follows in the footsteps of 2005 similar Sing + Chant for Amma, only with more defined song structure. I very much enjoyed that album and was interested in checking this one out. What I discovered was an album by a musician that, decades into his career, is really hitting a new creative high. This is an album that simply grooves. It never feels forced. It just taps into a vibe and keeps going through it until the end. Once it was over, I found myself thinking, damn that was really good.

20. Sic Alps - Napa Asylum: The third and latest album in my continued exploration of this lo-fi San Francisco band is definitely the best. Released in January, this is also one my favorite albums of the year so far. The band has refined their sound by now, streamlining the songs into a perfect modern Grateful Dead experiment with heavier psychedelic overlays. The songs sometimes feel like snippets, but they all weave into one another making a truly interesting and at times stellar album.