Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slippery as a (Swedish) fish.

Over just seven songs, Halina Larsson crafts a captivating little album. Fires and French Horns begins with the title track [a stream of which is below], a song that hews a fine line between folk-singer and pop-songwriter. Her voice is precious and breathy, and when a xylophone augments the chorus the song risks a turn to the cloying but Larsson manages to sell a line like "I've got the right way / to tell you now / I've got the right words," and with it, the song as a whole. Though sadly, there are no French Horns to be heard.

Fires and French Horns- Halina Larsson by HalinaLarsson

Larsson's voice takes on a dusky tone on "Puget Sounds;" the record's quiet standout. The snare provides a lolloping beat that matches the efforts of the song's protagonist to pull her lover onward in their relationship. While it's not as out-and-out country as Barton Hollow, "Puget Sounds" reminds me of some of The Civil Wars' work, especially "I've Got This Friend," and "Falling."

More so than The Civil Wars, Larsson's music reminds me of Sophie Zelmani and her self-titled debut. That's a name that might ring a distant bell for some, but is likely a stranger to most (this despite having released eight albums since her debut in 1996 and an appearance on the My Best Friend's Wedding soundtrack). A fellow Swede, AllMusic described Zelmani's music as "tender singer/songwriter country" and that's likely a descriptor that will be attached to Larsson at some point if it hasn't been already.

You can purchase Fires and French Horns at Larsson' Bandcamp page, and be sure to visit her website for more info.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I narrowed it down to these...

So here it is – the crème de la crème of my 2011 listening. Now that this is out of the way, I can focus on 2012 – which is already shaping up to be pretty good from the numerous records I’ve received so far.

20 Gem Club - Breakers [Hardly Art]

I wrote about this onetwice; once on each of my blogs. Which should be a strong sign that it would end up here.
Twins by Gem Club

19 Herajika Tracks - Love Universal [Introducing Production]

Yup, same thing with this album (though just here on Ear To The Sound).
Herajika tracks - Shigure by aresistencia

18 The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy [Missing Pieces]

They may want that you are always happy, but it's clear that The Middle East aren't always in a positive frame of mind. My wife referred to #20-18 as my 'mope-y' section of the Top 20. It gets more upbeat at the top!
The Middle East: Very Many by -gaga

17 Kathryn Calder - Bright and Vivid [File Under: Music]

I thought 2010’s Are You My Mother? was pretty strong, but it didn’t prepare me for how amazing Bright and Vivid is. Strong songwriting, strong voice, strong, strong, strong.
Kathryn Calder - Who Are You by File Under Music

16 Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays - Introducing Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays [Marlow Records]

Phe-nom-en-al. Fans of the Daptone label, Lee Fields, Syl Johnston, etc. should be all over this one. Moore’s got a rich baritone, and the band supporting him is stellar (it includes members of the Souljazz Orchestra – who you also need to check out).
Slim Moore and the Mar-Kays - steppin' all over me (Cosmic Groove) by SOFA RECORDS SHOP

15 Beirut - The Rip Tide [Pompeii Records]

This is Zach Condon finding his own sound after borrowing heavily from the Eastern European gypsy sound for Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Club Cup. It took a while to get into it after loving those first two records, but The Rip Tide is a great step forward.
Beirut - Santa Fe by Revolver USA

14 Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams [Sub Pop]

This is the Runaways produced by Phil Spector.
Dum Dum Girls - Bedroom Eyes by subpop

13 Wild Beasts - Smother [Warp]

My wife calls this “Gandalf rock” since she thinks Hayden Thorpe’s vocals are reminiscent of a certain Lord of the Rings wizard (for the record, she puts Future Islands and vocalist Samuel T. Herring in the same category). Yes, Thorpe’s vocals are peculiar, but they are perfectly married to the music.
Wild Beasts / Reach A Bit Further by Constellations Festival

Here's a bonus version of "Reach A Bit Further" live on the BBC. A bit different but no less lovely.
Wild beasts - Reach a bit further (BBC session) by mysteryfallsdown

12 Cannon Bros. - Firecracker/Cloudglow [Disintegration Records]

Alannah & Cole are twenty-years-old. This would make me sick with jealousy if I didn’t know them and know what great people they are. Look for them to blow up big in 2012.
Left in a Hurry - Cannon Bros by anecha

11 Thundercat - The Golden Age Of Apocalypse [Brainfeeder]

This is the 2011 answer to my #6 of 2010. Thundercat picks up where Flying Lotus left off.
Thundercat - Is It Love by Madison House

10 Bon Iver - Bon Iver [Jagjaguwar]

This ended up being one of the most divisive choices on year-end lists. Which kinda surprises me.
Calgary by boniver

09 Secret Cities - Strange Heart [Western Vinyl]

Fargo rock city represent!
Secret Cities, "The Park" by The FADER

08 Washed Out - Within And Without [Sub Pop]

Could’ve likely made the list on the back of “Amor Fati” alone, but the rest of the album is pretty brilliant as well.
Washed Out - Amor Fati by subpop

07 Wye Oak - Civilian [Merge]

I saw this band in Windsor several years ago when their Merge debut was about to drop. They played to a crowd that was smaller than the number of magazines that declared Civilian one of the best records of the year. Glad to see they got big.
Wye Oak - 'Holy Holy' by SpunkRecords

06 Louise Burns - Mellow Drama [Light Organ Records]

Reviewed this for Stylus, and as I said in that piece, this would’ve been my pick if I had a Polaris vote. But I don’t. Hmmmm.
Louise Burns - Drop Names Not Bombs by Light Organ

05 Destroyer - Kaputt [Merge]

Dan Bejar is one of those “love him or leave him” artists. I love him.
Destroyer - Chinatown by mouxlaloulouda

04 tUnE-yArDs - whokill [4AD]

Merrill Garbus played the West End this fall – whokill was primed to make the Top 10 anyway, but that live show pushed it a few spots higher.
My Country - Tune Yards by tracks_arte

03 James Blake - James Blake [Polydor]

One of the earliest releases of 2011, this one was unrelenting in how good it was. Probably the record I listened to most in the past year.
James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream by UMPG

02 Austra - Feel It Break [Paper Bag Records]

My toddler can sing along to “Lose It,” which speaks volumes to the number of times this album was played in my home. Katie Stelmanis’ performance at the West End was another jaw-dropper.
Austra - Lose It by Annie Mac Presents

01 Freddie Cruger and Anthony Mills are Wildcookie - Cookie Dough [Tru Thoughts]

I may be the only person with this album at the top of my list – I honestly haven’t seen it on any others. But I am happy to be out on my own on this one. I wrote a glowing entry about it ages ago, and still feel exactly the same about Cookie Dough.
WildCookie "Serious Drug" by Raven Supreme-Green

Friday, January 6, 2012

So Many Great Records, Part 4

Okay. So this is the last of the longlist entries. Once I recap my Top 20 of 2011, it's on to new things. I've actually already heard a couple albums this week I'm itching to write about, so expect the new stuff to be posted next week. Enjoy your weekend.

Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces [Constellation]

Here’s another one I owe to Jeff Friesen. He’s been a longtime Perri-person and it was thanks to his championing of prior works that I was primed for Impossible Spaces.
Love & Light by Sandro Perri

Shimmering Stars - Violent Hearts [Hardly Art]

I owe Stylus a review of this one. I’m not going to blow the awesome analogy I’ve come up with for it here, but needless to say, the review will be a favourable one.

Listen to one of the best tracks, "I'm Gonna Try" here. [Embed not available]

Sister Crayon – Bellow [Manimal]

I could’ve sworn I wrote about this record on this blog or Reductive Reviews, but a search reveals I did not – which is a shame, because this is a really solid record. Sister Crayon has a pretty distinct sound that captivated me.
Sister Crayon "I'm Still The Same Person" (The Album Leaf remix) by terroreyes

Sleep Over – Forever [Hippos In Tanks]

Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde [Fat Possum]

I didn’t see these guys when they opened for Arctic Monkeys in Winnipeg so I can’t confirm rumours I’ve heard about their live performances not matching up to the record, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Weekend - Smith Westerns by joshuadj

Snailhouse - Sentimental Gentlemen [White Whale/Forward Music]

Me and loving Snailhouse go way back. Feuerstack was one of my favourite interviews of the year on TGIFR because we talked while he was scouting locations to play handball while on tour.
Great Storytellers by snailhouse

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy [4AD]

On a list of “just missed its” in my life, being a day late to see St. Vincent at a small club in Phoenix a few years back ranks up there.

Listen to "Surgeon" here. [Embed not available]

The Stepkids - The Stepkids [Stones Throw]

WAAAAAY back when, I wrote about a band called The Dragons. That was an old album rediscovered. The Stepkids is just an album that sounds like it was rediscovered, but was actually created by guys who have supported the likes of Alicia Keys and decided to do their own thing.
The Stepkids - Shadows On Behalf by Stones Throw Records

Sun Wizard - Positively 4th Avenue [Light Organ Records]

Not quite sure what it is about B.C. right now, but there’s a lot of classic-sounding rock coming out of that province. Yukon Blonde is the breezier AM Gold to Sun Wizard’s more muscular sound. I had the good fortune of having these guys in to play live on TGIFR this year.
Sun Wizard - World's Got A Handle by Light Organ

This Hisses - Surf Noir [Transistor 66]

Here’s one of those rare instances where the album’s title perfectly describes the sound of the music contained therein. Surf Noir didn’t exist until this Winnipeg three-piece created / coined it.
01 Lycanthrope by This Hisses

This Will Destroy You - Tunnel Blanket [Suicide Squeeze]

I actually liked this record so much I wrote about it twice. Once in Stylus and once on Reductive Reviews.
Communal Blood by This Will Destroy You

Timber Timbre - Creep On Creepin' On [Arts & Crafts]

Listen to this on vinyl. You deserve it.
Timber Timbre: "Lonesome Hunter" by flavoredtrash

Tom Waits - Bad As Me [Anti-]

Everyone’s favourite creepy uncle returns.
Tom Waits - Chicago by throw_your_head

Toro Y Moi - Underneath The Pine [Carpark]

My countdown co-host, Jared McKetiak nailed it when he talked about this record on air. Toro Y Moi was one of the people who set the benchmark for chillwave with his first record and proceeded to jump well over it with Underneath The Pine.
Toro y Moi - New Beat by raphaelassaraf

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra [Fat Possum]

This came out of leftfield and grabbed my attention.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Ffunny Ffrends by MODESTMODUS

War On Drugs - Slave Ambient [Secretly Canadian]

Much preferred this to Kurt Vile’s record.\
The War on Drugs - Baby Missiles by edin2sun

The Weather Station - All Of It Was Mine [You’ve Changed Records]

Delicate, beautiful, personal. Tamara Lindeman’s sophomore effort as The Weather Station slayed me from the first listen.
The Weather Station - Everything I Saw by thebrokenspeaker

Weird Owl - Build Your Beast A Fire [Tee Pee Records]

Here’s another one I’ve yet to review for Stylus (Taylor, I promise, I’ll be submitting these soon!), but have been listening to for a while. Tee Pee is a fascinating label that hews its own line rather than following what others are doing sonically. Weird Owl is – in its own way – the perfect fit for them.

Wilco - The Whole Love [Anti-]

These guys have earned a place in my year-end wrap-up pretty much any year they release a record. And the title track earned a spot in my Top 20 songs of the year.

Whole Love from Spencer Tweedy on Vimeo.

Wires Under Tension - Light Science [Western Vinyl]

I wrote about these guys here on Ear To The Sound, so it shouldn’t be a surprise they made this list.
Electricity Turns Them On by Wires Under Tension by western.vinyl

Yamantaka/Sonic Titan - Yt//St [Psychic Handshake]

Another blind find courtesy of the postal service. This album came into the station unannounced and I slipped it into my computer based solely on the fact that the band’s name piqued my interest. So glad I played it.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider by Psychic Handshake

Zola Jesus – Conatus [Sacred Bones]

I resisted this one at first because it felt like everybody was raving about it. But my resistance was futile.
Night by ZolaJesus

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

So Many Great Records, Part 3

Well, I had hoped to have my entire longlist recapped before the New Years' Eve countdown aired, but unfortunately I developed a sinus infection over the holidays and between that and familial obligations, I didn't write a single word. So over the next couple days, I'm going to finish up the recap and get to my Top 20 (of which the word is already out on.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2012.

Les Jupes - Modern Myths [Head In The Sand]

Now that my Top 20 songs have been revealed, the cat’s out of the bag on this one. Released early in 2011, Modern Myths held strong throughout the marathon and “One Solemn Oath” never lost its resonance.
One Solemn Oath by LES JUPES by The Instrument Village

Lia Ices - Grown Unknown [Jagjaguwar]

This is a spooky record that gets under your skin.
Lia Ices - Ice Wine by hoodlem

Little Dragon - Ritual Union [Peacefrog]

The title track is amazing. How disappointed am I that Little Dragon had to cancel their Fargo show last February? That may have been the closest the Swedish act would get to Winnipeg.
Ritual Union by Little Dragon

Liturgy – Aesthetica [Thrill Jockey]

Black Metal. Thrill Jockey. Yes, please.
Liturgy - Generation by muntersinger

Low - C'mon [Sub Pop]

This may be the Minnesota band’s happiest record in a long string of epic sadness.
Low - Nothing but heart by ciaciod

M83 - Hurry Up We're Dreaming [Mute]

While I think Saturdays=Youth is a better record, this double-disc from the prolific Frenchman is still a very strong release.
Midnight City by M83

Mastodon - The Hunter [Reprise]

Here’s a record that Cretin Rob and I can absolutely agree on.
Mastodon - Curl of the Burl by Roadrunner Records

Matthew Maaskant - Believe It Or Not, This Is The Place [Draft Tattoo]

I wrote about being taken with this record, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to be on here.
Fireflies by M.Maaskant

Memory Tapes - Player Piano [Carpark]

Carpark always seems to be releasing interesting records, and Player Piano is a fitting album for their roster.
Memory Tapes - Unknown by jobsmit

Modeselektor – Monkeytown [BPitch Control]

According to Wikipedia, Modeselektor describe their music thusly: “Happy metal, hard rap, country-ambient, Russian crunk.”
Modeselektor - Blue Clouds by Modeselektor

Nat Baldwin - People Changes [Western Vinyl]

Chances are, if your album got a rave review from me earlier in the year, you can expect to see it find a place on the longlist at the very least.
Weights by Nat Baldwin by western.vinyl

Ocote Soul Sounds – Taurus [ESL]

Antibalas + Adrian Quesada + Thievery Corporation’s label (ESL) = one of my wheelhouses.
Ocote Soul Sounds - Primavera by INgroovesmarketing

Ohbijou - Metal Meets [Last Gang Records]

Known for Casey Mecijia’s wispy vocals, this record is surprisingly muscular.
Ohbijou - "Niagara" by indiemusicfilter

Owiny Sigoma Band - Owiny Sigoma Band [Brownswood Recordings]

More credit to Gilles Peterson for “discovering” this act and releasing it on his Brownswood Recordings label.
Owiny Sigoma Band - 'Wires' by Brownswood

Ox – Tuco [Cosmic Dave's Record Factory]

Mark Browning’s first full-length since 2007 (not counting his Christmas album), finds him further mining the dusty roots of American music. Great stuff.

Listen to "Indie Rock Radio Nation" here.

Peter Wolf Crier - Garden Of Arms [Jagjaguwar]

For some reason I used to get this band confused with Peter and the Wolf. After Garden Of Arms, I will not be making that mistake again.
Settling It Off by Peter Wolf Crier by rippleent

Quasimode - Magic Ensemble [AIS]

Classic club-jazz from Japan.
Quasimode - Giant Black Shadow by Starslicer

Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin' [Columbia]

As I mentioned in my Stylus review of this record, Saadiq is like a musical Dorian Gray moving back through rock history.
"Heart Attack" Raphael Saadiq by stantonallyson

Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip [Sonic Unyon]

Comparisons to My Bloody Valentine are warranted (although nothing will ever touch Loveless) and earned this Lone Star act a spot on the longlist.
Ringo Deathstarr - Imagine Hearts by Club AC30

Roots – Undun [Def Jam]

Pretty much the same boat as the Black Keys’ El Camino – released too late in the game for me to fully digest.
The Roots - Tip Of The Scale by dorego

Russian Circles - Empros [Sargent House]

Not as mind-blowing as Geneva and Station, a solid record from Russian Circles is always a welcome addition to my library.
Schiphol by RussianCircles