Forecastle, Day 1

Hey there, internet.  Long time no see!

Here’s some brief recapping of my time at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, KY, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite festivals around.  The park isn’t oversold, for one, so there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy yourself, and you also can still have a pretty good shot at sneaking your way through the crowd during a headliner’s set to get a good view.  Try that at Lollapalooza, friends.

While last year, I came mostly because Andrew Bird was on the bill, this year, I just bought a ticket and hoped the lineup would be excellent.  A lot of bands I don’t know, or have only sort of heard of, sure, but so far I haven’t been let down.

Here’s a brief recap of the first day, now with added photos!

Roadkill Ghost Choir

Roadkill Ghost Choir

I started my day out with Roadkill Ghost Choir, who reminded me a lot of My Morning Jacket, especially with lead singer Andrew Shepard’s vocals.  They had a sound that was half southern rock, half indie-psych-rock.  There was a guy rocking a banjo and a pedal steel, but there were also a lot of guitar riffs and distorted sounds.  Incredibly enjoyable!

The Pimps of Joytime

The Pimps of Joytime

I didn’t have anything else on my agenda for a while, so I wandered around and found myself drawn in by The Pimps of Joytime, playing on the main stage.  Funk is not necessarily always my thing, but, man, outside on a hot summer day, it’s pretty impossible not to find yourself moving to the beat. There were two women playing percussion and singing backing vocals, which was what caught my attention in the first place.  If these people weren’t inspired by Prince to at least some extent, I will eat my shoes.  Their music isn’t the kind of stuff I would have sought out on my own, but I’m definitely going to do so now.

Houndmouth

Houndmouth

Next up were local-to-Louisville indie/folk rockers Houndmouth, who I can’t believe I’ve never heard of before!  They’ve got an awesome sound — they reminded me of The Head and the Heart in a way, especially with the mix of male/female vocals.  I wish I’d discovered them earlier — they’re doing a small aftershow on the Belle of Louisville during the festival and I would have really liked that.  At one point, everyone in the band got up and switched instruments to sing a fantastic cover of “I Shall Be Released”.  It really highlighted the versatility of every member of the band; you’d never know they weren’t playing their primary instruments at all.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show

After that, I stayed in place at the main stage for Old Crow Medicine Show, who I somehow have never seen before, despite their jam being, well, my jam precisely.  There are legitimate criticisms about them and their music — some of which have been aired right here on this blog — but it is undeniable that they put on one hell of a show.  It’s constant energy from start to finish, and every member has some serious bluegrass chops.  Frontman Ketch Secor is a joy to watch as he runs and dances about stage playing his fiddle, and wails on the harmonica. Also, short of seeing Mumford & Sons at Lollapalooza a few years ago, when they were just starting to get big (*sob* I remember seeing them in a 500-some capacity club and now they’re headliners *sob*), I have never seen so many people — including the dudes next to me unironically wearing shirts for various metal bands — go apeshit over bluegrass.

Fireworks during Young the Giant's set

Fireworks during Young the Giant’s set

I ended my evening by listening to Young the Giant I say “listening” because I was sprawled out on my blanket on an empty stretch of concrete, eating my chili cheese fries and enjoying not being standing.  They make some great indie rock and tried out several new songs for the crowd.  The band reported that they’ve been recording and hope to have a new album out in January.  The crowd was really into it, and their set was punctuated by some fireworks from the riverfront, which made for an awesome end to the day.

Hooray for Covers! Scott Bradlee & The Postmodern Jukebox Band, “Thrift Shop”

For new faces around here, or those just checking in for the first time in a while, let me remind you about my love of quirky covers – ones that give a new spin to the original, where the covering artist takes it and makes it his/her own.  New York singer-songwriter Scott Bradlee has been doing this for a while.  He gained notice a couple of years ago for his Motown tribute to Nickleback; this time, Bradlee and company are back with a jazzy cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”.  Vocals are by Robyn Adele Anderson.  Check it out, and then download the track at Bandcamp.

Scott Bradlee: Official Website | Facebook | Youtube

Wow, That’s a Good Song: Ben Taylor, “Oh Brother”

Ben Taylor is an artist who I’ve kept tabs on over the years, albeit casually, so I missed the fact that he’d released a new album, Listening, in mid-2012.  I picked up a copy when I was traipsing about the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis (one of the best music stores I’ve been to in ages) and finally got around to listening to it today, and it is fantastic.   Taylor, of course, is the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon, and has some big musical shoes to fill.  He is largely his own musical  creature, but sometimes he sounds so much like his father that it’s eerie. On “Oh Brother”, he pays homage to  his father both lyrically and in vocal styling, in a way that makes me smile a whole lot.

no man is a hero every day
and even a champion loses the day before the race
try not to be sleeping when you’re wide awake
and when your chance comes, have fun, don’t be afraid

Ben Taylor: Official Site | Facebook | Twitter

11 Albums I Actually Listened to and Liked in 2012

So, as we’ve previously established, I am absolutely terrible at making Best Of Anything lists.  The lists are either unwieldy or never get finished.  But as I was sitting around trying to come up with some songs to play on my year-end CHIRP Radio show, I figured that I might as well make up a list of albums that I liked.

Here are my top 11 choices of Albums I Actually Got Around to Listening To and Enjoying this year, posted in alphabetical order.

Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America

Mitchell followed up her 2010 mythology-themed folk rock opera project Hadestown with Young Man in America, an album which honestly took some time to grow on me, for no real reason, because it’s a superb release.   Mitchell has an interesting voice which she uses to full effect here.  This is a very modern folk album, firmly rooted in the world today.  Her songwriting is divine and she manages to find a very emotional center for her works which may pass you by if you’re not listening carefully.

Young Man in America was released February 28 on Thirty Tigers.

Anais Mitchell: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself 

With each release, Andrew Bird edges closer to mainstream music, but never quite loses the eclectic charm that’s been gathering him fans since the mid-90′s.  His lyrics are slightly less cryptic, but he hasn’t stopped making up words, either.   ”Danse Caribe” manages to seamlessly fuse traditional Irish fiddle with African themes he’s been playing with.  Annie Clark (St. Vincent) provides vocals on “Lusitania”, a song about relationships and conflict (and also history and electricity: this is an Andrew Bird album after all). “Fatal Shore” is both an extension of the Orpheus myth and a riff on an old Charley Patton song.  A friend described Bird’s last album, Noble Beast, as “a breakup album about nature”, which sounds absurd but is true.  Break It Yourself is the logical extension of that album: it’s about coming through on the other side, finding joy again.

Break It Yourself was released March 6 on Mom+Pop

Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory

Shameful admission time: it actually took me a very long time to listen to and fully appreciate Hands of Glory.  This is dumb, and I know it’s dumb, because a) Andrew Bird superfan b) folksy sort-of-alt-country-sort-of-bluegrass album c) come on seriously why wouldn’t I like it. But I needed to be in the right mindset to appreciate it, and even then, there was still something missing.  Until Birdmas this past week, I was on the fence here — I liked Hands of Glory, but I didn’t love it.  I wanted it to be fleshed out more, to exist as a full album rather than something just slightly longer than an EP.  But now… now I get it, and I wonder what I was missing. If you’re looking for the true, authentic Andrew Bird, the performer who exists when the stage lights are off and the curtains are drawn, this is as close as we’re going to get. These simple, unadorned folk-tinged songs are what have been driving Bird’s music for 15+ years now, only he’s never put them down on an album in this pure a form. He has now, though, and I hope every Bird fan out there gets to come around to loving this album as much as I do.

Hands of Glory was released October 30 on Mom+Pop

Andrew Bird: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Father John Misty – Fear Fun

Father John Misty is the newest project from former Fleet Foxes drummer J. (Josh) Tillman, although the album for the most part doesn’t sound particularly Fleet Fox-y, which is probably the sound that Tillman was going for.  The album bounces between several different sounds — dreamy, high harmonies; straight up country rock; your stereotypical jangly indie rock — and seems to be struggling for an identity just as much as Tillman is.  Fear Fun is an album with meandering, tortured beginnings; in press for the album, Tillman talks about sinking into a deep depression, doing lots of drugs, driving aimlessly down the west coast, and holing up in a California house to make some demos.  It’s an interesting twist on the standard indie rock narrative of “sensitive guy holes up in cabin to write sensitive songs”, and the album is better for it.  The lyrics can be a bit too precious at times, but the overall sound is good even if the words sometimes struggle.

Fear Fun was released May 1 on Sub Pop.

Father John Misty: Official Website | Facebook | Store

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg return with their second full-length album, a collection of simple indie-folk songs which feature their well-matched vocals above all else.  Beyond the lyrics and the songwriting — none of the lyrics are particularly groundbreaking — their voices are the real draw on this album.  They’ve been previously compared to a female version of Fleet Foxes, which is understandable, given their tight harmonies and simple backing music. Most of the tracks fit that model of gentle but mostly upbeat folk-rock songs. “Emmylou”, a sweet tribute to country greats like Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash, is heavy on lap steel and could easily be mistaken as a track from any of the current Americana-inspired US bands rather than a pair of Swedes. “Dance to Another Tune” starts off slower and more moody than the rest of the tracks, if you need something a little less uptempo. “King of the World” features a guest appearance on vocals by Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes).

The Lion’s Roar was released January 24 on Wichita.

First Aid Kit: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur

Canadian alt-country singer Kathleen Edwards returns with her first album since 2008.  Voyageur was co-produced by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and features guest appearances by numerous other artists, including Norah Jones, Phil Cook (Megafaun), Sean Carey (Bon Iver), Brian Moen (Peter Wolf Crier), and, of course, Justin Vernon.  Voyageur is less rootsy-sounding than her previous releases, a result of Edwards working and cowriting with many others.  There’s not a single bad song on the album, and only a hint of country twang, if you’re twang averse.  “Going to Hell” is mostly a full-on rock song, with some jangly guitar riffs that aren’t usually found on alt-country albums.  RIYL: Neko Case, Sharon Van Etten, Gillian Welch

Voyageur was released January 17 on Zoe/Rounder.

Kathleen Edwards: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

This one is a bit of an unorthodox choice for a best-of list which is otherwise full of alt-folk and indie rock picks. I got turned on to R.A.P. Music when it made its way into rotation over at CHIRP, and I was impressed with how smart and savvy the lyrics are.  Rap music (the genre) isn’t something I feel I’m well versed enough in to talk about at length, but this album has been one which I’ve kept in constant play since first discovering it.Anyone who says that all rap music is dumb and unsophisticated and [insert other stereotypes here] needs to pull up this album, stat.

R.A.P. Music was released May 15 on Williams Street

Killer Mike: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter

The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

Let’s be honest here, John Darnielle could put out an album where he is singing lines from the phone book and I’d like it. But Transcendental Youth is more than that, and we are better off for it.  Darnielle consistently writes about people who don’t always get voices in popular music – his subjects are people who are broken, damaged, moderately self aware, and trying to come out through clean on the other side.  There are few artists who can reduce me to ugly sobbing upon the opening track of an album, and fewer artists still who I feel it is a privilege to be in the presence of.  Darnielle manages both of those, and my life somehow feels more full whenever his music is in it.  Let’s also not forget the contributions of the other 2/3 of the Mountain Goats: bassist and all-around dapper dresser Peter Hughes, and Jon Wurster, one of the best drummers in the business.  Darnielle might write the words, but Hughes and Wurster help bring those words to life.

Transcendental Youth was released October 2 on Merge.

The Mountain Goats: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Mumford & Sons – Babel

Look, if you like Mumford & Sons, you’ll probably like Babel.  If you don’t like them, you are probably rolling your eyes and muttering something about inauthentic hipster sell-outs or something.  I don’t know. I love it, I can’t help it. I have a sort of hipster music snob fondness for them, the I liked them when they were still playing itty bitty rooms thing, and now they’re selling out stadiums.  Yes, the songs are all very samey-samey; the band has a formula and the formula works well and so they do it for most of their songs.  I think their lyrics are top-notch, and I enjoyed watching the songs of Babel grow and take shape over the past few years.  Haters to the left, I loved this album.

Babel was released September 25 on Glass Note.

Mumford & Sons: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Murder By Death – Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon

This is a fairly upbeat-sounding album from the Bloomington, IN-based band, all things considered.  Their sixth album finds them on a new label home, Chicago’s Bloodshot Records, and it’s a perfect fit for their brand of moody alt-country.  Despite being a bit less overtly morose than in the past, the songs are still modern day murder ballads, soaked in alcohol and dread.  The tracks don’t linger or meander, instead moving steadily forward thanks to some high-energy, driving percussion. Songs are frequently punctuated with horns, cello, and accordion   RIYL: The Handsome Family, The Waco Brothers, O’Death

Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon was released September 25 on Bloodshot

Murder By Death: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Sera Cahoone – Deer Creek Canyon

Sera Cahoone’s third album is a bittersweet collection of stories about growing up and moving on.  There’s something deep in here, past the twang and the heartbreak.  It’s about wondering what home is whenever you’ve left the place you grew up in; it’s about wondering if you can ever go back again. The album is titled for the area in which she grew up, and the title track is very evocative of those central themes.  The songs are built on Americana and roots music, with a bit of banjo and fiddle running throughout, although there are hints of more modern pop sensibilities every so often.  The best songs, for me, are the ones where she doesn’t stray too far from her roots.  RIYL: Kathleen Edwards, Kelly Hogan, Gillian Welch

Deer Creek Canyon was released September 25 on Sub Pop

Sera Cahoone: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Guest Post: Seven Albums That Came Out in 2012 That Mike Listened To and Enjoyed the Most

[ Every year, my friend Mike, of Land of Absurdity, contributes his list of favorite albums.  It almost makes up for the fact that I never bother to put these sorts of lists together anymore. Such is life. -S ]

Well, the Mayan Apocalypse is upon us, and you would think people would be in a hurry to create magnum opuses and release them to the masses before the end of the world, but alas, they didn’t. I’ve listened to a lot of stuff this year thanks to The Spotify, but a lot of bands that I regularly listen to did not have the presence that they did last year. Nevertheless here are the:

Seven Albums That Came Out in 2012 That Mike Listened To and Enjoyed the Most

Hot Chip – In Our Heads
I’m pretty sure I listened to How Do You Do and Night and Day as many times as Sarah listened to Andrew Bird this year. So that tells you how much I dig that song. The rest of the album is great too. It’s an eclectic mix of dancey electronica beats and British….well Britishness.

In Our Heads was released on June 12 by Domino.

Hot Chip: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Miike Snow – Happy to You
This was my first pick for album of the year, however it came out so early in the year that it was soon beat out by Hot Chip for thing I listened to the most. This album has a sound that is very different from Miike Snow’s debut, but is still excellent.

Happy to You was released on March 26 by Republic.

Miike Snow: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Of Montreal – Daughter of Cloud
I love me some weird music from time to time, and boy does Of Montreal Deliver. Of Montreal does a fantastic job on this album of making weird music listenable. Just like Talking Heads and King Crimson of the past.

Daughter of Cloud was released on October 22 by Polyvinyl.

Of Montreal: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

K’Naan – Country, God or The Girl
I don’t really listen to that much rap music normally, but ever since I saw K’Naan at Lollapalooza in ’08, I’ve been hooked on his music. His third album has actually garnered commercial airplay. So that’s pretty cool.

Country, God or the Girl was released on October 16 by Octone.

K’Naan: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Paper Route – The Peace of Wild Things
Glass Heart Hymn is easily my pick for track of the year. Beating out even those two Hot Chip songs I mentioned up there. I thought the departure of Andy Smith would have affected Paper Route negatively, but JT, Gavin, and Chad put together an album even better than Absence  (I featured that on this list a while ago and got Sarah mucho site hitos.)

The Peace of Wild things was released on September 11 by Tree of Hearts.

Paper Route: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

The Vaccines – Come of Age
Both The Soft Pack and The Vaccines released albums this year, which made it tough to pick one surf rock album to add to the list. I really liked The Soft Pack’s offering, especially Captain Ace, but The Vaccines sophomore album is just better top to bottom. Which is what you want from surf music.

Come of Age was released on September 11 by Columbia.

The Vaccines: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Store

Rein[Forced] – X Amount of Stab Wounds in the Back
This is my local shout out this year. Jim is this dude from Pittsburgh that used to be in a band called Forced, and then the other guy in the band died. And then Jim got pancreatic cancer. He survived, and managed to write some really good powernoise as Rein[Forced]. He finally released an album and it is awesome.

X Amount of Stab Wounds in the Back was released on August 14 by WTII.

Rein[Forced]: Official Website | Facebook

Honorable Mentions

Die Antwoord – Ten$ion
The South African rap duo put out an interesting album, but it just didn’t make it onto the list.

Celldweller – Wish on a Black Star
I can’t really count this as an album released this year, since its been released over the past few years in sections.

And of course the Worst album of the year.

Wiz Khalifa – O.N.I.F.C.
Maybe it’s because I don’t feel the need to smoke weed, let alone tell everyone I know that I am smoking weed, or maybe it’s because I really don’t care to listen to 17 songs talking about how much money you have or are spending, but I just don’t get Wiz Khalifa. I get it, you smoke weed and have a lot of money. Did you really have to spend 17 songs telling me this? Yeah, you’re a guy who was from Pittsburgh and happened to get popular and now have a lot of money. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT. Rap about something substantial!

Andrew Bird, Fourth Presbyterian Church; December 21, 2012

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird, Hideout Block Party, September 24, 2011

Well, the final night of this year’s round of Gezellegheid concerts is upon us.  This show happened to fall upon the day of that alleged end of the world business, which was acknowledged by Bird in his typical sly way at the end of the set, when he treated the audience to a more stripped down version of “Tables  & Chairs”, the most cheerful song about the apocalypse that there ever was.

This night had a very similar setlist as the prior nights, but again, some of the songs are still being tinkered with. The new song, with the repeated line of “Pulaski at night”, is still a work in progress — he’s got all the parts but is still trying to put them in order.  It’s a very powerful song which seems to resonate with the crowd.  I remember the melody getting stuck in my head after hearing him perform it at last year’s MCA shows, and it still holds true — days later I’ve still got it stuck in my head.

These shows are some of Bird’s favorites to perform, and he clearly loves the chance to do them at home.  He mentioned that while he does the shows in other cities, the ones in Chicago work the best.  It’s the perfect environment for a show — and as one of those curmudgeonly people who is becoming less and less able to tolerate people chit-chatting through shows, I appreciate the hushed, somewhat solemn nature, as it keeps people from talking the whole time.

The freedom of these shows is what I really appreciate.  After the show, Mel and I had a conversation about Bird and his physical performance, and while that’s her story to tell, not mine, I can say that these concerts have seen Bird be more physically animated than he has in a while now.  Years and years of jumping up and down on stage takes a toll on the body, something that Bird’s alluded to a handful of times, so his physical performance has been a bit more low-key lately.  He makes up for it in smaller movements — the curling of fingers, grasping for something — and with his voice.  His voice has always been a fine instrument, especially over the past six or so years as he’s really grown into the style of music that suits him best. (Listen, I love Thrills and it is in fact one of my favorites but there are songs on there that are so clearly a very young man literally trying to find his voice; listen to his discography in order and you can hear him mature.)  But in these “old timey” sections, where everything is so exposed, there’s a new boldness, a hint of an edge that is exciting to me.  Bird’s voice has always excelled at conveying fragility, but hearing the strength that he brings to tracks like “Something Biblical”, “Railroad Bill”, and “Three White Horses” has me excited for what the next steps in his musical career will bring.

Setlist

Set One

  1. Instrumental
  2. Hole in the Ocean Floor
  3. Ethiobirds / Naming of Things
  4. Carrion Suite
  5. Instrumental (Skin Is My)
  6. Meet Me Here at Dawn (Cass McCombs cover)
  7. New song (Untitled – “A minor”)
  8. Trimmed & Burning
  9. Plasticities

Set Two

  1. MX Missiles
  2. Give It Away
  3. Lusitania
  4. Some Happy Day
  5. Three White Horses
  6. Something Biblical
  7. If I Needed You
  8. The Sad Milkman
  9. Orpheo
  10. Eyeoneye
  11. New song (untitled – “Pulaski at night”)
  12. Tables and Chairs

Encore

  1. Oh Sister
  2. Goin’ Home