Monday, December 26, 2011

Dedicated Ears Most Listened To Albums/EP's of 2011

 Over the course of this year I got hooked on post rock, electro pop, Baroque pop and a lot of experimental pop. I had the good fortune to be turned on to a lot of good music, including some on this list suggested by DC from The Waiting Room Radio Show podcast, which I suggest you check out. I am fortunate to be friends with a lot of great musicians and bands and am lucky to know them and see them play. I also want to say thanks to the bands on this list and all bands that have free downloads of their music.  Thanks to you who read this.

1) Tune Yards - W H O K I L L  (Beggars Group USA) Merrill Garbus' move to a label (Beggars USA) did not diminish her inventiveness. The centerpiece of these songs is  her amazing ear for making a melody out of even disparate pieces of sound as on "Riotriot" and "Es-so". It is almost a given just two albums and one ep in that Merrill could make any type of music she desired.

2) Radiohead - King Of Limbs Radiohead releases have varied in their accessibility since OK Computer. This album has something for all Radiohead fans. More relatable songs like "Lotus Flower" and less typical songs like "Feral". Rhythm is centric to King Of Limbs and some of its brightest moments are when the rhythm is right along side the electronic burps and hiccups. At this point you are either in or not with what Radiohead has morphed their sound into. I enjoy it immensely.

    3) Liam Finn - FOMO   (Yep Rock Records) Liam Finn culls sound inspiration from the 50's ("Cold Feet"), and 80's("The Struggle") along with overall production that echoes the 70's. This mixture is held together with Liam's songwriting about girls won and girls lost as well as just boozy good time songs like "Real Late".  This album has a general narrative and I think these songs work really well as an album. One of my top 5 played songs this year was the propulsive "Don't Even Know Your Name".

4) The Juliets - Perfect Season   This Michigan baroque pop quartet is soulfully fronted by Jeremy Freer (piano, guitar vocals). For me it's hard to imagine The Juliets improving on their self titled debut, but they have managed exactly that on Perfect Season. The seamless incorporation of the violin and cello as evidenced on "Fashion" is what sets them apart from others in the baroque pop genre. Throw in the beautiful instrumental track "The Lost Memory" and a smidgen of hip hop and jazz influenced drumming on "G.W.N.L" and you have a complete album.

5) Jump Starts - Ready, Set, Go...    St. Louis duo Justin Johnson (guitar, vocals), and Sarah Ross (drums, vocals) use simplicity in their duo take on 50's pop on tracks like "Long Way Home" and 80's new wave on "Lie In Your Bed". I was fortunate to have Justin send me the original demos a while back and they were good, but this mix is even better. This mix showcases Justin's songwriting and vocals as well as Sarah's loose style drumming that make these song very memorable. They use the simple harmonies well and create clean fun pop songs.

6) The End Of The Ocean -  Pacific.Atlantic  (Future Recordings) Columbus Ohio post rock heavyweights create a sonic landscape on Pacific.Atlantic  that makes this album sound like one beautiful long song with several different movements. From the cinematic "to be buried and discovered again" to the 11 minute slow burn of  "we always think there is going to be more time...", every sound on this album was planned very well.  They are on a great post rock/ambient label called Future Recordings. Check them out.

 7) il abanico - Crossing Colors EP  L.A. via Boston post punk pop band originally from Bogota. Quite the lineage.  I can hear the influence of Central/South American rhythm on "Cold Outside". Another one of my most played tracks of the year is "Keep Calling" with its ridiculously addictive vocals by Juliana Ronderos. The bass line anchors the song. About the only negative was the length. Here's hoping they put out an LP soon. 

8) Wizard Oz - Flower Days  Delicious lo-fi noise pop from Melbourne's  Wizard Oz, about whom there isn't a whole lot of info. I do know that these off kilter songs play a little game trying to hide a catchy melody buried in amongst noise and reverb as on "Horse Tails". Even more experimental is "Wait Up" and the cheery, almost all instrumental "Raiden". This is very catchy stuff that just hides from time to time. Love the looseness of the production on this. 

9) The Black Atlantic - Darkling, I Listen      (Beep! Beep! Back up the Truck) They're back... with another addictive set of songs, this time an EP.  From the sheer scope of the beauty on "The Aftermath (Of This Unfortunate Event)" to the soaring harmonies and interesting percussion on the title track, Geert, Kim, Matthijs , and Simon have made an indelible EP.  It's official release is such that I have only had this since I pre-ordered my vinyl (you can too!) and got the digital DL a few weeks ago.

     10) dusthoney - lipstick chorale   ( On her Jamendo page, dusthoney claims she has made this album by "scattered 'i don't know how to record things' piano improv". I think she's pulling our leg. On "japanese justice" she infuses middle eastern sound break beats with other electronic textures to create a addictive loop. The pretty nature of "forget the sun" gives way to a dissonant trudge of "gunflower". At times I forget I am listening to electronic music and get drawn into the atmosphere of these songs.

   11) Paper Dolls - Sparks   Baroque pop from St. Louis fronted by Jenn Malzone. I'm not sure they could open with a more catchy piano riff than on album opener "Middle Class Fashion" which cedes to a hell of a hook. The experimental vocals on "First Draft" add a really nice touch. This is muscular baroque pop. The time shifts help keep the sound moving and unpredictable.

   12) Lupe de Lupe - Recreio EP   (Fórceps Discos)   Hailing from Belo Horizonte and playing a mixture of noisy shoe gaze on "Brejo das Almas" and including Brazilian music influence rock on "A Escrava Isaura", Lupe de Lupe move about these sounds creating a chameleon of an album. I love the immediacy of the simple production and no overdubbing, making for a glorious raw sound.

  13) Parts and Labor -  Constant Future    Math rock vets offer up what appears to be their last album for a while. This album went back to their roots but with cleaner production than the early albums. There are a lot of headphones and speakers that are happy for that.

  14)  Shy - Shy   California shoe-gaze grunge band that delivers big guitars, dreamy vocals and a 90's centered sound that will make you miss those times but be thankful for this album. Check out the guitar brakes on "Shift". So good. It's only four songs but they get to the point quickly.

    15)  Big Blood - Big Blood and The Wicked Hex (donttrusttheruin)  Superb dark folk by Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin. Her wail is very affecting and the way the bass loosely slinks just adds to the darker nature of these songs. "Run" is pretty entrancing. You can download 12 of their releases for free on their Free Music Archive page.

16) Syd Lane - Solstice   Prolific (60 tracks since 2009) Irish songstress Syd Lane originally went by the name Loaded Whispers, and so began my affection for her music. Solstice features dreamy songs like "This Invert Reality" that speak of the summer with their brightness. The gauzy goodness of "The Moon and The Liar" is my favorite track on here, replete with angelic harmonies. These songs are a mix of alt country, 60's folk, and shoe gaze.

      17) Dodos - No Color    (Frenchkiss Records) Merging tribal rhythms and indie pop, the Dodo's stand out again on their second album, No Color.   The David Byrne inspired "Don't Try To Hide It" is my top track on here.

  18) Various Artists - Voy a Explotar Soundtrack  (Club Fonograma) This soundtrack is for a Mexican film. It's got quite a back story you can check out at the link above. I had already downloaded the likes of Jovenes y Sexys and Carlos Reyes. This soundtrack is deep with great songs and is a free download on Free Music Archive.

   19) Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps    (Sub Pop) Greg Dulli and company never disappoint. Dulli's howl and the tight band move in and out of sounds and tempos. "Last Night In Town" is the quintessential Twilight Singers song. Feels like I am at home when listening to it. Dulli and band deliver their grinding wailing stamp on "On The Corner". 

   20) Northernists - Mama and the Loerie EP   This EP marks the second really good ep in a row for Toronto folk band The Northernists. Their songs reside in a beautiful dream like state with harp, cello and beautiful vocals by Hannah Strauss. The title track is nothing short of amazing, so beautiful. 

 21) Declan de Barra - Fragments, Footprints and the Forgotten  Ireland native and L.A. resident who has a resonant, low pitched voice that delivers these folk songs and reminds me in the best way of Johnny Cash and Nick Cave. The straight forward storytelling on "Sunrise" is quite convincing, especially as he raises the pitch of his voice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dedicated Ears 2011 Most Listened To Chicago Albums/EP

Three years in with this blog, as well as birthing  Dedicated Ears Legal Album/EP List (on which you can find many of the albums below), I consider myself quite lucky. Lucky to have a wife who encouraged me to start this blog in the first place as well as work with me to get me to a lot of shows. Lucky to have met such great artists and humble people as are on this list, as well as countless others. Having friends like August from Novo and  Rebecca from Betta. It's pretty amazing how this big organism that is Chicago music works together for a daily purpose. Thanks to all of the musicians who have sent me music, as well as those who had their music up for free that I randomly ran into. Thanks to all the invites I got for shows, both the ones attended as well as the ones received daily that I can't attend because my job is stay at home dad to 3 monkeys under 5 years old. In the end it's all about the music and I am probably aware of maybe 10% of the music made in this city.  So my hat's off to all of you who make music!


1) Dastardly - May You Never...    Fronted by Gabe Liebowitz, this band has more than a little honky-tonk kick-ass in them. Be it classic cartoon imagery in "Villain" or a humorously self-deprecating song like "Exercise In Self Loathing", Dastardly makes both the lyrics and the instrumentation a fun ride. They WILL make you change your mind about what you think is honky-tonk or country. Gabe's wavering vocals when harmonizing with Sarah Morgan is as good as it gets. You can almost see the tumble weeds blowing by you as you listen to "Traffic", a perfect closer for this album.

  2) Jennifer Hall - In This  Jen Hall exploded on the Chicago music scene this year. Her jazzy "Green and Blue" shows an assured voice and an innate ability to translate her emotions.  The wittily written "Like I Lie You" showcases Jen's ability to really deliver some notes from her heels. That's when the true magic moments appear. She is backed by a very good band and In This establishes them as a force.

 3)  The Bears Of Blue River - Dames    Channeling 50's Doo-wop pop with some kind of excellence are Gavin Wilkinson and The Bears Of Blue River. There is an overall laid-back vocal styling between Gavin and Margaret Alexandra Gard on songs like "Cry Baby". "Blue River" is my favorite. The band has such a full sound on this album. They play off one another really well. You can't help but smile while listening to these songs.

  4) Collages - Maya  Jesse Bustamante is Collages and makes electronic psych-pop music. You've got a good mix of pop-oriented songs like "Circle", and more experimental fare such as "Hemadeus". The reggae-tinged, trippy "Like A Paternal Tree" is my favorite track on this album and has a really nice break in it 2/3 of the way through the song before it builds again. There is some nice attention to composition on this album.  

 5)  Mutts - Pray For Rain  Mike Maimone's voice is front and center on this album, which explores some new ground for these gods of the bottom end.  The growl of "Fool" is Mutts' classic sound and the more experimental "Save Us" is a doomed call from the apocalypse if I've ever heard one. It's nice to see Mike and this really tight band exploring new territory.  "Done Again" is my favorite track, which finds the guys using a little restraint and some really nice percussion. That fade toward the end and the subsequent buildup is magical.

6) Tom Schraeder - Egoiste  If there is one thing I've learned this year, it's don't call Tom a singer-songwriter. Also, he has a disdain for the band Muse. And he just happened to make an album that sounds like it may be a computer constructed album, but it wasn't done that way. "Be Well" is my favorite here and sounds as if it were remixed, only it wasn't. These songs are a departure from Tom's already cool sound. He seems very confident with the switch. 

 7) Save The Clocktower - Carousel  From the  electronic tones of "Drip" to the rock of "You've Got Me" to "Trapped Noise" (which splits the two genres), Jimmy Shenk and company have created some catchy songs. "Far Apart" is my favorite. The mixture of programmed drums and electric guitars make for a bright sound, while the melody suckers you in.

   8) Paper Thick Walls - A Thousand Novels  Eric Michaels and Kate Schell have created a confident bunch of pop songs that cover quite a bit of ground musically. The standout track for me is the beautiful "NyQuil", which features simultaneous dual lead vocals in a throwback to 70's FM radio staples. The introduction of the strings on this song is really nice.

   9) Greg Gibbs - The Lights  How could something so simple be so good? Listen to The Lights and find out. From the acoustic wonder "To Come Undone" to the bouncy, electric-charged "Wasted Plans", this album is full of songs that will be in your head for days after you listen to them. The flashes of electronica, as on "Orwellian Soccer Blues", give this album another dimension. It's amazing to think Greg does this on the side and doesn't play out (his day job is owner of Chicago Bagel Authority restaurants).

  10) Vortis - Things Won't Get Better   Punk done well is always fun times in my book. L. Calvano, J. DeRogatis, C. Martiniano, and T. Tavano play hard-charging punk with an industrial influence.  Definitely check out the 1 min 27 sec wonder of  "Hate Our Condition". This is punk as I remember it, you know, before Green Day.

   11) Yay! Conifers - Mt. Pilchuck Comprised of Lüke and Miranda Rae, who met in college and now are teamed up in Portland making some sweet electro-pop. Miranda's voice works really well with  Lüke's electronic arrangements. "Buy Local" has quite a few musical shifts and is my favorite on this ep.

12) Teenage Rage - the original teenage rage!  The tribe that is Teenage Rage have made a raw sounding gem of an album that reminds you of the 50's for sure. From the turbulent but sweet "tragiccowboy", with Will on vocals, to the prettily sung "oh teenager" by Emme, these songs have a common tone and yet they are different. My favorite is "Windmills", with Will delivering a slice-of-life subject for this song he sings.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Juliets - Perfect Season (album review)

The Juliets are:
Jeremy Freer - Piano, Guitar, Vocals
Sarah Myers - Violin, Vocals
Kaylan Mitchell - Cello
Ashton Hopkins - Bass
Jacklyn Phillips - Drums

After the Juliets self titled debut album landed in my most listened to albums last year, I eagerly awaited the release of their follow up, Perfect Season. I had the good fortune to book them for a show at The Chopin (video below), see them play some of the songs they were working on for Perfect Season, and talk with the band. It was great to talk to Jeremy about his influences (Motown) as well as see that he had a big picture view for the band and knew how he wanted to get the band to that place. As far as their sound goes the Juliets are able to blend elements of rock, soul, indie and baroque that all add up to a sound that can only be claimed by them.

Where their self-titled debut was tight and sounded as if they had made it all at once in one massive great session, Perfect Season has an array sounds on it and finds them experimenting with their instruments, as opposed to incorporating other sounds and instruments. Some nuanced turns of the strings are played incredibly capably by Sarah Myers (violin) and Kaylan Mitchell (cello),  as evidenced on the song "A Perfect Season".  The way they fill the background from the middle to the end of the song is not something you would describe by proclaiming "yes there are strings in there". But the effect on the listener is a rich sound that is accentuated by Jeremy Freer's swooning vocals, light falsetto, and just the right amount of guitar played by Jeremy as well.

The pop punch of "Heart In Heart" is a rollicking track that easily could have been on their first album, although slightly different with the drumming of Jacklyn Phillips, replete with loose marching snare rolls and nice jazz touches as well.  Jacklyn just joined the band (didn't play on their first album), and to see her  play live was happily surprising due to the way she mixed more traditional rock and hip hop drumming together. Who would have thought?

"The Lost Memory" is a bit of a change up for the band, and a welcomed one at that with waltz timed instrumentals and contributions from the whole band. Hell, if they put out a whole album of this I would really enjoy it.

"You Found Me Out" finds Jeremy's falsetto and piano interplay being accentuated by Ashton Hopkins bass line almost as a call and response. Add short burst of strings and this is a delicious pop nugget that leads you to bob you head with the rhythm.

With as well as Jeremy can write a pop hook and marry it to his piano playing, the one thing that might not scream out at you is the arrangements of these songs. It goes without saying that all the members of this band contribute and do it well. The Juliets have incorporated the strings so well that they sound seamless amongst the sounds of rock music. Add some hip hop drum flavor and Perfect Season  is a singular sounding album that you won't be able to stop listening to. I know my wife and I haven't as we listen to this every few days since it came out. This album will be on my most listened to wrap up in a few weeks. The band has this album as a "name your price 0 minimum download". So help them out with some dough if you are able, but above all share their bandcamp link if you like it like I do.

Here's the video for The Juliets  performing "Loon" the opening track of Perfect Season. (Dedicated Ears Showcase at Chopin Theatre Chicago on June 19 2010.