Sigur Ros new song Brennistein

I had the luxury of seeing the Sigur Ros tour last summer when they played a magnificent set on the lake shore just outside of downtown Toronto (see picture above).  With the skyline as their backdrop they played through almost two full hours of absolutely gorgeous music.  If you like even one song from the band I highly recommend that you get out and see their current tour.  You will not be disappointed.

Speaking of their ongoing world tour – the band from Iceland is doing it in support of an upcoming all new album that will be released on June 17th.  They’ve posted their first single from the album and it sounds like it’s going to be another epic album.

mp3 : Sigur Ros – Brennisteinn

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The Strokes new album Comedown Machine

The Strokes have unleashed a new album into the world and on first listen I can’t really grasp what their vision for the album was.  Their guitar/synth mashup style has now seemingly eschewed their wall of fuzz trademark and Julian’s vocals are even more unintelligible than usual.  On the opening track, Tap Out, it feels like the boys are gassed and are consciously trolling their fans, peers, and label.  The song has the pep and bounce you would expect, but the formula is missing something.  On previous efforts it felt as if The Strokes didn’t care an ounce and yet they combined that with an effortless sense of cool.  Here it feels, at times, like they genuinely just don’t care.

Elsewhere on the album you can hear their genius.  To be fair, I think this is the problem.  When viewing The Strokes through the lens of their previous efforts it’s easy to say they’re coming up short.  To label Comedown Machine (amazon) (itunes) as a poor effort is easy to do when you have Is This It sitting on the shelf.  It’s the same routine that has plagued other bands like Weezer or even Arcade Fire.  When your debut is so breathtakingly spot on everything you do after that will fall short of the impossible litmus test.

mp3 : The Strokes – One Way Trigger

All of that is true, and yet this is still a fun album from The Strokes.  It has some forgettable moments, but it also has a few songs that will stick with you and keep you trudging back through the full track list looking for that hidden spark.  Still it’s songs and demos like the following that make me wish for what could still come from the New York boys.

mp3 : The Strokes – I’ll Try Anything Once (You Only Live Once Demo)

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Cloud Cult album Love

With their latest album, Love (buy on their site) (amazon) (itunes), Cloud Cult continues to prove that some bands get better and better the longer they make music.  I have tried to come up with a witty review for this album and I find myself returning over and over again to this simple phrase; Love is a perfect Cloud Cult album.  On a track by track basis you can clearly hear their past musical styles shine through and ultimately blend together into what is essentially a “best of” album composed entirely of new songs.

I have long talked about Cloud Cult as the best band you’ve never listened to.  This album proves it and would be an excellent starting point for any new fan.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Complicated Creation
mp3 : Cloud Cult – Meet Me Where You’re Going

If I’ve piqued your interest in the least you can sample more of their music in a rather long ode I wrote about the band a few months ago (click here).

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The Lone Bellow Debut Album

I have been following a musician named Zach Williams almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog.  I first stumbled upon his music when his moniker was Zach Williams and The Ramparts.  Those were the heady days of Myspace and random music links that led you farther and farther down the rabbit hole.  I followed his career as he made the move to NYC and at one point we started to email back and forth occasionally.  I recall vividly a time when he was playing a lot of local shows in the New York area and I convinced an old high school chum to go and see a show.  He ended up staying after the concert and meeting Zach in person; he described Zach as personable, friendly, and a very emotional performer.

After awhile my correspondence fell off and there were rumours that Zach was done with his pursuit of music.  And then the latest chapter in his career started with The Lone Bellow.  Originally running as another “Zach Williams and the” effort they eventually settled on the simpler moniker of The Lone Bellow.  Eventually they decided a full length album was worth a try and they raised funding on kickstarter to get it made.  Those of us fortunate enough to support the album were treated with digital and physical media alongside some magnificent live recording sessions that really captured everything I’ve always been told about their live sets.

mp3 : The Lone Bellow – Tree To Grow

If you haven’t heard of this band yet rest assured that they will be growing in popularity in the months and years to come.  They’re at their best when Zach is emotionally filling out a lyrical melody and the music swells to meet his voice.  Go buy their album from Amazon or iTunes today and keep supporting great music.  (And Zach – you need to play a show in Indianapolis)

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Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold – Gloria

Sufjan Stevens has quite simply done it again.  In 2007 he released a box set of Christmas (and winter, and seasonal, and etc.) songs that spanned multiple eras, references, and were all presented in the many various compositional styles preferred by Sufjan.  This time around he has dropped another 58 tracks filled with more of the same.  And more of the same is more of subtle genius we have come to expect from him.

The full box set is broken into five separate parts that collectively form Silver and Gold (bandcamp) (amazon) (itunes).  First on the list is the album Gloria which serves as a very effective jumping off point for those unfortunate few that are thus far uninitiated.  This first album has a healthy cross section of Sufjan Christmas.  There are original songs that would easily fit on his Michigan or Illinois albums interspersed with his take on classic tracks.  Below are my two favorite songs from the first album although I would encourage you all to listen to the entire album.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past
mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – The Midnight Clear

Other standout tracks on Gloria include the sprawling 7+ minute Baracola and Sufjan’s interpretation of Silent Night.  I’ll be back later this week with highlights from the remaining four albums in the box set.  For those of you in the USA have a great Thanksgiving week / weekend.  For those elsewhere, enjoy the music.

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Sufjan Stevens upcoming album Silver & Gold has a free single entitled Christmas Unicorn

Sufjan Stevens has a new Christmas/Holiday album coming out this November. It is called Silver & Gold and will have a total of fifty eight songs.  If you head over to his streaming page you can download the last track from the compilation for free in high quality digital format.  Appropriately it’s entitled Christmas Unicorn and it sprawls for a full 12+ minutes.  I would expect nothing less from Sufjan at this point.  Take a listen below and then head over to his page to preorder the digital version or the vinyl limited edition if you have money to spare.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas Unicorn

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Cloud Cult

I attended a wedding a few weeks ago where I made a promise to write, once again, about one of the greatest bands that you’ve probably never listened to.  This band is Cloud Cult and they don’t get nearly the amount of attention, money, or acclaim that they deserve.  Part of this general malaise most likely stems from the fact that they self publish their albums on Earthology Records which was founded by lead singer Craig Minowa in 1997.  Although college radio stations and critics seem to find much to like about this group from Minneapolis more often than not people I have the privilege of meeting in person invariably have never heard of them.

My love for Cloud Cult began while I was living overseas and was mailed mix albums by an old college friend.  One such album contained the track Pretty Voice from their 2007 album The Meaning of 8 (amazon) (itunes).  Instantaneously I was hooked.  The layered vocals, the slow build, and the energy and narrative in this one song seemed to be tailor made to make me pay attention.  The Meaning of 8 has a haunting quality smothered in beauty, discovery, and joy that has proven to be timeless in appeal.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Pretty Voice

From there I took a small step back in time and I found the rougher, raw gemstone that is their 2005 release Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus (amazon) (itunes).  Although this album doesn’t have the melodies and polish of their later efforts the songwriting and energy are just as apparent this effort as those that were still to come.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Transistor Radio

At this point in my life it was still 2007 and I was already hooked deeply on anything I could find by Cloud Cult.  I was routinely putting them in compilations and featuring them on Best of the Year lists.  When their 2008 album was released, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea Partying Through Tornadoes) (amazon) (itunes) it seemed that their musical abilities had matured at the same pace as my musical taste.  This album is immaculate from start to finish and contains some wonderful lyrical vignettes.  I was also helped along during this time by being blessed with a live show that took place a mere 25 miles from my home at the time.  I was blown away during their set with the energy and personable nature with which the band took the stage.  And I was not prepared to watch two people paint, on stage, throughout the set.  If I could have afforded the post show auction for the artwork I most definitely would have walked home with a painting (the art auction profits helps finance their live tours).

mp3 : Cloud Cult – No One Said It Would Be Easy
mp3 : Cloud Cult – Journey of the Featherless

In 2010 the band released an EP entitled Running With the Wolves in which they proved that a group of modern musicians can take a masterful song from the likes of Bob Dylan and translate it enough that it becomes their own.  They still play this song live and it is wonderful to hear.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Tamborine Man (Bob Dylan Cover)

Their most recent studio album was released in autumn of 2010 (although they will have a new album out later this year).  Again Cloud Cult did not disappoint.  With the album Light Chasers (amazon) (itunes) the band creates a single narrative piece that is woven throughout all sixteen tracks.  Although some artists would label this a gimmick “concept album” or some other classification I think this album transcends that identity.  Yes there is a meta story going on throughout the album, but each track both furthers that narrative while presenting its own individual identity.  In the end you’re left with a great album that encourages a listener to enjoy the full experience of listening to all of the tracks from start to finish (an increasingly rare attempt in the day of digital single song downloads).

mp3 : Cloud Cult – The Lessons – Exploding People
mp3 : Cloud Cult – The Arrival – There’s So Much Energy In Us

And just recently, as a bonus for those of us who check their website routinely (hoping they will play another show near our home) they posted a masterful cover of the Beatles.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Help (Beatles Cover)

I still stand by my assertion that Cloud Cult is one of the greatest bands that you’ve never heard of.  They are under appreciated and undoubtedly underpaid.  It’s bands like this that inspire me to write again on this aging blog.  It’s bands like this that deserve to still be written about.

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