Archive for December, 2011

December 24, 2011

Top Ten Of 2011: Amber’s Picks

2011 was a weird year for me. It was odd in general but it was especially strange when it came to music. If you’d have asked me eleven months ago what I thought my favorite records of the year would be, I would answer you with the utmost confidence, rattling off a list of records in what I assumed would be the order I would eventually rate them. Out of those ten albums, however, only four made my final list. This year was full of surprises, both good (Hey, O’Death! Pleased to make your acquaintance!) and not so good (I really did expect that Okkervil River disc to be the best thing I’d ever heard…) and above all else, it was certainly not what I thought it’d be.

1. Chris Bathgate – Salt Year

The moment I heard Salt Year, the latest album by Michigan native Chris Bathgate, I knew it was my favorite album of the year. Granted, that isn’t a huge compliment because I said the same thing about three other records (all of which appear on this list!) but when it came down to the wire, Bathgate’s won the battle royale for the affections of Amber Valentine. Why? Because Salt Year is a masterpiece, from the opening distorted notes of “Eliza (Hue)” to the fiddle that marks the close of “Everything (Overture)”. Salt Year is harsh. It’s brutal and cathartic and it perfectly encapsulates the misery of lost love years later, but don’t think that the album’s a downer. Everything on Salt Year is deliberately crafted, from the gentle horns on the heartbreakingly perfect title track to the washboard backbone of “No Silver.” The best part? I’m not the only one who has deemed Salt Year a masterpiece! Everyone from NPR to Paste has been raving about Bathgate which means that one of the best kept secrets in folk music won’t stay that way for long.

Chris Bathgate – No Silver

2. Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On

The moment I found out that Timber Timbre, my favorite exports from the north, were releasing their fourth album this year, I was obsessed. From the instantly quotable refrain of first single “Black Water” (All I need is some sunshine too, you guys!) to the tongue-in-cheek humor of title track “Creep On Creepin’ On,” Timber Timbre’s latest is everything you’d expect from the creepy Canadians, and so much more. Without turning a cold shoulder on their minimalist macabre past, Creep On Creepin’ On plays out deftly and seductively. Think Leonard Cohen sings Sam Cooke songs on Halloween … Only better.

Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual

December 23, 2011

Abbytron’s Top 20 Albums of 2011

Chances are you’ve already seen tons of Best of 2011 lists already, but as a music blogger, I of course have to throw in my two cents. As usual, it’s been a phenomenal year for music lovers like myself, and I’ve spent all of 2011 digging into new releases like it’s going outta style. While I certainly didn’t hear it all, I heard enough to have a pretty good idea of what stands out ahead of the pack. So this is just a rundown of the 10 frontrunners (plus 10 more that vied hardily for those positions) that I believe should absolutely not go overlooked.

1. Noah Gundersen – Family
Okay, so technically this is an EP. But it’s seven songs long, which to me qualifies as full enough to make my list. I mean, as you can see, I’m ranking it No. 1, and if I had to acknowledge it as an EP, then I wouldn’t be able to include it on this list at all. And that, my friends, would be a monumental shame because Noah Gundersen’s music sounds like it was made by angels. So, I said screw it, this is my list and I’m leaving it on. The Seattle musician has a little masterpiece on his hands with Family — at times cleanly rootsy and others softly dulcet. He’s a young man, but his songwriting chops (not to mention his lyrics) are some of the most seasoned and professional I’ve ever witnessed.

Nashville – Noah Gundersen

2. Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On
I don’t know what I can say about this album that I didn’t already say in my review earlier this year. Basically, if you’ve heard Timber Timbre before (especially the trio’s 2009 self-titled album), then you can rest assured that Creep On Creepin’ On is more of what you already know and love. As you can tell, Timber Timbre continues to grow and change yet still hold onto its brooding exterior through all its subtle evolutions from one album to the next.

Too Old to Die Young – Timber Timbre

3. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing
I’d heard of the Rural Alberta Advantage before, but it was this year that I fell in love with them. A lot of people have seemed unimpressed with Departing, the folk-rock band’s sophomore album. But it’s brought me nothing but joy, despite the tragic tales set forth by the pained vocals of Nils Edenloff. The fact is, these singable melodies about the darker sides of life and love have been occupying my ears nearly all year, and I’ve found I still can’t get enough.

Coldest Days – The Rural Alberta Advantage

December 22, 2011

Video Raid: Born Gold, ‘Lawn Knives’

Get Born Gold’s full album, Bodysongs, over at Bandcamp for free!

December 21, 2011

Meet Typhoon, Your New Favorite Band

I remember the exact moment I discovered Okkervil River. I was nineteen and it wasn’t that long after Black Sheep Boy came out. Everyone whose opinion I respected about music was making a fuss about this band from Texas and me, being the snot that I was, refused to buy into the hype … Then I heard “For Real.” Shortly after that, I poured over the entirety of Black Sheep Boy and within days, I’d memorized all of Okkervil River’s back catalog. In the time it took me to digest all of the band’s music, it was proven to me that destiny existed because it was so clear that I was meant to love Okkervil River. In the years since that realization, the Texas quintet has soundtracked countless pivotal moments in my existence, from near nervous breakdowns to times I was so excited I thought my heart would literally explode from happiness. Okkervil River and I had it all.

Just like most great love stories, this one has a sad end. Okkervil River and I grew apart after The Stage Names. After The Stand Ins left me feeling somewhat cold, I Am Very Far only pushed me further from the band. After having a pretty serious revelation about just how much Will Sheff’s lyrics have affected my life, I realized that Okkervil River and I just weren’t meant for each other anymore. And so it was, with a heavy heart, that I set upon the seemingly aimless quest to discover my new favorite band. It was a quest that I expected to take months, maybe even years. For a while, I even flirted with the idea of bestowing the title upon Timber Timbre who I do adore, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that for all the ways I love Timber Timbre, they don’t illicit the emotional response inside me that Okkervil River used to. It was a feeling I missed and one that I found myself experiencing again only weeks ago when I happened upon Typhoon.

Typhoon – Claws Pt. 1

There’s a familiarity about Portland-based Typhoon, a comforting resonance in their songs. The internet’s compared them to everyone from Fleet Foxes to Arcade Fire but no matter how much they remind me of other bands I love, Typhoon consistently makes music that’s as unpredictably original as it is refreshingly familiar. And with twelve members, Typhoon brings forth a cacophony of sounds that take multiple listens to fully appreciate. That’s part of the reason I haven’t listened to anything except for Typhoon for literally days. Another huge factor in that? The lyrics. Oh my goodness, the lyrics.

December 20, 2011

Enjoy the outdoors from indoors with Harts of Oak’s EP

This is one of those instances where the cover of an album perfectly embodies what you’re about to hear when you press play. As you’ll see, Harts of Oak‘s EP, Birds & Bees, depicts a deer with tree branches where its head should be. On the tree are some little birdies and flowers, with bees buzzing around it, and it’s all on a background of wood slats.

And it’s perfect, because what you get is a combination of woody folk and sunlit variations of rock. Opening track “Tuesday Morning” is like an autumn nature walk, while the following tune, “Plan B,” is a lazy spring day laying about a field of grass. There are six songs total, and the whole thing is available for “name your price.” If you like things that are good, I suggest you get yourself this.

December 19, 2011

A Look At Life Across The River With Laura Marling

I’ve never felt like I’ve fit in. I used to be under the delusion that this was a singular feeling, that I was the world’s only misfit. The older I got, the more I realized how presumptuous of me that had been. I felt stupid, sure, for my feelings of isolation, but mostly I felt like I was Lucy discovering Narnia for the first time. I had spent my whole life thinking I was alone but suddenly, one day during my adolescence, I realized there was a whole world of misfits out there! And they wrote songs!

Nothing’s better than the feeling of being completely understood in four minutes or less by some attractive guy or gal with a guitar. I was sitting on the porch at my friend’s house not too long ago and she was playing me music as we chain-smoked cigarettes, something that I’m noticing is a recurring theme in my stories these days. It was one of our first times hanging out one-on-one and it was proving to be a great night because, with her playing DJ, it was very easy for me to judge her based upon her musical tastes and boy, she was busting out some jams. After some Iron Horse and The Hold Steady, she asked me if I’d ever heard of Laura Marling. I had, I said, but what I didn’t say was that I wasn’t that crazy about her. Of course, I hadn’t heard “Alas, I Cannot Swim”.

Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim (Live)

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