December 30, 2013
Well, you haven’t heard much from me this year at hearingade, but I’ve still heard plenty of music worth talking about. For my music-obsessed heart and soul, the end-of-year list dies hard. As is the nature of lists, not all of what I loved will be able to make the cut, but I think I’ve managed to pick out the albums I’d be most likely to offer up as recommendations if so prompted. And isn’t that basically the purpose behind these things anyway? I just wanna do my part in making sure that this remarkable music gets the love it deserves, for whatever my part is good for.
1. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine
Often albums that come out early in the year have the misfortune of being played out by the time we start writing these lists. A lot of albums I loved last winter aren’t making the cut because they don’t excite me like they did in the beginning. However, Aly Spaltro’s latest has not lost any appeal over the months. She has a wonderful approach to the guitar rock genre and a palpable passion behind the coarse words she spits forth.
2. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
For the most part, I avoid including albums that are all over mainstream media’s year-end lists, because I like to give exposure to the things people aren’t as likely to have heard yet. But I have to be honest and include The National here because my 2013 was full of this album. Matt Berninger’s signature somber vocal delivery, with its elegant use of accompaniment, is complete with emotionally smart lyrics that continue to prove he’s a guy keenly aware of the universe.
3. Samantha Crain – Kid Face
I’ve long been a fan of Samantha Crain’s, but she’s outdone herself with Kid Face. Produced by John Vanderslice at his Tiny Telephone studio in California, it’s the most refined she’s ever sounded as her songs marry guitar, piano, violin, banjo and percussion like they were blood.
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December 24, 2011
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
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December 21, 2011
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.
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