Wednesday, September 29, 2010

favorite albums: 10-8

thanks for all of the guesses on my top ten! i appreciate your readership and am excited about the chance i have to give back to my supporters. let's get right into the top ten.

10. Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism (2003) - If Narrow Stairs got me listening and Plans got me hooked, then Transatlanticism proves the legend of Death Cab for Cutie. This was not my favorite album of theirs at first. It definitely takes some listens to really get into it. Listen to the lyrics, though, and you'll see where Ben Gibbard's status was really solidified. The title track is the most legendary, but some of my favorites are the tracks with the catchiest hooks, like "Title and Registration", "Expo '86", and "Death of an Interior Decorator".

The uniqueness of Death Cab is the musicianship that builds and drives like a flawless novel combined with Gibbard's lyrics which contain not one wasted word. When listening to any song on Transatlanticism, you can hear the story on Gibbard's lips, see the drama unfold behind your eyelids, and feel the pain of lost love in your heart as if it were the love you have lost yourself.

Key tracks: Transatlanticism, Title and Registration, Expo '86

9. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005) - Talk about songwriting! Conor Oberst wrote a collection of ten fabulous tracks for this acoustic-driven gem. I don't generally care for social agendas, especially Oberst's, but anti-political statements ("we must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul") speak into a disconnect from our self that we need to reconnect. Oberst does his best to find the reconnection through the next 9 tracks about life as we see it. His voice shakes as the emotion spews out. You can feel the genuine sentiment flowing from the guitars.

Legendary lines spew from the speakers. "Why are you scared to dream of God when it's salvation that you want?" "I've found a liquid cure for my land-locked blues." "I could go anywhere with you and I'd probably be happy." The list goes on.

Oh, and Emmylou Harris provides some of the most incredible cameos I've ever heard.

Key tracks: First Day of My Life, Poison Oak, At the Bottom of Everything

8. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008) - The most beautiful album on this list was saved for number 8. Justin Vernon wrote this album while living in his father's Wisconsin cabin battling mono and break-ups with his band and girl. I've never heard heartbreak more clearly than on this album. Vernon's acoustic guitar is often tuned awkwardly, allowing for chords that are unique and difficult to replicate. The man himself is tall in stature, but possesses a distinctly deep voice with an enjoyable falsetto compliment.

Vernon wrote the perfect winter album. You can picture a weekend in the cabin with your closest friends, opening up with one another about the heartache you've experienced. For those too proud to have such an experience, just light a candle and play this album at a medium volume. Don't worry, I won't tell.

Key tracks: Skinny Love, Re: Stacks, Flume

Sunday, September 26, 2010

contest! and favorite albums: 15-11

i hope you all are enjoying my walk through some of my favorite music. it's been a lot of fun to sit back and listen to these albums straight through over the past few weeks and months. the albums in this portion of the list all have one track that stands out far above the others, with a strong supporting cast to create great overall albums. they feature some of my favorite songwriters, as well.

CONTEST: here's the big announcement! today i'm announcing a contest where you can win a hard copy of an album of your choice from my top 20. here's how to do it:

on sunday, october 3rd, i will begin to announce my top 10. before that day, you can leave a comment on this post or email me at with your guess of my top 10. if you can nail ANY album in the CORRECT spot in my top 10, you win an album! up to 3 can win. if no one can pin an album in the exact position, then whoever can guess the MOST number of albums in my top 10 correctly, in any order, will win an album.

sound good? hit me up! keep reading! win music! here are numbers 15-11.

15. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (2008) - In the summer of 2008 I started to buy new albums without listening to them much in an effort to fill the void of new-music-influx that WPTS had filled during my college days. This was the first album I bought, thanks to a recommendation from Rolling Stone, and it was a rousing success. The Hold Steady are lead by the storytelling of Craig Finn and backed by some old fashioned rock and roll. Finn's lyrics tell stories of kids just trying to find their way, and Stay Positive is no different. There's a certain epic feeling to this album as it hits you in the face early, builds the story in the middle, climaxes, and closes with some laid-back resolution. The Hold Steady are everything good about rock and roll.

Key Track: Sequestered in Memphis

14. Fall Out Boy - From Under the Cork Tree (2005) - I'll probably receive a good bit of flack for this choice, but I just have to do it. Fall Out Boy is one of my favorite bands because they have clever lyrics (featured in about 20 different away messages in my AIM days) and songs that will get stuck in your head for days (plus, did i mention, an Oregon Trail knock-off game? re: From Under the Cork Tree hits with song after song about teen drama, fame, and girls who like both. You hate them, but you love them. I just love them.

Key Track: Of all the Gin Joints in All the World

13. Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004) - I did not listen to this album until the summer of 2008, but learned pretty quickly why it is an indie classic. Isaac Brock's voice is unique, the lyrics are creative, and the musicianship on this selection creates an up and down flow of an album like you've never experienced. "Float On" is my favorite track and will be the one that everyone knows, but the album pumps out plenty of memorable tracks ("Ocean Breathes Salty", "The World at Large", "Bury Me With It"). My favorite memory is listening to this album constantly when visiting the home state of Modest Mouse in Seattle, WA.

Key Track: Float On

12. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans (2005) - The first of two entries from Death Cab is their most popular (certified Platinum). Plans is a great collection of well-written songs that will remain on indie radio stations for years. Ben Gibbard solidified his status as a new legend in songwriting with tracks like "Marching Bands of Manhattan" and "Soul Meets Body". Narrow Stairs got me into Death Cab, but Plans kept me coming back for more.

Key Track: I Will Follow You into the Dark

11. The Format - Interventions and Lullabies (2003) - Another late arrival to my music collection is the debut from The Format. This power-pop group from Arizona only put out a couple of albums before going their separate ways, but they influenced a lot of people my age who are now creating music. Nate Reuss' lyrics were honest and enjoyable, combined with some of the most upbeat musicianship you'll encounter. Any twentysomething with an acoustic guitar in their hand needs this album in their arsenal.

Key Track: The First Single (Cause a Scene)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

favorite albums: 20-16

i've thought about this blog for a long time. it's been on my mind for months, maybe years. i love lists and i love music. this is the ultimate way for me to bring those two loves together.

those of you who have talked music with me know that i also love albums. the creation of an album by a band or musician is a complete piece of art. it's not just your favorite few songs that create a memorable album. it's the entire collection of music. the artwork. the lyrics. the packaging. all of these things combine to create one collection of art.

the songs an artist creates for an album are a collection of thoughts, ideas, and emotions that the artist is experiencing at that time. immense joy or immense sadness can create two completely different albums from the same artist. all songs should be considered in the evaluation of an album.

that being said, i value an album's completeness. my favorite albums are the ones that have listenability the whole way through. the very best albums are the ones that have the ability to flow to the end and finish in a way that energizes you to listen to it again right away.

more comments will come in future posts, but i'll start with selections 20-16 now. one final rule: i have to have listened to this album before my 25th birthday in january 2010. great albums need time to sink in. enjoy. comment. argue. these are my favorites.

20. The Classic Crime - The Silver Cord (2008) - This is a fine example of a complete album. Top to bottom, The Classic Crime's masterpiece is constantly listenable. There aren't many songs that stand out as catchy singles, which is why it isn't higher on the list, but in the summer of 2008 this album took weeks to exit my car's CD player.

Key track: The Beginning (A Simple Seed)

19. fun. - Aim and Ignite (2009) - This is a pretty recent inclusion. Nate Reuss, singer of one of my favorite bands, The Format, created this band with a couple guys from Steel Train and Anathallo. fun. created a super-catchy, yet emotional, power-pop selection that will get stuck in your head.

Key track: At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)

18. Anberlin - Cities (2007) - Anberlin found national recognition in the past year or so with the re-release of the track "The Feel Good Drag", but Cities is the masterpiece that took Anberlin to the level they've achieved today. The songwriting by Stephen Christian is deep and complex, while Anberlin's musicianship creates an album full of intently diverse rock music.

Key track: Godspeed

17. The Avett Brothers - Four Thieves Gone (2006) - The first of 3 selections from my favorite band, Four Thieves Gone is an interesting collection of tracks. A few of my favorite songs by TAB can be found in these Robbinsville Sessions, ranging from the low-key Famous Flower of Manhattan to the high energy Colorshow. The songwriting on several tracks is incredible (re: The Lowering). I could write hundreds of pages about the these boys, so I'll stop for now.

Key Track: Talk on Indolence

16. The Avett Brothers - Mignonette (2004) - Okay, back to it. Mignonette is smack in the middle of the Avett Brothers transition from down-home-country bluegrass to pop-folk legends. The crossover features plenty of energy and untouchable songwriting. My favorite Avett Brothers track of all-time is found here; Pretty Girl from Cedar Lane.

Key Track: At the Beach

Thursday, September 9, 2010

favorite bands

i'm going to make this quick because this is a pretty straight-forward list. these are my favorite bands of all time. they are in order. out of the top 10, i've seen 8 live, totaling 26 shows.

i've taken into account a few important factors, such as listenability (how often i listen to their music), live performance, and overall who they are as musicians. i value exemplary songwriting, engaging live performances, energy, growth as musicians, and obvious love for playing music.

without much hoopla, here is the start of the list:

honorable mention:
bear cub and the composure - two local favorites
led zeppelin
fall out boy

10. The Hold Steady - Old, dirty rock and roll. No-nonsense storytelling and instrumentation.

9. mewithoutYou - One of the most odd bands I've seen around for this long. Their musicianship and personalities help them rise above so many others.

8. Brand New - Their newest album has dropped them off my radar some, but you can't deny their intensity and emotion.

7. MxPx - One of the most influential bands of my life. 3 dudes, mostly 3 power chords, and some simple punk rock.

6. Modest Mouse - Unbelievably creative songwriting. Modest Mouse can be mistaken for no other, if for no other reason beside Isaac Brock's voice.

5. Thrice - I didn't expect Thrice to be this high on my list, especially considering the first time I saw them was thanks to a bill alongside mewithoutYou and Brand New. Dustin Kensrue is one of my favorite songwriters. He uses Biblical references often, as well as C.S. Lewis references. His lyrics are deep and meaningful to a wide range of listeners. Thrice hits with an absolute intensity in their live shows. Teppei Teranishi is one of the most creative guitarists/musicians around. The songs have complexities that Thrice portray as simple. The band doesn't talk much during their live shows, but the songs speak for themselves.

4. Jimmy Eat World - Some have dropped off the Jimmy bandwagon with the last album, but I certainly have not. They are humble fellows from Arizona with gentle and introspective lyrics. JEW are fantastic at performing their music. They don't tour as frequently as many other bands, which makes their ticket a must-buy when the chance arises. Each album brings about different memories for me, but Bleed American will surface on my top ten list for sure. It's as close to a perfect album as bands can hope to attain. The songs are catchy and independent. JEW hits a wide range of music-listeners, but the musicians among us can especially appreciate the work they do.

3. Death Cab for Cutie - I resisted Death Cab, for sure, until one night at Primanti's when Ron Cepek basically called me an idiot for being a musician who didn't appreciate Death Cab. I gave them a listen (Narrow Stairs) and was instantly hooked. Ben Gibbard is one of my favorite songwriters because he has a way of manipulating words in a way that is useful to him. He uses vocabulary in a way that helps one lyric play off of another. The musicianship is simple, yet intriguing. They know that it doesn't take much to catch people's attention. I have not seen Death Cab live, but they're at the top of my must-see list.

2. Squad Five-O - Quite simply, the most important band I've ever listened to. Squad has incredible energy, rock and roll swagger, and no-bullshit attitudes. They've been described as a mix of The Clash and The Rolling Stones, which is accurate. Their lyrics are simple and truthful. On their last album, Squad ventured into dangerous territory by speaking about current events, but somehow did it in a way that was impactful yet not offensive to either side. Jeff Fortson is hands-down the best frontman I've seen. He has relentless emotion on stage and a certain sass that makes you love and hate him at the same time. Talk to him in person, though, and you'll know that he's just one of the guys doing what he's got to do to have a good time.

1. The Avett Brothers - I never thought a band could supplant Squad Five-O in this spot, but the Avetts have. I saw them for the first time in Kent, OH, in March 2008 and have seen them an additional 7 times since then. Their live show is unbeatable.. but you wouldn't think so, thanks to the acoustic-banjo-standup bass-cello combo.

These North Carolina boys have the humble "aww shucks" personality that makes you know they appreciate every single person in the crowd every night. They come out to meet fans after every show. They want to shake the hands of the people who have made it possible for them to do what they do.

The energy is second-to-none. These guys simply leave it all on the stage every night. Arguably the best part, though, is the incredible range of songs they will perform on a nightly basis. In seeing them 8 times, I'm sure I've seen about 70 different songs played. They'll reach all the way back to the first album, even after putting out an album that hit the Billboard charts in 2009. We all wondered if "making it big" would change the Avett Brothers, but it certainly hasn't.