Category Archives: Live Music

Bumbershoot Lineup Released

 

As always, there will be something for everyone at this year’s festival. From the cringe-inducing old acts (Jane’s Addiction and Tony Bennett), to the sometimes hideous mainstream (Skrillex pushes buttons, Mac Miller smokes weed, Big Sean makes them bootays pop), to the mainstream alternative (M83 promises to be awesome, M. Ward and Passion Pit add intrigue, nobody wants to see Keane), and of course everything beyond. The scope of national acts is indeed impressive, as this lineup at first glance appears to not be overshadowed by Sasquatch as it often is when talking about the best festival the Northwest has to offer. I’ll be there all three days, early favorites include M83, Passion Pit, The Promise Ring, Mudhoney, Fishbone, Ty Segall, THEESatisfaction, and Sound Off! winners Nude.


Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic and the Spokane Symphony – Live Review

Conductor Eckart Preu’s Spokane Symphony is not at the level of their Seattle peers, but on this night they boasted a soloist who is world class. The group performed alongside world-renowned percussionist Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, playing his own composition: Concerto No. 2 for Marimba. After opening the concert with Bedrich Smetana’s “From Bohemia’s Forests and Meadows” from Ma vlast, a marimba was moved to center stage and Zivkovic emerged from behind the curtains to the applause of a nearly sold out Fox Theater crowd.

Nebojsa Zivkovic has been known as a performer and composer for the last two decades. This combination is rare, harkening back to the greats of the 19th century and earlier. The percussionist studied in Mannheim and Stuttgart, Germany, known as the epicenter of the four movement symphony form. Zivkovic has performed and taught worldwide, playing mainly his own compositions such as Ilijas, Ultimatum1, and Trio per unno, all of which have become standards of percussion literature. As a percussion major, I was eager to see Zivkovic perform in person and was not disappointed.

Marimba Concerto No. 2, Op. 25 is a programmatic composition that chronicles the marimba’s initiation into the realm of orchestral music as an instrument worthy of its own concerto. It is in standard three movement concerto form; the first movement, entitled “Introduction, Initiation of the Wood”, is fast and presents a three note motive that will be repeated later in the piece in various forms. The orchestra and soloist converse and Zivkovic shows his incredible dexterity as he is able to move around the instrument in a rapid and expressive fashion. Watching his full five octave flourishes juxtaposed with the power of the full orchestra was the highlight of the night. The second movement, called “Notturno”, breaks from the programmatic aspect of the concerto. The movement is slow and the marimba trades solos with other members of the orchestra. The third movement features a rhapsodic cadenza for the soloist and concludes with a development of the initial melodic theme.

Zivkovic exudes confidence and intensity. When standing behind the marimba, he resembles an eager painter standing, easel and brush in hand, ready to shape his canvas into something beautiful. He is equal parts Pollock and Caravaggio, presenting a scattered aural assault of color at times while at others showcasing a beautiful clarity and restraint. He has a control over his instrument and his composition that translates to a captivation of the audience eagerly awaiting his next strike. He is a compelling and enigmatic personality and a mammoth player. On this night, he was a sight and sound to behold.

The Symphony and Zivkovic drew and extreme amount of excitement to Spokane’s Fox Theater. The theater, an old art deco building that closer resembles Seattle’s Moore Theater as opposed to Benaroya Hall, was an unusual but fun place to see a symphonic concert. The venue and its patrons stand in stark contrast to the sleeker and snootier Benaroya stage and audience and I got a less formal, more familial sense from this concert than those that I have attended at Benaroya in the past. With that said, what stood out about this performance was the soloist. Nebojsa Zivkovic is the premier artist of an instrument family in percussion that has been oft maligned and long neglected as one that is subservient to the strings and brass. With this concerto and this performance, Zivkovic inserts himself and his instrument as the melodic focal point and does so convincingly, with aplomb and artistry that is equal to that of the great performers. A performance such as this stretches the minds of those who have decided that percussion is nothing but a background, expanding on the musical tradition of the last several centuries with an instrument that is not played with bows or tongues but with mallets. There is something primal and transcendent about percussion, but as Zivkovic shows the percussive medium is not simply grounded as a rhythmic backbone – it can take center stage as well.


The Neptune Brings You Cults!! A Concert Review

April 7th, 2012. That night will definitely go down in my memory as one the greatest  nights of my young life. Going to see one of my favorite bands of all time with some super tight people? Just sets the stage for a great night. So, CULTS!!! Man, I love these guys. Been a huge fan after hearing “Go Outside” a couple years back. It has been a great pleasure watching them grow popular and create great music, because they deserve it for the great music they make. So yesterday at The Neptune Theater in Seattle, I finally got to see them. And I can say they definitely did NOT disappoint. Absolutely fantastic. (This pic wasn’t anyone preforming yesterday by the way, just an idea of the venue)

Knowing how to work a crowd, Cults featured two artists before them, just to make the crowd wait. I’d like to say I liked both bands, but really, one of them sucked really bad and I couldn’t wait for them to leave the stage. Coupled with the Cults were Mrs. Magician and Spectrals.

Starting the night off was Mrs. Magician. To be blunt, I hated this band. Now, I respect them for what they’re doing, creating music, going after their dream, but really, I did not like them. A big problem throughout the night for all the bands were the vocals. It was SO hard to hear what the singers were saying. They kept on getting drowned out by the guitars and drums. It was very difficult to hear and that was probably the second most disappointing part of the night. First was the choice of letting this band play. Seriously, they were bad. I’m sorry, but in my opinion, I just flat out did not like the band. Really loud. Like very loud. It wasn’t good though. So you already have a problem with the sound of the vocals, but this band just tried to come in and bring the house down. They failed to do so. I saw more people covering their ears than rocking out with the band. I’m not sure what it was, but there was something about this band that I didn’t really like as they were coming out. Swaggering out and spitting like they owned the stage. They jumped right into their songs with a ferociousness that wasn’t really expected. The problem I had with them was that everything just sounded so generic. There were times when I was listening to them that I felt like they belonged on some Radio Disney stuff. Things I have heard hundreds of times before. Absolutely no originality in their sound. It felt like they were trying to be some beach rock band at one point and then a hard rock band at another. I may be wrong about what genre they are, but last night I didn’t really care whether or not I was right. It was just loud noise with some sort of garble coming from whatever the hell the singer was trying to say. I feel bad about bashing on Mrs. Magician, but I just did not like them. They were just way too loud and generic, nothing that I would even want to rock out to. If I can say one positive thing though, I can say I liked their drummer. Yes some of my like for him has to do with him reminding me of a young Darryl from the Walking Dead and Neil Patrick Harris, but whatever. There was a song where he substituted one of his drum sticks for a maraca, which I thought was very creative. Sounded pretty cool combined with the snare drum. So I pretty much didn’t like them. I was disappointed that they had to start off, but hey, maybe Cults were pretty smart after all. Start with the worst and build up to them. The next band that came up were the Spectrals.

This is a band that I really liked. Coming from England, is the Spectrals. They definitely made up for the terrible performance by Mrs. Magician. Coming out at first, I have to admit, this band looked goofy as hell. I mean the lead singer reminded me of Carrot Top (well at least his hair). I wasn’t expecting much out of them, but man did they blow me away. They were awesome! I had a lot of fun watching them. As soon as they started playing though, I started to pay attention. I mean they were good! It was definitely enhanced by the fact that they played softer than the previous band, but they still were good. Just a fun sound, and pretty chillax, without trying to overpower the crowd. The crowd didn’t really get into them at first, but after their first song, Spectrals had the crowd, myself included just hooked. Their sound was just so happy sounding and their lead singer had this awesome accent. This band is just so easy to cheer and root for, they’re like little underdogs, and everyone loves underdogs! I’m not calling them that, because their sound was bigger than the way they seemed. They pulled me in, I don’t know why to be honest. Within a couple songs, pretty much the entire crowd was clapping along and enjoying the performance. It was just a fun performance and they dug down and found the energy that was in the crowd. Huge props to them and I can’t do anything but sing praise for them. The band was just adorable (can’t think of anything else) and I loved watching them. The thing that I really liked about them was their ability to connect with the crowd. Of the three bands, they made the most effort to ask the crowd what was up and thank them for the cheers. Now onto my personal favorite part of their show. Their bass player. This man, Thomas Dean, is not even a part of the band, but he is just touring with them. I fucking love this man. Throughout the ENTIRE performance, he was ROCKING out hardcore. And listening to the Spectrals, it doesn’t even make sense for him to be rocking. It does not match their sound at all. But I really appreciated it. I enjoyed watching him just sweat like a mad man, bounce around, and rock back and forth. It was such a joy seeing someone just go at it, without the slightest worry of looking ridiculous. My friends and I called him “BassGod” during the show and he had no problem with, it, even giving us highfives for it. After the show most of the band came out and they were talking with the fans, so I enjoyed that. But Mr. BassGod was kind enough to even give me a free CD of his own band. I won’t forget this band’s performance.

BASSGOD!

Now to the band that the entire crowd had been waiting for: Cults. Two hours after the show technically began, they finally came out to the screams of the crowd. Now I’ve been following this band for a long time and getting to finally see them? I had my hopes up pretty high. And I can say they were not disappointed. Cults were AMAZING! From start to finish, they had the crowd absolutely hooked. People were hanging onto every word, bouncing and following every song. Everything about the show was great, the vocals (drowned out a bit, but still good), the sick lighting, the sound, and most of all the atmosphere. The energy was absolutely electric when they came onto the stage. Everyone was feeling it. Madeline Follin looked damn intimidating up there and about ready to bring the house down. And that’s exactly what happened. Opening song to the time they left the stage, the crowd was either jumping, screaming, clapping, cheering or whatever else a bunch of drunk people do. Man that performance was the greatest one I have ever seen and just being in the crowd and rocking with my friends was hella fun. Now to their set list. Starting out with Abducted, they went to The Curse, Never Heal Myself, Most Wanted, You Know What I Mean, Bumper, Never Saw The Point, Rave On, Everybody Knows, Walk At Night, everyone’s favorite: Go Outside, and finally Oh My God. I wish I could go into full detail about every single song, but I can just spare going into a few. I did love every single one though.

Abducted

Walking out onto the stage to the screams of the crowd, this was the perfect song to play. First starting out softly before leading into the drums; when this point came, I could see many people just start rocking out and I realized that the problem with understanding the lyrics were over. Everyone sang along to the parts that they knew. Combining the voices of several hundred people made a really cool environment. The song was just the fit. Singing along to the chorus was just great. Bouncing up and down to it was fun as well!

You Know What I Mean

One of their nice soft songs, listening to this live was just cool. I could just feel the crowd swaying back and forth which was cool. The song’s chorus (like all of their chorus’ are) was quite enjoyable to sing along to. I don’t really know what else to say about this one except that it was really good.

Go Outside

Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve been pretty lazy on the other song posts, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people just want to know how the hit song went. Worry about whether the high notes would be hit, if the Jim Jones intro would be the same, yada yada yada. Don’t worry. This song was spot on live. The crowd crooning along was just awesome, I could hear just about everybody in their singing along and really belting “I really want to go out. I really want to go outside” Whenever the chorus hit, I could just feel the energy rise into something I haven’t felt before. Everyone singing with the same amount of passion. Damn, that was just sick. There was nothing whiney about Follin’s voice or any lack from her part. She was spot on. And the fading parts to the song with the last few xylophone hits just made the hair on my neck stand up. Seriously amazing.

Cults left the stage to roaring cheers that were clearly well deserved. I will NEVER forget this night, as the concert was the greatest one I have ever been to hands down. Props to all the bands that played and especially to the electric crowd. No doubt about this concert though, if I had another chance to go see Cults, I wouldn’t hesitate for one second.

Like Cults on Facebook!

Like Spectrals on Facebook!

Like Mrs. Magician on Facebook!

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(ALL PHOTO CREDITS GO TO JOE NGUYEN)


A Few More Cool Covers

Taylor’s post got me thinking.

The Rescues – Teenage Dream (Katy Perry)

Black Strobe – I’m A Man (Bo Diddley)

I Hate My Ex – You Belong With Me (Taylor Swift)

Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan)

Civil Twilight – Teardrop (Massive Attack)

Cage the Elephant – Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)

New Found Glory – Don’t You Forget About Me (Simple Minds)

Death Cab for Cutie – Don’t You Forget About Me (live, Simple Minds)

Michael Stipe & Chris Martin – In The Sun (Joseph Arthur)

Avril Lavigne – Basket Case (live, Green Day) (I know, just listen)

Colbie Caillat – Maria (Blondie)

Aly & AJ – Black Horse & the Cherry Tree (KT Tunstall)

Susie Yankou – Wild Ones/Use Somebody (Flo Rida/Kings of Leon)

The Pretty Reckless – Islands/Love The Way You Lie (The XX/Eminem)

We Are Scientists – Hoppipolla (Sigur Ros)

KT Tunstall – I Want You Back (The Jackson 5)

Greg Laswell – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)

Franz Ferdinand – Call Me (live, Blondie)

Florence + the Machine – Postcards from Italy (Beirut)

Phillip Phillips – Superstition (Stevie Wonder)

Katie Stevens – Baby What You Want Me To Do (Elvis Presley)

Scala & Kolacny Brothers – Creep (Radiohead)

Ryan Adams – Wonderwall (Oasis)

Paramore – My Hero (Foo Fighters)

A Perfect Circle – Imagine (John Lennon)

Tonight Alive – Little Lion Man (Mumford & Sons)

Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson)

Go Radio – Rolling In The Deep (Adele)


The Lonely Forest @ The Neptune – Live Review

 

Every time I see The Lonely Forest I am impressed by their ability to mix energy and exuberance with an impeccable control of the stage. Their live show has become a staple of the Seattle scene, perhaps the only staple the scene has to offer anymore. They are the biggest rock act in the city and have been since they emerged as Sound Off winners a few years ago. That is partly an indictment on Seattle’s lack of a viable rock scene – the Lonely Forest ascended with relative quickness and ease to become the best the 206 has to offer in terms of a real live rock band. More than that, it is a testament to what the Lonely Forest are doing. They offer intensity, chops, sing-along choruses, and a dedication to the craft that has paid off in a growing and diverse fan base. I heard more teenage girl screams directed towards frontman John Van Deusen than I have heard at any other show ever. Yes, the hipsters are still in tow, but more fans were singing along to the group’s latest album than were belting the choruses from their previous release. These guys are reaching a lot of ears. They had a massively successful 2011. More in store this year and beyond.

Speaking to tonight’s show in particular, I did have qualms with the Neptune’s sound. From where I was, the balance was heavily skewed towards the bass end of things. This is not the most compelling aspect of the Lonely Forest’s sound and I was left wanting to hear more vocal and lead guitar. The band was joined for a couple of songs by the Seattle Rock Orchestra, a fantastic idea that was not executed to its highest potential, again, because of sound issues. The orchestra was drowned out by the band for the most part. They provided for a nice visual and I’m sure they sounded great, I just wish that I had been able to be a judge of that. Other than that, the group were their usual selves, compelling and powerful. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the night? Singer John Van Deusen’s shirt. He was wearing a flannel, but peeking out from underneath was the top of a logo that I know very well – the classic 1980’s-90’s Vancouver Canucks black/orange/red/yellow skate. It’s exciting to know that Van Deusen shares my affinity for the Nucks. If only our boys (who lost 5-3 tonight) knew they had support from he and I (in my retro Canucks shirt as well) at the Neptune tonight.


Nacho Picasso at Neumos – Live Review

 

Neumos as the setting for a breakthrough show is not unheard of – the first Shabazz Palaces performance took place at the Capitol Hill venue regularly associated with indie shows for local as well as national touring acts. Tonight may have bear witness to something similar. Yes, in many ways comparing Nacho Picasso to Shabazz Palaces is inaccurate, even blasphemous. The two artists are not similar, with approaches to the same genre of music that stand in stark contrast to one another. In one corner is Ishmael Butler and his revolutionary vision for hip hop as the ultimate expression of and tool for black empowerment. In the other is Nacho, Seattle’s own oddball stoner with punchlines ranging from comic book puns to Full House references, all accompanied by bombastic mainstream-ready beats from Seattle by way of San Francisco production duo Blue Sky Black Death. I was not at the Shabazz show, but I imagine that the crowd looked much different from the one that nearly filled Neumos tonight. Shabazz are heady, hip, Sub Pop and Pitchfork endorsed. That crowd, I assume, was excited but high brow, arms crossed, heads nodding in approval. Tonight’s was rowdy, careless, and extremely blunted. A haze of smoke filled the room and Nacho claimed that he was “high enough to make up for anyone who’s sober”. That didn’t hinder him and hypeman Jarv Dee from exuding each ounce of showmanship possible. Nacho delivered his lines with aplomb as Dee reinforced his rhymes and coaxed the crowd into a tizzy. Nacho looked and felt like a star ready to reach new ears and new rooms. Big rooms. Rooms in every city around the country. He has the demeanor, the hooks, and the production to be the biggest singular voice to emerge from the Seattle scene on a national mainstream scale since Sir Mix A Lot. If tonight’s audience is any indication, he is as likely to gain fans from airplay on KEXP as he is on KUBE. What tonight’s crowd proves is the crossover appeal of the MC with the cartoon handle. Here’s to Nacho, here’s to all of the kids jamming out tonight, here’s to a Seattle MC who can put the city on the map in completely new circles.


My Year End Lists

I realized that this year I didn’t get around to listening to as much new music as I should have. I spent a lot of time diving into older releases, particularly jazz, and as such I haven’t listened to many of 2011’s best. With that said, since the year end lists have come out I have taken some time to listen to what other critics are deeming noteworthy and I made the effort to pick up a good number of albums at the record store the other day. I’m not going to talk about what I don’t know, so these lists may be limited to less than 10.

Breakthrough Artist –

6: The Lonely Forest

Seattle’s current scene is hard to place a finger on. We have seen the hip-hop scene explode over the last few years, and the folk scene remains prominent. Where does this leave bands with a harder or more traditional rock edge? Long gone are the days of grunge. The Lonely Forest have emerged as Seattle’s most prominent rock band. No, they aren’t always loud and they are never sludgy, but the Anacortes product sounds big. They have toured the nation in support of their Chris Walla produced major label debut, been featured by NPR, and capped the year off with a performance on Bumbershoot’s mainstage. It is safe to say that The Lonely Forest has arrived.

5: Danny Brown/A$AP Rocky/Cities Aviv/etc. (New school of hip hop)

The vestiges of rap’s boasting, hustling mainstream are readily apparent in Jay Z and Kanye’s dual release Watch the Throne. It’s apparent how out of touch the two luminaries appear, bragging about their wealth while the country is in the midst of troubled economic times highlighted by the occupy movement. Musically speaking, labels are experiencing what is already being deemed a crisis. The rap game has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. A label is no longer needed to have success, as proven by internet-made-famous stars such as Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky, Odd Future, and a host of others. This is the new landscape for the genre, and it doesn’t look like it will disappear any time soon.

4: Youth Lagoon

Boise’s Trevor Powers shocked the blogosphere with the release of The Year of Hibernation. No critic wanted to take him seriously. Name and cover art aside, Powers created a gem, coming out of nowhere to deliver what is an emotional and personal exploration of feelings that fellow blogger Vincent has already described in depth.

3: Iceage

This brooding group of young Danish punks emerged as a spark in what has been a dead punk rock scene, rekindling the spirit of 80’s forefathers such as Black Flag and Bad Brains. Their first US tour was a cavalcade of flailing bodies, broken bones, and bloody noses. The punk rock spirit is alive and well, not just because of Iceage’s demeanor but also because the songs speak for themselves. The aesthetic is real and the music does not disappoint. Their debut, New Brigade, is a fuzzy and fast effort with hooks to spare.

2: Odd Future

The most polarizing group in not just hip-hop, but music today is this Los Angeles collective who’s intent appears to be to gain as much attention as possible. They have no qualms with broaching offensive subjects. They are loved by teens and twenties, hated by critics. Whether they are actually as unique as they appear to be is another question (soon to be discussed in a long awaited post), but that is beside the point. What matters in this context is the waves that have been made by Tyler and crew. They are an undeniable force to be reckoned with and 2012 should bring about even more exposure, with a television program and numerous releases in the works.

1: The Weeknd

Repeat listens have led me to conclude this – Abel Tesfaye is the most important voice in R&B with the biggest chance to succeed across genres and audiences. In less words, he has a chance at transcendence. With a voice that ranges from a gravelly rasp to a soaring falsetto, Tesfaye has the most uniquely beautiful and engaging delivery in music. While he has brought about comparisons to fellow crooner Frank Ocean, when I hear The Weeknd’s floating, disjointed morning-after lullabies I think of Michael Jackson. The production is immaculate, weird enough to capture the attention of the indie crowd while simultaneously able to attract a large mainstream audience. Next for Tesfaye? A headlining appearance at Coachella, production work with Lady Gaga, and a new album potentially in the works. For The Weeknd, 2011 was the equivalent of a Thursday night – the party has begun but it’s about to get a whole lot bigger.

 

Best Live Acts I Saw –

5: Trombone Shorty

Shorty brings funk and soul jams in spades and his band is killer.

4: Mad Rad

Seattle’s most hectic crew, Mad Rad’s Bumbershoot set brought about the most chaotic pit of the festival.

3: The Lonely Forest

Their Key Arena performance was a coming out party for the boys from Anacortes. They brought passion and energy, a mammoth show on a mammoth stage.

2: Explosions in the Sky

An un-publicized intimate show at the Crocodile from one of today’s most epic and intricate bands? Yes please. I spent my night wrapping my mind around the loudest thing I have ever heard. Such strength yet such beauty and at times fragility.

1: Manchester Orchestra

Andy Hull is one of my favorite frontmen. Simple Math is one of my favorite albums from this year. Suffice to say, this show was amazing. This band, at the end of their West Coast tour, brought it.

 

Best Seattle Release  –

4: Nacho Picasso – For the Glory

“I got an odd flow”. That is Nacho’s first line on his crew-reppin’ banger “Moor Gang”. Yes Nacho, yes you do. It’s his endearing, self deprecating oddball raps that wax poetic about smoking and reading comic books paired with beats from Seattle-by-way-of-San Francisco duo Blue Sky Black Death that grab me. He has garnered some national exposure as well despite flying under the radar in Seattle, as he was mentioned in Spin’s issue about the state of hip hop.

3: Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Robin Pecknold and crew rise to prominence based on their lush folk jams while waxing poetic in the vein of Brian Wilson’s SMiLE on their Sub Pop debut. National tours, television appearances, Starbucks support, and massive critic/fan swooning follow. Your move, Foxes, how do you counter? Their answer is an album two years in the making, constantly scrapped and rehashed by the master perfectionist with the velvet voice. Helplessness Blues discusses feelings of wanting to be part of something bigger, feelings of sameness and of not wanting to be a snowflake but a cog in a machine. This coming from a band who oozes connotations of the forest, of individuality and of recluse. Interesting. What’s next?

2: Telekinesis! – Twelve Desperate Straight Lines

Benjamin Lerner’s infectious release for indie stalwart Merge hasn’t exactly put the man on the map, even in his own city. Telekinesis! is not a band often discussed in the Seattle scene, for reasons unbeknownst to me. Lerner, assisted by Chris Walla, creates hooky pop with hints of early Weezer and Death Cab. The album gets better with every listen.

1: Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

Ishmael Butler, elder statesmen and futuristic pioneer on some interplanetary galactic steez, comes to planet Earth on his spaceship made of sparkles and dust. Carried over from his debut EPs is the same cryptic delivery, delving into the struggles of an emcee and concepts of black empowerment, sexuality, and what it means to be free. New are the landscapes that surround. The album is difficult, as no single song continues an idea from start to finish. Instead, each song morphs into something new, exploring the possibilities of hip-hop and launching the genre head over heels into a new decade. While the Seattle scene is a scene widely kept to itself, Shabazz has gained praise around the globe.

 

Best Discovery –

5: Sandro Perri

Perri has been making and producing music since 1999, but only in 2006 did he begin performing acoustic compositions under his own name. Formerly operating under the Polmo Polpo moniker, Perri made ambient electronic music until his focus shifted, first to solo arrangements of his electronic compositions and now to songs written for a full band. His 2011 release Impossible Spaces delves into a laundry list of genres including folk, jazz, and soul.

4: Iceage

Punk rock is alive and well. See my comments about the band above under the breakout artist category.

3: Marius Neset

I will discuss Neset’s album below.

2: Cities Aviv

Straight out of Memphis, Cities Aviv brought his own distinct flavor to the hip-hop landscape in 2011. His debut full length, Digital Lows, marks the emergence of a workmanlike MC with a keen ear for unusual beats and an easygoing flow that accentuates the lucid jams beneath it. Aviv oozes the essence of summer days while speaking about summer love, while simultaneously tackling classic racial struggles in other tracks. His is a voice that is carved to appeal to indie loving rap fans or those with a taste that is well versed in genres ranging from jazz to punk.

1: Ambrose Akinmusire

I will discuss Ambrose’s album below.

 

Best Jazz Albums –

2: Marius Neset – Golden Xplosion

What sets this Copenhagen native apart from a large portion of the modern jazz community is his lyricism and musicality. These elements, combined with his blistering technical chops,  led to one of the best collections of songs released in 2011. Neset gained the attention of his teacher Django Bates while studying in Copenhagen at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory. His album, which features Bates as a keyboard player, holds true to the promise that the discerning mentor saw in his student. Layers of saxophone sing over a rhythm section that lays down some of the deepest grooves put to record. The album is mixed with a particular clarity that makes  each band member’s contribution noteworthy. On display is versatile playing at the highest level of technicality. Musical themes are established, expanded upon, and concluded in the span of the 11 track album. It is an inspiring listen, an achievement that establishes a unique direction for jazz as a genre to go.

1: Ambrose Akinmusire – The Heart Emerges Glistening

Ambrose’s is a voice that is transcendent. You know it the moment you hear the opening trumpet notes to his Blue Note debut. The esteemed jazz label signed Akinmusire after the trumpeter had already established himself as a young performer in both Los Angeles and New York. Expectations were high for the award winning soloist out of the East Bay and he exceeded all of them. His tone, which ranges from a subdued whisper to a soaring blare, has the elements of the all-time greats. He has been compared to Miles Davis, the late trumpeter believed by many to be the greatest jazz musician our world has ever seen. This is the company that Akinmusire finds himself in, and for good reason. His lyrical lines intertwine with the frenetic pulse of his band. Angular, convulsing interactions cascade when the group is at their highest points. Soft, warm tones envelop at the groups softest moments. Trumpet trades with saxophone, drums careen into the running bass while the frantic piano either bothers or soothes the ensemble. Each player has a distinct place in the fabric that is Ambrose’s music, but none stands out more than Akinmusire; the trumpet, the virtuoso, the poet.

 

Most Underrated Artist –

5: Nacho Picasso

I’ve discussed Nacho already, but I will expand on what makes him underrated. Nacho is over shrouded in a Seattle scene that gives credence to its “favorite” son, Macklemore, based on the aforementioned white rapper’s widespread appeal and story telling ability. Seattle is a white market. I do think that plays into Macklemore’s popularity regardless of what others may say. He is by far the most popular musician in the scene today, having passed Blue Scholars who held the distinguished chair as deans of the Seattle scene in part because they were the only visible members of it. Now the scene is bustling. Shabazz Palaces are recognized for their artistic achievement. Macklemore is recognized for his pimping out of 206 pride and for his race. Blue Scholars are still there. Beneath these kingpins exists the fabric that holds the scene together. There is The Physics, SOL,  Thee Satisfaction, OC Notes, Mad Rad, Fresh Espresso, Grynch, Spaceman, the list goes on. Nacho does not sound anything like any of these artists. He is an anomaly in Seattle, a rapper whose appeal stretches beyond the city itself. Nacho is on the same level as this new, weird brand of internet famous MC’s such as Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky, Big K.R.I.T., and even Odd Future. The city has taken notice, don’t get me wrong, but we should be taking more,  embracing the off-kilter demeanor and personality that makes Nacho Picasso unique.

4: Cities Aviv

Cities Aviv is discussed above.

3: Cymbals Eat Guitars

Doing their best to withhold the ethos of 80’s-90’s underground, Cymbals Eat Guitars is equal parts Dinosaur Jr. and Built to Spill; the group, clearly schooled on the indie guitar gods of the past, unites behind the voice of Joseph D’Agostino and weaves together lines of clarity and lines of fuzz, drums that are at times explosive and at others lucid. D’Agostino’s lyricism is similarly familiar with the late 20th century’s highlights, his are words that at the surface can appear nonsensical but still poetic. Who knows, maybe they don’t mean a thing. With this said, clarity is a quality that is not lost on Cymbals Eat Guitars. They blend cacophonous noise with intricate passages, quiet nothings of single bass notes or piano chords transposed with full four to the floor stomps, creating a vision that in today’s indie climate is solely theirs.  My only concern is that people are too synth-obsessed to take notice.

2: Marius Neset

See above

1: Manchester Orchestra

An album with a backbone. That’s what Manchester Orchestra gave us in 2011. Songs that you listen and re-listen to. Lyrics that you know by heart. Something to fall in love with. Something melodic and hard, production that captures the raw quality of the band so articulately, in such a huge way. Simple Math is an album that can fill an arena. Why then, does the band still find themselves playing mid-level venues across the nation? Why are they not recognized on a single year end list? That much escapes me. Hull, a relate-able figure who wears his heart on his sleeve, whose band accentuates everything he says with some of the most affecting melodies put to record this year…I find myself continually surprised that at this point, Manchester Orchestra is a cult favorite with mixed critical reception when they deserve to be so much more.

 

Best Album –

Honorable Mentions: BadBadNotGood – BBNG, Fucked Up – David Comes to Life, Sandro Perri – Impossible Spaces, Iceage – New Brigade, Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien, Danny Brown – XXX, Cities Aviv – Digital Lows, Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues, M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

10: Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines

 

Perfect, infectious hooks litter the Merge debut released by a Seattle boy done good on a national scale.

9: Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Opening with the song of the year and closing with a so-sappy-its-good epic, the second album from the Wisconsin native proved that Vernon could transform his one-man cabin act into something bigger and better, if not as intimate.

8: Marius Neset – Golden Xplosion

Heady and energetic, frenetic but grounded, Neset’s debut injected something new into a jazz scene in constant need of new voices.

7: Phonte – Charity Starts At Home

The solo debut from former Little Brother and Foreign Exchange frontman is a stark portrait of the life of a working class rapper. Beats from the likes of 9th Wonder and help from up and comer Big K.R.I.T. accentuate Phonte’s harrowing accounts of a crumbling record industry and travails that hit closer to home.

6: Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Balladry reminiscent of 60’s and 70’s folk favorites drives the second album from the un-googleable San Francisco duo. Love, spirituality, and self respect are discussed as Christopher Owens asks who could care about something as trivial as war when his crush has a band.

5: Youth Lagoon – Year of Hibernation

An experiment in deeply personal self-effacing fragility, Powers comes through with remarkable aplomb. Pop songs that build and build, reaching skyward while the singer stays within himself.

4: Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

The hip-hop phoenix rises from the ashes of past glory, emerging with a fabric of evolved beats that are too advanced to fully comprehend. Ish speaks about what he knows and what he lives. His scope and his knowledge are vast.

3: The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes Of Silence

Tales recalling the zeniths and nadirs of last nights parties, oozing with drugs, booze, and lust, exploring why we let go and do these things to ourselves. None of these topics are new. On the other hand, the production, the voice, the pure unrivaled chops…those are all his own.

2: Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math

When Andy Hull lets out a yell, nothing is as real.

1: Ambrose Akinmusire – The Heart Emerges Glistening

Buzzing multi-metered grooves, near silent reveries, rainy Sunday mornings, isolated city nights – these are all elements that can be found on Ambrose’s Blue Note debut. His expression is a godsend.