Author: Gene

  1. Broken BellsST
    The best pop songwriter (James Mercer) and producer (Danger Mouse) of the last decade at the height of their game.
  2. The Tallest Man on EarthThe Wild Hunt
    Just when you thought one man and a guitar couldn’t sound fresh.
  3. The GorillazPlastic Beach
    Reveals more on each repeated listening; Damon Albarn taps into the schizophrenia of our times.
  4. Beach House – Teen Dream
    Baltimore twosome’s 3rd long-player adds to the strength of their prior two albums.
  5. Deerhunter Halcyon Digest
    Bradford Cox’s most solid and consistent songwriting to date.
  6. Arcade FireThe Suburbs
    Whether folks like the comparison or not, their earnestness, musicianship and big sound brings to mind a certain Irish band in its heyday.
  7. Tame ImpalaInnerspeaker
    Australian youngsters reveal musical chops beyond their years as they create an album best listened to from beginning to end.
  8. Wyatt, Atzmon, Stephen‘……….for the ghosts within’
    Robert Wyatt (and friends) continue to push the boundaries of pop, accompanied by that unique, weather-worn voice.
  9. David SylvianSleepwalkers
    Sylvian takes a break from his avant-pop recent works to cull an “odds and sods” collection of more accessible material that holds together remarkably well.
  10. Eluvium Similes
    Though Eno’s fingerprints are all over this work, Matthew Cooper’s strong songwriting sensibilities and clear talent carry him past his forefathers.
  11. Laura Veirs July Flame
    Subtlety and musicianship separate Ms. Veirs from her (sometimes more commercially successful) singer/songwriter peers.
  12. Field Music – Measure
    This is excellent song-craft at its finest – even as they labor in the shadows of the latest flavor of the month.
  13. The New PornographersTogether
    The strongest effort, from beginning to end, from the Canadian “supergroup”.
  14. Big BoiSir Luscious Left Foot…
    Andre who? Just in case people weren’t already aware of who was responsible for most of the irresistible hooks from Outkast’s work.
  15. Flying LotusCosmogramma
    Kanye who? The adventurous, unpredictable, multi-layered work that some critics keep thinking they’re hearing from Sir Tweet-a-Lot.

Midwest “neo-soul” shines at Portland venue

What’s the difference between folk music and the sounds that Bon Iver produced at Holocene recently? I pondered that as I reveled in the beautiful soundtrack to an introspective life that the band (whose name is a play off of what Francophiles and others know translates to “good winter”) reproduced.

I am not a big fan of the watered-down stuff that passes as folk (the stuff you hear in Starbucks, generally); Justin Vernon’s music captures the human experience as only recording in isolated places – like his father’s Wisconsin hunting cabin – can. But it is music also informed by modern anxieties. Vernon himself refers to his music as “neo-soul”.

So, it was no surprise to learn mid-set that Vernon has a punk-pop band called Michael Jordan, as well. Hearing the edge of Bon Iver’s music emphasized in their live set reminded me of when I saw Iron & Wine in town and witnessed Sam Beam and Co. growl, and not ironically cover New Order. It’s the stuff of early Dylan, where traditional sounds were often the shell of a more disturbing sonic narrative.

But it’s the heartache in Vernon’s voice which is the difference (which, especially live, reminded of a cross between Jeff Buckley’s falsetto and the aforementioned Beam’s raspy world-weariness). Bon Iver found new dynamics in its already subtle fledgling debut For Emma, Forever Ago. When Vernon asked the Holocene crowd to sing along to the refrain from “The Wolves (Act I and II)“, nervous looks abounded. The song ended up becoming a magic moment that somehow produced harmony from a group often more concerned with appearing to be coolly indifferent.

Though For Emma is not a perfect album, it is an early front-runner for my record of the year. In these troubled times, this album reflects my hope that a talented guy from the Midwest might bring a good winter.

DBD David Bailey Design