Some of my favorite music of the past couple years has dropped rather non-descriptly into my inbox with a simple note along the lines of “Hi, My name is (insert band member name here) my band (band name here) just finished recording our new album and thought you might like to check it out.” My number one record of this past year, Mono In VCF arrived this way, as did last year’s number one pick, The Swimmers. Bands that aren’t afraid to let their music speak for itself, believe in what they are doing, and hope you may too. Back around Christmas time I received a similar note from Peter Walters of Chicago’s The Dogs pointing me in the direction of their debut album which they are giving away free. It’s been in the heavy rotation ever since, an addicting stripped down folk gem, chock full of acoustic guitars and simple percussion, that’s more about capturing emotion than studio perfection. While their sound has drawn comparisons to artists like Neil Young and Fleet Foxes, they never sound derivative or like they’re jumping someone else’s train. The band is composed of three core members Peter Walters on guitar and vocals, James Krivchenia on guitar and percussion and Matt Bachmann on bass, but augments it’s sound live and on record with additional musicians and instruments like banjo and female backing vocals. From a record with no real low points here’s a couple of my personal highlights.
The Dogs – Useless Me
The Dogs – Headed For The Mountains
You can download the whole album for free at http://www.thedogsmusic.net/
It’s sort of old news already but here’s a youtube clip demonstrating a perfect example of why not to song along next to the camera when you’re taping. Arcade Fire covering Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA from the Obama Staffers Ball.
My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.
I thank President Bush for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.
The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.
Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.
It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.
The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.
We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.
We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs.
We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.
All this we can do. All this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.
MR. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
And those of us who manage the public’s knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.
But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.
The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.
Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.
They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We’ll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.
With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.
We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.
And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, “Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.
And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.
And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.
It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.
It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.
These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.
In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.
The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.
At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Thank you. God bless you.
And God bless the United States of America.
TONIGHT !: BOS Presents : The Skyler King, Bridges and Powerlines, and Curious Buddies at The M Room
Hey, the Eagles game will be over, so come on out and celebrate the win(or drown your sorrows, if thats’s the case) with some excellent live music tonight. And since Monday is a day off for most people there’s really no “…but it’s a Sunday night, I have to work tomorrow” excuse to use. So let’s rock.
Kicking it off tonight with Philadelphia’s Curious Buddies, Steve Shwill and Steve Deal meld a swirling blend of guitar,bass and synthesizers over drummer Dylan’s, rhythmic percussive backbeat to create a sound that falls somewhere between 70’s punk icons Television or Richard Hell and modern day indie rockers like Modest Mouse and The National.
In the middle slot tonight will be Brooklyn’s Bridges And Powerlines whose album Ghost Types was produced by Chris Zane (Les Savy Fav, Asobi Seksu, White Rabbits) andreleased mid 2008 to universal acclaim, even prompting blog Ryan’s Smashing Life to proclaim them “One of the most talented young groups on the East Coast”, a title well deserved. Keyboardist and vocalist Andrew Wood, bassist Keith Sigel, guitarist and vocalist David Boyd, and drummer Pete Mucek will have you hooked from the word go with their intelligent,synth fueled indie pop.
Closing the night out will be Philadelphia’s The Skyler King fusing the folky acoustic guitars and keyboards of Gerald King and Skyler Thornton with the stand up bass of The Wizard and Mofa’s powerhouse drumming into a mix that runs the gamut from the lilting country folk of Red Horse Rider to the snarling rhythmic Tweeker Girl. A show you don’t want to miss for sure.
Sunday January 18th
Bag Of Songs Presents:
The Skyler King, Bridges and Powerlines, Curious Buddies
$8 | 8PM | 21+Up
The M Room
15 W Girard Avenue
Some brand new music today from BOS favorites Murder Mystery. They turned in an excellent set at our inaugural Bag of Songs Night at The M Room in Philadelphia last April, and their debut record Are You Ready for the Heartache Cause Here It Comes is a cool blend of fifties sock hop, new wave dance music and modern indie rock. A sound that this new song refines even further into their own unique territory. Check it out, and if you’re in New York City at the moment be sure catch them playing live tonight at The Mercury Lounge.
Jan 9 The Mercury Lounge, New York with The Kiss Off,Medium Cool,Honor By August, & Hot Seconds
Feb 12 Club NME at The Annex, New York
Come on out this Saturday January 10 to Mew Gallery in Philadelphia for the opening reception of “I Heard You Looking” an exhibit of rock photography by Ken Hinchey and Lauren Trzaska presented by my friends over at Girl About Town If you can’t make it Saturday be sure not to miss it, it’s only there until February 20th.
Putting the best of 2008 to bed with a few more odds and ends. Here’s a couple great albums That I excluded from the Top 25 list.
The Swimmers – Fighting Trees [BUY]
This technically was offically released in 2008, but I had it number one in my best of 2007 so I excluded it from this year’s countdown. Read my take on it from last year’s top 25 here.
Yeasayer – All Hour Cymbals [BUY]
This actually came out late in 2007 but I didn’t get to hear it until early this year. Had I included it would have been in the top 3 for sure. A hypnotic blend of heavily textured sounds and rhythms with layers of very spiritual sounding vocal harmonies woven throughout. Highly recommended if you like discs like Talking Heads Remain In Light or Paul Simon’s Graceland.
Philadelphia area bands put out so many excellent records in 2008, Here’s a bunch all worthy of best of 2008 status:
Adam & Daves Bloodline – New Age Boredom EP
Aderbat – We Belong To The Sea
The Chimeras – Party Of God
Gildon Works – Artful Rifle
Dr. Dog – Fate
Man Man – Rabbit Habits
The Spinto Band – Moonwink
Roomtone – Hits & Mrs
Scary Monster – Makeout At Werewolf Club
Wrapping up the BOS top 25 albums of 2008 with the top ten. It’s the end of the countdown but stay tuned for some addtional thoughts on 2008 coming in another post real soon, plus lots of great music on deck for 2009.
10 Birds Fled From Me – Deeper Lurking [BUY]
It was just about a year ago when I named Birds Fled From Me the BOS Artist Of The Day and predicted this to be among the year’s best releases. It stood the test of time. Santa Cruz, California’s Rachel Williams is one extremely talented girl who independently recorded and released this record herself. With a voice most closely reminiscient of Fiona Apple or Bjork, this is a stunningly beautiful record that deserves so much more recognition than it received. You
can buy it directly from Rachel via her Myspace page.
9 My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges [BUY]
Take MMJ’s catalog and throw it into a blender with a big batch of those K-Tel hits of the 70’s records and I imagine this is pretty close to where you’ll end up. Not as thematically consistent as some of their earlier records but the success level in the adventurousness pays off more often than not in what ends up sounding like and indie rock version of AM radio gold. Some of the highlights on the buffet include the weird funk experiment Highly Suspicious,the pure sugary rush of Two Halves, and what is one of the best songs of the year in the beautiful, acoustic, Librarian.
8 Blitzen Trapper – Furr [BUY]
More refined and focused than their breakthrough Wild Mountain Nation,Blitzen Trapper have taken the Grateful Dead meets Pavement mix to the next level on this one, solidifying their influences into thier distinct sound. The title track with it’s storytelling of a boy raised by wolves grappling with his human emotions is an instant classic.
7 She & Him – Volume One [BUY]
Who’d have thought this would work so well, actress decides to be singer is generally the making of a one off disaster(see Scarlett Jo) but this is an addicting listen steeped in a mix of California harmonies and sixties girl group sounds. Zooey Deschanel and M Ward cooked up a winner here for sure here’s hoping there’s a volume 2.
6 Black Mountain – In the Future [BUY]
Expecting more of the immediacy of songs like Modern Music or No Satisfaction I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with the first couple listens to this, thinking it was more Black Sabbath than Black Mountain,not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s so much more. Picking up where songs like Druganaut left off and taking them to the next level, capped off by the epic 16 minutes plus, Bright Lights. The show I saw them do back in February with Bon Iver opening was probably the best show I saw in 2008.
5 Ting Tings – We Started Nothing [BUY]
Sure this is probably more style than substance, but it is hands down the party record of the year, when was the last time you heard a record where every song had enough hooks to be a single. As they used to say on American Bandstand, “It’s got a great beat, and you can dance to it”. Catchy, fun, danceable, and just try not to sing along.
4 Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping [BUY]
If you’re like me and only really had a passing interest in Of Montreal, now’s the time to change that. This album is a mix of sexual confusion,funk and dance music, and Sergeant Pepper like psychedelia all blended together in a dizzying mashup that makes Girl Talk‘s Greg Gillis seem like an amateur, yet it somehow all holds together as a whole. As a musician it leaves me amazed just wondering how someone can get that far out there for inspiration and then be able to realize it as a finished work.
3 Cheers Elephant – Here We Are(Demo) [BUY]
One Of Philadelphia’s best bands right now, this record best described is psychedelic folk music with and indie prog rock twist. Shimmers of sixties and seventies folk and psychedelia are as prevalent as eighties and nineties indie rock. Like all great artists these are just touchstones in a clearly unique and individual sound. This was an early 2008 demo, Cheers Elephant releases their first official CD in a couple weeks watch for it to be turning heads early in 2009.
2 The Dutchess and the Duke – She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke [BUY]
Stripped down and folky this album is all about the songs in their purest form. I’m going to quote my own review from July here:
The Dutchess And The Duke’s, debut full length She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke careens along in it’s lo-fi immediate glory like a combination of Bob Dylan, The Mamas & The Papas and early Rolling Stones swagger. With the familiar warmth of a lost 60’s classic and the jagged edge of a modern recording, everything old is new again and sounding better than ever. Kimberly Morrison(aka The Dutchess) and Jesse Lortz(aka The Duke) holed up last fall at Magical Basement Studios in West Seattle with Bryan Standridge behind the board of an 8- track and recorded a modern folk classic. It’s chock full of strummy acoustic guitars and percussion with more than enough pure pop melodies and sing along vocal harmonies to have you hooked after just one listen.
1 Mono In VCF – Mono In VCF [BUY]
The album I listenedd to more than any other this year, I was hooked on this from the first play back in June of this year and it’s still in the heavy rotation six months later. The name Mono In VCF is a combination of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound(Mono) and Moog Synthesizer tones(VCF) and their music has been described as “Drifting in space between psychedelic Beatles and Massive Attack” by Tom Scanlon of The Seattle Times. It is music that is sweeping,cinematic and serenely lush sounding, all woven together by the silky smooth, soaring vocals of Kim Miller. What I previously described as “fearlessly futuristic and reminiscient of the great film soundtrack music of the sixties all at once”. It’s music with the power to take your mind to another place away from all the distrations around you, similar to the the sensation of flying in a dream but converted into sound.
Number 11 to 15 of the BOS top 25 albums today, stay tuned for the top ten coming up soon.
15 Duffy – Rockferry [BUY]
Mercy may be the best single of the year, but is not necessarily typical of the rest of this disc which takes a slightly more low key approach and harkens back to 60’s soul singers like Petula Clark, or to a lesser extent Dusty Springfield. Bolstered by solid songs like the the title track and the excellent Warwick Avenue it’s a great kick back and listen record.
14 The Hymns – Travel In Herds [BUY]
The Hymns also had one of the great singles of 2008 with the horn laced I Can’t Be What You Want, and the rest of the disc runs deep with equally great songs from The Velvets Meet CCR rocker Streets Alone, to the country tinged Off My Mind. Another one of the overlooked gems of 2008.
13 The Hold Steady – Stay Positive [BUY]
After the pretty much perfect Boys And Girls in America, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this being a bit of a letdown. I anticpated this ending up in my top three for the year,and with the exception of a clunker or two the songs are all there, but where this really lost points for me is the overly loud muddy production that makes it near unlistenable. I haven’t been able to sit and listen to this all the way through because after two or three songs I get ear fatigue so bad I need to put something else on. Be sure to track toown the version with the three bonus tracks Ask Her for Adderall,Cheyenne Sunrise and Two Handed Handshake.
12 No Age – Nouns [BUY]
Unlike the Hold Steady record which tried to be loud and faltered, this record sounds better the louder you play it. Sculpting a wall of sound reminiscient of Husker Du or Sonic Youth into catchy melodic songs, this record is filled with the joyful catharsis of playing loud electric guitar.
11 Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Pershing [BUY]
The years best record of pure ear candy, indie influenced power pop at it’s best. It’s a record chock full of hooks and harmonies, finding just the right balance between quirky and super catchy.
Happy New Year’s 2009 everyone, five more of the Bag Of Songs Top 25 albums of 2008 for you.
Again, feel free to chime in with comments along the way,let me know your picks, what you think I missed, etc.
20 Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago [BUY]
I’m sure by now you ‘ve all heard the story of how Justin Vernon holed up for three months alone in a cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin in the winter to make this record. If you’ve listened to it you know how he managed to translate the heartbreak of a breakup combined with all of that isolation into a set of stunning, powerful,intimate songs. It’s worthy of all the raves you’ve been hearing. What’s even more amazing is that his live show is even better than the record.
19 MGMT – Oracular Spectacular [BUY]
Giving keyboard based electronic pop their own twist, this is one of those albums where your favorite songs change as you listen to it more. Filled with some of the years best singles in Time To Pretend,Kids and Electric Feel, just about every song is a winner.
18 The Major Labels – Aquavia [BUY]
Sort of a supergroup of sorts, The Major Labels– Mike Viola, Bleu, and Ducky Carlisle rolled all their influences into what is arguably the best pure power pop record of the year,jangly, fun, and filled with irresistable sugary hooks. They also put on one of the best live shows I saw this past year.
17 The Rosewood Thieves – Rise And Shine [BUY]
Steeped deep in songs influenced by the likes The Beatles and T Rex, The Rosewood Thieves put out one of the most overlooked records of the year in Rise And Shine.
16 James Hunter – The Hard Way [BUY]
Another strong contender bringing old school style R&B and soul into the present, where Eli Reed mines the Southern sound of artists like Otis Redding, James Hunter is more akin to people like Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, and even spent some time in the past in Van Morrison‘s backing band.