Off Beat Music Guide

Best Albums of 2011 December 5, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 8:57 pm
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Every year I get so excited about writing this post. Not only do I get to relive an entire year of music in a few short days, but I get to be super pretentious and opinionated about it.

This year was the year of the sophomore album. My top 3 albums of the year are dazzling follow-ups to three of my all time favorite albums. And then there’s Adele, who basically took over the world with her sophomore album. It’s humanly impossible not to love that album.

I discovered some great new music this year and enjoyed some fantastic shows. In fact, my concert experience is what helped me decide between my number one and number two albums of the year. Fleet Foxes just blew me away. I still catch myself smiling thinking about that show, and it was months ago. And Bon Iver’s album and concert were just magical

So, here are my Top 25 of 2011.


  1. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
  2. Bon Iver- Bon Iver
  3. Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  4. Washed Out- Within and Without
  5. The Decemberists- The King is Dead
  6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- It’s A Corporate World
  7. The Head and the Heart- The Head and the Heart
  8. Smith Westerns- Dye It Blonde
  9. Dawes- Nothing is Wrong
  10. Destroyer- Kaputt
  11. The Black Keys- El Camino (I just heard this all the way through 2 days ago. It might actually move up the list after more listens)
  12. Wye Oak- Civilian
  13. Adele- 21
  14. James Blake- James Blake
  15. Laura Marling- A Creature I Don’t Know
  16. M83- Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming 
  17. Ryan Adams- Ashes & Fire
  18. Elbow- Build a Rocket Boys
  19. tUnE-yArDs- whokill
  20. Givers- In Light
  21. Those Darlins- Screws Get Loose
  22. The Civil Wars- Barton Hollow
  23. Kurt Vile- Smoke Ring for My Halo
  24. The Low Anthem- Smart Flesh
  25. The Middle East- I Want That You are Always Happy


Don’t hold back. Let me know what you think about my list. What were your favorite albums of the year?



More on Bon Iver August 6, 2011

Filed under: Concerting — bethstephenson84 @ 10:37 am
Tags: ,

I found a couple of pretty amazing videos of the band’s performances of “Skinny Love” and “The Wolves (Act I & II)”. They are from the Atlanta show at the Cobb Energy and Performing Arts Center, and it makes me a little sad to see how much better the band is in an indoor venue. I will make sure the next time I see them it is somewhere like this. Just amazing…

Skinny Love


The Wolves (Act I & II)

The Wolves (Act


Concert Review: Bon Iver August 1, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 11:04 pm
Tags: ,

Where: Raleigh Amphitheater and Festival- Raleigh, NC

When: July 29, 2011

After a couple years of not-so-patient waiting, I finally got to see Justin Vernon’s most recognized project, Bon Iver, play a live set last Friday night at The Raleigh Amphitheater and Festival. And while the location was not ideal for this band, the music was just as magical as I had hoped. Let’s make no bones about it, the live performance doesn’t come close to their albums. (Keep in mind this is coming from someone who I think these albums can only be experienced through headphones.) But I realized before I heard them that it would be nearly impossible to translate the intimacy of the albums to the live show.

The Good: My favorite moments of the show were ones I least expected. The band’s cover of Bjork’s “Who Is It” exercised every ounce of this band’s talent and grew my heart by about three sizes—Grinch style. My two other favorite moments involve songs from For Emma, Forever Ago. I must say that it’s not that I didn’t want to hear these songs in particular, but I had really low expectations for the For Emma songs. I didn’t think they could make it interesting or unique live. As usual, I was wrong. The powerful drums and the crowd sing-a-long in “The Wolves (Act I and II) were chill bump worthy. The band turned their haunting song into something much more robust and powerful just in time to break our hearts with that killer line “What might have been lost.” And just when I thought they had outdone themselves, they played “Skinny Love” as the encore. Vernon took center stage with his guitar as his 8 or so bandmates corralled around microphones behind him. While he was telling us to be patient and be kind, the boys behind him provided the percussion with their hands and feet. It felt old, like a song that’s been sung for a hundred years.

The Bad: The venue wasn’t a good fit for this band. Outdoor venues aren’t made for quiet songs and that was proven over and over again that night. I would love to have seen them somewhere like The Tabernacle in Atlanta.

My other disappointment with the show was the pace. It felt like the first few songs were rushed. I think I felt that disappointment deepest because they were songs from the new album and they could have been something really special if they’d have played their hearts out from the first note. It took about 5 songs for the band to really get into it, but when they did, it was excellent.

The Ugly: The heat. It was about 103 degrees in Raleigh that day. This is another reason I am a fan of indoor venues.



Minnesota, WI



Beach Baby

Hinnom, TX


Who Is It (Bjork cover)

Blood Bank





The Wolves (Act I and II)



For Emma

Skinny Love

Here are a few videos from the show. To check out more, head over to my YouTube page at:

Blood Bank


re: Stacks


Concert Review: David Gray July 6, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music — bethstephenson84 @ 12:06 pm
Tags: , ,

Where: Ovens Auditorium, Charlotte, NC

When: July 2, 2011

During the almost three years I have spent blogging about music, I have always thought that I had what it takes to be somewhat unbiased in my concert reviews. I mean, I clearly like the bands I see, but I’d like to think I have a clarity that allows me to see if a band is really legit or just smoke and mirrors in their live set.

Unfortunately, after seeing David Gray this past Saturday, I am not quite so certain I have it in me anymore.

In thinking about this show, swooning is the only thing that comes to mind. I can tell you that the venue was different than what I was used to; it was in a concert hall instead of the beer bottle flanked, graffiti filled bar of my usual shows, and people sat down the majority of the set instead of shoving in to get closer to the band. But other than that, I didn’t note much more about the event. I sort of moved into my own little world of awe shortly after the opening number.

I went to this show with 3 friends, Jill, Kate and Mark and while all of us girls were in a dreamy haze post concert, all my friend Mark could say was “I liked it but I didn’t love it.”  Then I remembered all of the men sitting around us, impatiently shifting in their seats. I even overheard one guy saying “He better pick it up or I am going to fall asleep.” This was so strange to me because I could have lived in that hour and a half forever.

So I am admitting it; I am such a girl. Sing me a sweet love song in a British accent and I lose all sense of reason. There, now that is out of the way and we have established that this is a completely biased review by a woman who lets her emotions get the best of her, we can proceed. Just know that this review could be complete hooey.

Because he writes primarily about love, it came as no surprise that Mr. Gray did a wonderful job capturing that feeling in his show.  It was warm and vibrant. Funny and sweet. And most of all, it was beautiful.

I loved the lamp-lit stage and how dashing all of the band members looked in their suits. (That probably accounted for a good bit of the swooning.)

He played 21 songs that spanned his almost 20 year career. There were the obvious crowd favorites like “Babylon” and “The One I Love,” but I was most taken with “Kathleen” and his 10-minute version of “Nemesis.” You could tell that he liked playing all of his songs, even the ones he’s played hundreds of times, but it was evident that he loved playing “Nemesis.”

“I wish all (songs) were like that one,” Gray said. “I can’t put a price on the dawning.”

And that’s all you can ask for in a singer/songwriter: to have a passion that is so palpable that their love of a song alone sells you on its merits. And for David Gray, it worked. “Nemesis,” which I only liked before the show has turned into my favorite of his songs.

And I must mention my disappointment that he didn’t play my absolute favorite of his songs, “Shine” (It’s one of my Top 10 favorite songs of all time), but it was a long shot and ultimately it didn’t take away from the concert.



Only the Wine

Draw the Line

My Oh My

The One I Love

A New Day at Midnight




Flame Turns Blue




Morning of My Live (BeeGees cover)
Living Room


Ain’t No Love

White Ladder



Sail Away

Here are some videos from the show. I’ve had some serious problems trying to upload “Nemesis” because it is so long, but I have all of the other videos on my YouTube channel if you’d like to check them out.


Flame Turns Blue


Best of 2011 (so far) June 22, 2011

Filed under: Best of 11,Music,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 12:50 pm
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My goodness, 2011 is nearly half over. And what a spectacular year it has already been for music! Several of my favorite veteran musicians have created outstanding albums to add to their already impressive resumes, and like every great year, new bands have emerged and made me fall in love with music all over again.  Here are my ten favorite albums of the year (so far). And these are in no particular order yet.


The Decemberists: The King is Dead – I had high expectations for this release, especially considering my adoration of their previous effort.  The resulting album is a refreshingly different with sweet songs that could provide the soundtrack to a beautiful spring day.



Givers: In Light If Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend birthed a band, it would be Givers. Need I say more?



Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo– Oh, the voice. The voice and the sadness. You can’t turn it off because it’s too beautiful and too real.



Bon Iver: Bon Iver I’m not sure what he’s talking about 80% of the time, but there’s something in Justin Vernon’s voice when he croons “And at once I knew, I was not magnificent” in the song “Holocene” that moves me. I still find myself gasping when I hear it.



The Head and the Heart: The Head and the Heart– Feels like I’ve known these songs my whole life. Gorgeous songs about a slow, simple life.



Smith Westerns: Dye It Blond– These youngsters have managed to capture summertime perfectly. Makes me wish I was 16 again…minus the acne and the drama.



Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues– It’s nearly impossible to get these songs out of your head. The album is addictive.



 Destroyer: Kaputt– What a lovely homage to 80’s pop, complete with synthesizers and drum machine beats. It doesn’t come off as contrived or ironic either, which is rare for this hipster generation.



King Creoste & Jon Hopkins: Diamond Mine A year is only as good as its best rainy day album. This one is nearly perfect. And don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two yourself.



Elbow: Build A Rocket Boys– Feel good music. The best thing about this album is that you can go as deep or stay as shallow as you want with the music. You will have a good time either way.



Album Review: Bon Iver, Bon Iver May 27, 2011

Filed under: Album Review,Music,Music News,New Release,Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 12:13 pm
Tags: ,

Let’s get it out of the way, apart from Justin Vernon’s trademark falsetto, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is nothing like For Emma, Forever Ago. And in my opinion it didn’t need to be. Justin Vernon’s pining and isolation resulted in a full and complete album. He put it all on the table and left little room for a Part 2.

So much of what I love about that album is the story of its creation; the months of isolation in the woods writing songs about lost love and heartbreak, never expecting anyone to hear them. We did, of course, hear them and we fell in love with them. He captured lightening in a bottle. For Emma was absolutely perfect for the collectively heartbroken world in 2008, but now it’s time to move on.

And here we are a couple of years later, ready to move on. And it feels as though the Bon Iver boys are right there with us, writing our soundtrack on Bon Iver, Bon Iver.

Over the past 3 years, Vernon has given us hints about the direction he would take with this album. The Blood Bank EP eased us into a bolder sounding Bon Iver and the title track easily became my favorite song of 2009.

Where For Emma is stark and minimal, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is intricate and lavish. Vernon mixes synthesizers with pedal guitars and creates sounds that Vernon himself described as “Civil War-sounding heavy metal.” It’s odd for sure, but then Vernon has never been an easy read. I remember reading once that Vernon often has no idea what his songs are about; it’s as if the words just come through him and he is little more than a scribe. Way to rub it in, Vernon. We get it, you are a genius.

Much like For Emma, this album is full of challenging and breathtaking lyrics. It reads much more like poetry than music, and much like poetry, I think the meaning is meant to be personal. The listener is supposed to take ownership.

I’ve had the album for couple of days now, and I can say without any hesitancy that I like it. My favorites so far are “Perth,” “Minnesota, WI” and “Calgary.” I anticipate, much like my experience with For Emma, that my favorites will change pretty regularly though. I am sad to say that “Beth/Rest” is currently my least favorite song on the album, despite multiple attempts to LOVE it. Maybe that will change when I hear it live.

This album is all about journeys and destinations. Many of the song titles are places, both real and imaginary, and even the album’s title is a destination. Destination doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end though. I like to think Bon Iver, Bon Iver is just a stopping point on this band’s journey and that we’ve got many more gorgeous miles ahead of us.

Track list:

1. Perth
2. Minnesota, WI
3. Holocene
4. Towers
5. Michicant
6. Hinnom, TX
7. Wash.
8. Calgary
9. Lisbon, OH
10. Beth/Rest



Concert Review: Fleet Foxes May 16, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music — bethstephenson84 @ 9:12 pm
Tags: , ,

Where: The Tabernacle- Atlanta, GA

When: May 14, 2011

This was the first concert I’ve been to where the band received a standing ovation before playing a single note—and that was the first of six (!) standing ovations that would be given to them over the course of the night. I wanted to start by telling you this so you won’t think I am over-glorifying this show or this band. They deserved the standing ovation before the show, during the show and after. They were stunning, and there are a couple thousand people who can testify to that.

This 6 member, Portland-based band is led by singer Robin Pecknold, and their sound is somewhere between the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkle.  That will seem ridiculous until you’ve heard them. They have released 2 LPs: Fleet Foxes (2008) and Helplessness Blues (2011) and their sound is a careful construction of contrasting starkness and bold energy. Harmonies and reverberation could be the seventh and eighth members of this band because they are utilized in nearly every song.  And they are powerful tools.

Here is an intro video to Fleet Foxes for those unfamiliar with the group. I’m including it on here because a) it’s one of my favorite videos of all time, ever b) it’s my favorite of their songs and c) it perfectly showcases their use of harmonies and reverberation in shaping their sound.

Back to the show. I was nervous about hearing the band live because I so closely associate their music with the North Carolina landscape. I was afraid it would feel gimmicky having this pastoral band play on a big stage in the 9th largest city in the US. Thinking back now, I don’t know what I was worried about because the next best thing to hearing them in the Carolina Mountains is hearing them in a cathedral-turned-music hall.  And The Tabernacle did not disappoint. It accommodated the band’s vocals with nearly perfect acoustics. And leaving the former church’s giant pipe organ as the backdrop was a stroke of genius.

The band played for nearly two hours and covered the majority of both of their albums. I may or may not have shed a couple of tears during “Blue Ridge Mountains”,“ The Shrine/An Argument”, and “Helplessness Blues.” Hearing their perfectly formed harmonies live was a mighty powerful experience. And unfortunately you will have to take my word for it, because the sound quality of the videos really doesn’t do the band justice.

This was one of those shows where I made a conscious effort to soak up every moment. From the way the crowd poured out praises, to the way the harmonies on “White Winter Hymnal” gave me chill bumps, I wanted to remember it all.

Here’s how it went down:

  1. The Cascade/Grown Ocean
  2. Drops in the River
  3. Battery Kinzie
  4. Bedouin Dress
  5. Sim Sala Bim
  6. Mykonos
  7. Your Protector
  8. Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
  9. White Winter Hymnal/ Ragged Wood
  10. Lorelai
  11. Montezuma/He Doesn’t Know Why
  12. The Shrine/ An Argument/ Blue Spotted Tail
  13. Blue Ridge Mountains
    14. Oliver James
    15. Helplessness Blues

I was able to video the majority of the show. The only songs I missed were “Your Protector,” “Drops in the River” and “Mykonos”. To see all the videos from the show including three songs from opening act The Cave Singers, check out my YouTube page at:               

White Winter Hymnal/Ragged Wood Medley

Sim Sala Bim

The Cascades/Grown Ocean