Off Beat Music Guide

Album Review: Fanfarlo’s Reservoir January 22, 2010

Filed under: Album Review,Best of 09,Music — bethstephenson84 @ 12:02 pm

I hate to sound whiney, but there’s just too much music to listen to these days. And right when I (arrogantly) think I’ve got a handle on what’s going on in the music world, I realize I don’t even know the half of it. I battle with spending lots of time listening to a few good albums or spending a limited time exploring the endless abyss of music available in this indie era.

I shudder at all of the bands I overlooked or simply didn’t have time for last year. And of course I shudder at the bands I wasted time trying to like (Animal Collective. Sorry, but there it is). One of the bands I’ve gotten a delayed start on is the London- based indie band, Fanfarlo. They released their debut album, Reservoir, in October of 09, and I didn’t start listening to them until late November when I had pretty much mentally wrapped up my list of the Best of 2009. So although this is not a new release, I want to give this album a proper review, even if it is a few months late!

There’s something to be said for an album’s opening song. Unfortunately  many bands completely neglect to put thought into this particular song, which to me is the equivalent of wearing Crocs to a job interview or burping in someone’s face when you first meet them. I know I’ve beaten a dead horse on this blog talking about how much I value track placement in albums, but it’s because I truly believe placement can make or break an album. The first song has to set the tone.

Fanfarlo’s Reservoir, has one of my favorite opening tracks of the year with their song “I’m a Pilot,” a song that’s beat doesn’t feel like it’s produced by drums at all, but instead some atmospheric elements of another era altogether.

The whole album has that feeling of another lifetime.  And while their use of more orchestral instruments like the violin, trumpet and mandolin may account for that nostalgic element, I think it’s lead singer Simon Balthazar’s whimsical voice that does it for me.  ( I need to make a side note here that Simon Balthazar has to be the coolest name in the world.  If I were a man, that’s what I’d want my name to be.)

The songs on this album are fairly fun and upbeat with lyrics that are bit darker. I really like every single song on this album, but my favorites are “Luna,” “The Walls Are Coming Down, “ “Drowning Men,” “Harold T. Wilkins” and of course “I’m A Pilot.”

What I like most about Fanfarlo and Reservoir is the same thing I like about Elvis Perkins in Dearland. These bands both push past the limits of the current musical climate and make music in a way that is beautifully and uniquely their own.

And I feel that’s it’s only fair to give this band and album an honorary spot on my Best of 09 list because I think if I’d gotten around to listening to them in October, they surely would have found a spot there.


Best of 2009 December 7, 2009

Filed under: Best of 09,Music,Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 12:32 pm

This may be a little premature since there are a few more weeks in 2009, but I feel confident enough in my picks to believe that any music that comes out in the next three weeks probably won’t affect my list that much.

This was a really solid year in music. We saw several seasoned artists and bands make the albums of their career this year, and we also saw a lot of experimenting with sound which made for a very eclectic sounding 2009.  Bon Iver followed up his acclaimed 2008 release For Emma, Forever Ago with several small, yet amazing efforts in 2009.  Grizzly Bear continued their streak as Indie kings with their dazzling album Veckatemist. And everyone chipped in to make Dark Was the Night one of the best albums of the year.

There aren’t really any big surprises here if you keep up with the blog, but there are a few changes in the Top 5 from my picks earlier in the year. Please feel free to let me know what you think.

Best Albums of 2009

  1. Dan Auerbach- Keep It Hid
  2. The Decemberists- The Hazards of Love
  3. Elvis Perkins in Dearland- Elvis Perkins in Dearland
  4. The Dirty Projectors- Bitte Orca
  5. Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest
  6. Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  7. Dark Was the Night- Various Artists
  8. Bon Iver- Blood Bank EP
  9. Passion Pit- Manners
  10. Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career
  11. The Dead Weather- Horehound
  12. Alberta Cross- Broken Side of Time
  13. Noah and the Whale- The First Days of Spring
  14. Mew- No More Stories Are Told Today I’m Sorry They Washed Away No
  15. Andrew Bird- Noble Beast
  16. Patrick Watson- Wooden Arms
  17. M. Ward- Hold Time
  18. The Middle East- Recordings of The Middle East
  19. St. Vincent- Actor
  20. The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack– Various Artists
  21. Peter Bjorn & John- Living Things
  22. Kid CuDi- Man On the Moon: The End of Day
  23. The Avett Brothers- I and Love and You
  24. Dead Man’s Bones- Dead Man’s Bones
  25. Brandi Carlile- Give Up the Ghost

Best Songs of 2009

  1. “Blood Bank”- Bon Iver
  2. “The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid” The Decemberists
  3. “Two Weeks”- Grizzly Bear
  4. “My Last Mistake”- Dan Auerbach
  5. “Lisztomania” Phoenix
  6. “Useful Chamber”- Dirty Projectors
  7. “James”- Camera Obscura
  8. “Roslyn”- Bon Iver (Twilight: New Moon Soundtrack)
  9. “Pursuit of Happiness”- Kid CuDi (featuring MGMT)
  10. “Chains, Chains, Chains”- Elvis Perkins in Dearland
  11. “Real Desire”- Dan Auerbach
  12. “French Navy”- Camera Obscura
  13. “Sleepyhead”- Passion Pit
  14. “Song Three Blues”- Alberta Cross
  15. “The Hazards of Love IV (The Drowned)”- The Decemberists
  16. “Anonanimal”- Andrew Bird
  17. “Stillness Is the Move”- Dirty Projectors
  18. “The Reeling”- Passion Pit
  19. “Beach”- Mew
  20. “Nothing To Worry About”- Peter Bjorn & John
  21. “Treat Me Like Your Mother”- The Dead Weather
  22. “Hours Last Stand”- Elvis Perkins in Dearland
  23. “Foreground”- Grizzly Bear
  24. “For Beginners”- M. Ward
  25. “Big Red Machine”- Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner
  26. “The Darkest Side”- The Middle East
  27. “I Cut Like A Buffalo”- The Dead Weather
  28. “Not A Robot, But A Ghost”- Andrew Bird
  29. “Daylight”- Matt & Kim
  30. “Say Please”- Monsters of Folk

Concert Review: Elvis Perkins in Dearland 11/5/09 December 4, 2009

Filed under: Best of 09,Concerting,Music — bethstephenson84 @ 12:01 pm
Tags: ,

I feel like the worst blogger in the history of the world for not keeping this thing up on a regular basis. And not to torture you with my laundry list of excuses, but the real world and my real life job have sort of taken over all of my time and then of course there was Thanksgiving where the food took over all of that time…but here I am, ready to play catch up.

My concert list for Fall was pretty long this year and it included some of my favorite artists of the year, Elvis Perkins in Dearland being somewhere near the top of that list. In all honesty, EPID’s self titled album would have been enough to keep me smiling all year long, but seeing them perform live was like having the most delicious gourmet icing slathered on the most beautiful cake you’ve ever seen.

The concert started out with New Orleans style funeral procession, or “Jazz Funeral,” where the musicians made their way through the crowd to the stage while blasting their brass instruments and drums in an upbeat number. I must mention that this concert was held at the tiny Atlanta based club, The Earl, which was at capacity with around 200 people, so this musical procession was literally felt by everyone. And it only added to the excitement in the room.

The band started the night off with “Gypsy Davy” from the recently release The Doomsday EP and lead into “Slow Doomsday” from the same album.  The band continued by playing of the remaining tracks on The Doomsday EP as well as several songs from my beloved Elvis Perkins in Dearland album. And then  as if they were reading my list to Santa, they graced us with “All the Night Without Love” and “While You Were Sleeping” from Perkins’ solo album Ash Wednesday.

Perkins’ band, comprised of a bunch of rag tag looking misfits who could easily make you believe in the gypsies of Perkins’ imagination, are unarguably talented.  At any given time, any given member could be playing any number of instruments, some of which I had never seen before. I counted one guy play at least seven different instruments! It really was a spectacle.

The band had great energy and put on an amazing show. I had high expectations for this concert because of how much I love both albums they produced this year, and I have no complaints about their live show. There’s always a sense of relief when you see in person that the musicians you love are the real deal. It’s kind of refreshing actually.

Check out some of my video footage from the concert here:


Spin Mag’s Top 20 of 2009 (so far) September 2, 2009

Filed under: Album Review,Best of 09 — bethstephenson84 @ 3:18 pm

So Spin released their picks about a month ago and I have to say that I was a little disappointed. There are several amazing albums missing from their list. In truth, I only really agreed with like 20% of their picks.  I will probably get slammed for this, but I think Animal Collective is completely overrated and I have always thought that Wilco is mediocre, at best. I’m not saying that everyone should agree with me or that my opinions are even important’, but I did expect more from you, Spin.

Judge for yourself: SPIN


Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack News August 29, 2009

Filed under: Best of 09,Music,Soundtrack — bethstephenson84 @ 7:09 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This is actually really exciting news, and not because I am a fan of this series. Taking a huge shift from Twilight‘s soundtrack, which was full of Linkin Park-esc tunes, the New Moon soundtrack will feature  much more melancholy sounds. According to Paste Magazine, Thom Yorke, Bon Iver and Death Cab for Cutie will all appear on the soundtrack which is to be released on Oct. 20. Death Cab announced on Thursday their song “Meet Me on the Equinox” would be featured on the soundtrack. No word on which Bon Iver or Thom Yorke songs will be used, but no doubt they will be characteristically  heartbreaking.  Looks like I will be adding this album to my collection!


#1 : Best of 09 (so far) August 27, 2009

Filed under: Album Review,Best of 09,Music — bethstephenson84 @ 8:32 am
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dan_auerbach_keep_it_hidDan Auerbach- Keep It Hid

Call me a skeptic, but the minute I hear a member of a beloved band is taking his/her music solo, I get that nauseous pit in my stomach, the kind you get on the last day of vacation or when you finish a good book or when you break up with somebody.  It feels like the end of something great, something you may never get back.  I admit that this same skeptic m plagued me when I purchased Dan Auerbach’s first solo album Keep It Hid back in February. I just knew it was going to suck and ruin The Black Keys forever… but sound the alarms and alert the presses folks, because I was wrong. Dead wrong. This album turned out to be not only my favorite album of the year (thus far), but arguably some of Auerbach’s best work to date.

Over the past few years, I have grown to really love the gritty, raw sound of The Black Keys. They are one of a handful of bands that have restored my faith in the music of this generation.  Maybe it is the unpolished honesty of the sound or the 1960s rock vibe I find so refreshing in an overly synthesized world. But whatever the case, it must be said that The Black Keys’ sound is what it is due to the collaboration and mutual artistry of guitarist/singer, Dan Auerbach and drummer, Patrick Carney.  So before exploring Auerbach’s solo effort, I would advise that you not dive in expecting an exact replica of Auerbach’s work with the Keys.  Instead look for a strong similarity to the rough, bluesy sound but with melancholy and truth all its own.

Although Auerbach enlisted the help of friends and family, he had full control over the creative direction of the album by not only penning the album, but playing guitar, drums, percussion and keyboards throughout.  With track titles like “Trouble Ways A Ton”, “Heartbroken, In Disrepair” and “My Last Mistake”, it’s pretty clear what Auerbach’s emotional state was while making this album. But I think it is that vulnerability in both his ballads and up tempo tracks that make Keep it Hid so unique, because while he belts out his tales of heartbreak and woe, he never asks the listener to partake in his misery.  Instead, we find ourselves compelled to listen because everything he sings feels real and true.

I will admit that Auerbach may have an unfair advantage in this Best of 2009 race due to the shear amount of time I have dedicated to the album.  For months I have kept this album in constant rotation, and to this day, I remain in awe at the subtleties and painstaking nuisances within each song that make the album feel new and fresh with each listen.

When asked about his experience with making this record, Auerbach said, “I didn’t want to make a record of just songs I liked, thrown together. I wanted it to work from start to finish. The kind of classic record where you put on headphones and listen to it from start to finish and takes you somewhere else – that the was the goal.”  It was a lofty goal, but one that paid off big time in the end.

Oh, and here’s a very important side note: Both Auerbach and Patrick Carney insist that the Black Keys have not broken up. Whew…

Listen: Mean Monsoon

Listen: My Last Mistake


#2 : Best of 09 (so far) August 24, 2009

Filed under: Album Review,Best of 09 — bethstephenson84 @ 6:41 pm

elvis-perkins-in-dearland-cd-cover-album-artElvis Perkins In Dearland-  Elvis Perkins In Dearland

I wish that my first experience with Elvis Perkins in Dearland had been cooler; that I would have come across his album in funky vinyl shop and listened to the opening notes of “Shampoo” with the decades of musical genius surrounding us. As it was, I stumbled across his name while reading an article in a trusted music source (whose initials are not RS) and I listened to those first notes via iTunes surrounded only by leftover dishes from dinner. It was not at all the environment that this level of artistry deserved and yet I was sold on what Perkins was pushing without any questions, or hip ambiance in this case.

Perkins, the son of the late Anthony Perkins of Psycho movie fame, began his career with a lovely solo album released in 07. The album garnered some critical acclaim and set him on the path toward this self titled album with his newly formed band Elvis Perkins in Dearland. The sound created by Perkins and his band is difficult to put in words because it is such an experience: a merging of genres, decades, influences and sounds. What emerges is arguably the most complete album of the year.

As I have previously stated, I am an album person. I want an artist to tell an entire story with an album and fully stir in me whatever emotion they are trying to express with every single track. Perkins overwhelmingly accomplishes that by being diligent in his effort to stay true to the goal he lays out in the first note of the first track. And I applaud the order in which the tracks are placed; they are so exquisitely chosen as to never take you too deep into a dark place without bringing you up for a breath of air.

This album is defined by two things: the mood and Perkins’ voice, and neither one would work as well without the other. Perkins’ sound is a mixture of equal parts Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly, and depending upon the song he can sound more like one than the other. “Hours Last Stand” gives off the Buddy Holly vibe and “How’s Forever Been Baby” sounds like a 1970s Dylan, but despite the similarities to these musical legends neither performance comes off as contrived.

This album is for those with imagination. The mystery, darkness, whimsy and humor of this 45 minute album remind me of the tales of gypsies from classic literature. The sound is almost other-worldly.  At times it seems wild and unpredictable and at other times it is sweet and heartbreaking. The use of brass, horns and the occasional flute makes this album, which could come off as a replica of decades passed, seem fresh and completely unique.

In interviews, Perkins can come off aloof and maybe even a bit pretentious, but then again I think that can be said of most musicians. In the end, I’m not really concerned with how the guy is when he’s out from behind the microphone, because what he does on this album, and hopefully live, is pure quality. I’ve purchased tickets for the November show in Atlanta and the wait may kill me if the excitement doesn’t first.

Listen: Hey

Listen: Hours Last Stand

(Download is safe, I promise.)