Off Beat Music Guide

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

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



Music Videos of the Week April 2, 2010

Filed under: Music,Music News,Music Video,New Release,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 3:51 pm
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Here are two new videos that I was very excited to see released this week. Two completely different styles for two completely different bands. Love them both.

MGMT- Flash Delirium

Band of Horses- Compliments


Gabriel Covers Bon Iver and Vice Versa

Filed under: Music,Music News,New Release — bethstephenson84 @ 3:39 pm
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As most of you know, if you read my blog, I am a pretty big fan of Bon Iver and basically anything that Justin Vernon touches.

A couple of months ago I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mr. Peter Gabriel had done a lovely cover of Bon Iver’s “Flume” for his recently release album, Scratch My Back. Critics have been pretty mixed in their reviews of Gabriel’s album which include covers of songs by David Bowie, Neil Young, Arcade Fire and Radiohead to name a few. Here’s his version of “Flume”:

Today I ran across an article from Stereogum detailing Vernon’s reciprocal cover of Gabriel’s “Come Talk To Me.” Both “Come Talk To Me” and “Flume” will be released by Jagjaguwar on April 17. Don’t go looking for on iTunes though. It will be released in limited quantity on a split 7”.

I think both covers are lovely, but I am pretty bias (reference Sentence 1). Judge for yourself.


Album Review: Beach House’s Teen Dream January 20, 2010

Filed under: Album Review,Music,New Release — bethstephenson84 @ 7:23 pm
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If I were to compose the soundtrack to my life right now at age 25, it’s pretty much a given that Victoria Legrand would have a mighty powerful presence on that list. Her recent collaboration with Grizzly Bear on the track “Slow Life” has kept me in a dreamy trance for the past few months, impatiently awaiting some new tunes from Beach House, the band she shares with the oh-so-talented Alex Scally.

As luck would have it, NPR recently began streaming Beach House’s upcoming album, Teen Dream, on their website for all of us anxious fans who have spent the past year annoying friends and family with repeats of the same Legrand song over and over to the point where said friends and family have threatened bodily harm on the fan in question if the madness didn’t stop. Okay, so maybe that was just me.  Whatever the case, God bless NPR for finally sharing.

If I were to say the basic Beach House elements are still intact in this new album, I would strictly mean Legrand’s voice and vocal stylings are still intact. The stripped down, minimal style of Beach House albums gone by has been replaced with a smooth 80’s synth vibe that only highlights Legrand’s haunting vocals. The result is a pure pop/indie/synth sensation.

For the record, I wouldn’t dare describe Victoria Legrand’s voice as “pretty,” mostly because I think even the underlying implication of vulnerability in that word goes too much against the grain of the strength and power that her voice commands.  It feels like she’s evoking vocal powerhouses of the 1960s like Marianne Faithful with her smoky, sultry voice, and yet there’s less femininity in her sound than Faithful.

The feminine quality Legrand may lack in her vocals is more than made up for in her lyrics. This album beautifully captures the rollercoaster ride of emotions that comes with falling in and out of love. It’s bright, cheery, moody, thoughtful, exciting and lovely all at once. And yes, I realize that last sentence was extremely melodramatic, and I can only blame my growling stomach and lack of sustenance for my overuse of adjectives.

Here’s the gist: the album is good. Make sure to check out “Walk in the Park” because it’s my favorite.

Oh, and I realize that I went on and on about Victoria Legrand and sort of made a mockery of Alex Scally by leaving him out during the majority of this. Forgive me, it was completely unintentional. He’s great! Listening to the album will do him far more justice than any words I could write.

More to come later but I must eat now before my ramblings become even more incoherent than usual.


Album Review: Vampire Weekend’s Contra January 18, 2010

Filed under: Album Review,Music,Music News,New Release — bethstephenson84 @ 6:02 pm

Vampire Weekend’s Contra couldn’t have come at better or a worse time for me. Providing us the brilliant gift of eleven sunny songs in the smack dab middle of winter has brightened my mood considerably; but then when I step outside and it’s not at all like the dreamy, warm landscapes Ezra Koenig and the boys create in this album, I seriously consider leaving my life in North Carolina for a life of peddling shells on some island in the Caribbean — something my parents and student loan lenders wouldn’t appreciate.

But then that’s the best summation of this album I can give. Much like their self titled debut album, Contra just feels warm and exciting. Koenig’s soaring voice and distinct enunciations complimented by surfer pop and African-inspired rhythms creates a mind-blowing musical journey that only requires a little SPF and a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers.

The album starts out with a homerun in “Horchata,” a song that really drives home my greedy longing for summer.  I almost get the feeling they are mocking my pain with lines like “Winter’s cold is too much to handle” with the peppy steel drum laughing at me in the background.

The next few songs breeze by with the same carefree sound as “Horchata,” until you get to “Taxi Cab” which shines both in its lyrics and the performance. I could go on and on about it, but Koenig has such an amazing voice that even in its softest moments demands your attention. He plays with words and the enunciations of words in such a way that it makes you feel like you hearing them for the first time. It’s truly breathtaking, and this talent is particularly showcased in this song.

Traveling down the album list, the next standout is “Diplomat’s Son,” which features an intro from the delightfully eclectic M.I.A. who brings even more pep to these guys’ already bouncy sound. And then there’s the album ender “I Think Ur a Contra” which has many of the same endearing elements as “Taxi Cab” but with an even softer, smoother sound.

After listening to this record on repeat for the past week, I can’t help but draw a comparison to Paul Simon’s Graceland, a compliment that I have been hoping to extend for years to some band. Koenig has the same crispness in his voice that popularized Simon, and the band explores the same African sounds as Simon did in his beautiful Graceland. But while the similarities are there, make no mistake: this album is Vampire Weekend from the first note to the last, and it truly is a delight.


Album Review: Dead Man’s Bones October 26, 2009

Filed under: Music,New music obsession,New Release — bethstephenson84 @ 3:57 pm


In honor of Halloween, I thought it only fitting to write a little about one of my new favorites, Dead Man’s Bones.

Not only does this band get points for being really good, they get bonus points for creating a completely Halloween themed album.  I feel like this is a genre that gets completely neglected, and I’m glad to see a band finally step up to the plate with some spooky tunes.

In all honesty, this album had the potential to be extremely campy, because well, Halloween is a campy holiday… but this isn’t The Monster Mash.  Instead, it is a raw, throwback type album with the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir providing some seriously eerie accompaniment.

The collaboration between Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling was an unlikely one. The two met while Gosling was dating actress Rachel McAdams and Shields was dating her sister Kayleen, and they found that the only thing they had in common was their love of horror films. This common interest blossomed into a friendship which led to the obvious next step…creating a band to write songs about graveyards, zombies and lost souls. Naturally.

The album took about two years to make with Gosling learning to play both cello and piano and Shields taking up the drums for the endeavor. Rules were created to keep the album as stripped down and real as possible. Along with playing all instruments on the album, these rules banned electric guitars and click tracks.  And in a move reminiscent of The White Stripes of the Black Keys, the band limited themselves to no more than 3 takes on a song, opting for a more flawed realism. The result only adds to the album’s ambiance.


Album Review: Avett Brother’s I and Love and You October 12, 2009

Filed under: Album Review,Music,New Release — bethstephenson84 @ 9:29 pm


Have you ever had a friend who was, let’s say, pleasantly plain but in a way that really suited them, and then one day they do something really drastic like get a super trendy haircut or decide to dress in the latest trends? It’s a big adjustment at first and you kind of want to ask them what in the heck they were thinking…but then over time those trendy things sort of become that person. You don’t notice them anymore because deep down that person is still the same person you love. If you know that feeling at all, you will know how I feel about the Avett Brothers’ newest release I and Love and You.

It must be said that I am an unswerving Avett Brother’s fan and have been for many years. And as I’ve previously mentioned, I tend to have problems honestly critiquing albums of beloved artists because my loyalty tends to trump my discernment.   That being said, you may not can hold me to any of the following rants because I like these guys. And although they have chosen to take a slightly different path with this album, its still got Avett Brothers written all over it.

This time last year, the Avett Brothers were just a raggedy old bluegrass band who sang songs about pretty girls from Chile, Cedar Lane and Matthews. And this is the AB that I fell in love with: simple music, mostly banjoes, acoustic guitars and drums all brought together by loud twangy harmonies. It is the stuff of southern road-trips, bonfires and cook-outs.

This year is a completely different story. The Avett Brothers decided the time was right to grab a larger audience and see how far their alt-country wings could take them. The resulting album is as close to mainstream as I can ever imagine these guys will get.

With the help of super producer Rick Rubin, the band took their usually stripped down sound and incorporated strings and piano to create a much larger, fuller sound.  And much to my relief, the band’s vocals and lyrics have been relatively unaffected. They still have a distinct southern drawl and they still sing sweet little love songs (of which “January Wedding” is my favorite).

And love is not the only theme. It wouldn’t be an Avett Brother’s album without themes of insecurity, doubt and fear, and this album is no exception.  Scott and Seth Avett are nothing, if not impeccable song writers. They pen songs that could make the most hard-hearted person tear up, myself included.

Although I am impressed by the band’s latest effort and I am proud of this album, I’m not going to jump the gun and say this is the best album they have ever made. In fact, if I were important enough to file a complaint with this album, it would be that it’s almost too packed with power ballads for my taste. With the exception of “Kick Drum Heart” and “Slight Figure of Speech,” the album is comprised almost solely of piano ballads seemingly designed for the purpose of keeping the ladies swooning. I wish there was a little more of the up-tempo vibe you get from seeing the band live incorporated into the album: just good-old-fashion  loud, stomping, singing-at-the-top-of your-lungs kind of music.

With mixed emotions, I see that the whole world has suddenly fallen in love with this little backwoods North Carolina band, and I really can’t blame them. Selfishly, I wish that I could keep them a secret a little longer and not have to fuss with big, impersonal venues and music videos on VH1, but I guess I can’t help but be excited that people get to fall in love with this band I love so much. (But just a suggestion, check out their back catalog as well. You won’t be disappointed!)