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?



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: Iron and Wine April 28, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 10:14 pm

Iron and Wine- Charlotte, NC

Where: Amos’ Southend, Charlotte, NC

When: April 26, 2011

I don’t think I was alone in thinking that this show would be a dreamlike sequence, complete with Sam Beam sitting on a wooden stool strumming his acoustic guitar while crooning soft and sweet grown-up lullabies.  In fact, while I was waiting in line for the show, I heard a girl remark something like “I hope I don’t fall asleep during the show.”

We would later find out that sleep would be almost impossible during the 2+ hour set of up-tempo songs that ranged closer to blues and funk than sleepy singer-songwriter.

While I knew the latest Iron and Wine album Kiss Each Other Clean, was a departure from Sam Beam’s characteristically minimal sound, I still expected to see a glimmer of the softer side. But even when taking a break from the big band sound to play old favorites like “Naked As We Came,” the sound was still shockingly much more robust than the original.

He played 19 songs, including the encore, and they spanned most of his discography with the majority being from Kiss Each Other Clean. The sound at Amos’ was a little better than usual so we were able to hear more of the one million instruments being played and less of that scratchy amp sound I have come to associate with Amos’.

Overall, I thought the band put on a great show. It was a sold out show and it was difficult to hear Beam speak over the chatty crowd, so he might have had some really hilarious banter going…we will never know.

I guess the only complaint I have is just my own unfamiliarity with this new sound. There were a few times during the show that the band ventured out into long, tedious jam sessions that just felt foreign to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am pro growth and exploration for musicians. It keeps things interesting. But I would have liked to have heard some of the old Iron and Wine without the unnecessary additional sounds.

Here the rundown of the setlist:

  1. Rabbit Will Run
  2. Sunset Soon Forgotten
  3. Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
  4. Summer in Savannah
  5. Wolve (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog
  6. Walking Far From Home
  7. Cinder and Smoke
  8. Half Moon
  9. He Lays in the Reins
  10. Naked As We Came
  11. Swans and the Swimming
  12. Me and Lazarus
  13. Boy With A Coin
  14. Lion’s Mane
  15. House by the Sea
  16. Woman King
  17. Fever Dream
  18. Tree by the River


  1. Flightless Bird, American Mouth

I took tons of video from this show, and here are a few. To see more, check out my YouTube page at Enjoy!

Me and Lazurus

Rabbit Will Run


Concert Review: Joe Pug with Strand of Oaks April 11, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Now Hear This,Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 9:18 pm
Tags: , , ,

Joe Pug- The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC

Where: The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC

When: April 9, 2011

Charlotte’s quaintest little music venue, The Evening Muse, was host to Mr. Joe Pug and Strand of Oaks this past rainy Saturday night.  Something about the ambiance and the AMAZING acoustics in The Evening Muse always makes me a little more excited to hear live music, if that’s even possible. The small intimate venue was standing room only for this event and judging by the crowd, it was the only way they could accommodate JP’s fans.

Strand of Oaks- The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC

The show opened with Strand of Oaks, AKA Tim Showalter and his guitar. This set blew me away. Although it’s a much different genre, Showalter reminded me of when I first saw Justin Townes Earle and how awestruck I was that one man and one guitar could make that much sound.  Where Earle boisterously bangs and knocks on his acoustic guitar while belting out fast paced, twangy songs, Showalter croons with a loud clear voice over the atmospheric strums of his electric guitar. It’s soft and powerful at the same time. Don’t believe me, judge for yourself…

Strand of Oaks- “Sterling”

Then Mr. Pug took the stage accompanied by an electric guitarist and an upright bassist. Pug, who looks like a baby-faced 16 year old, has a deep growly voice that sounds like a perfect mixture of Jack Ingram and Bob Dylan. And his songs are a nice combination of the two as well; equal parts alt-country and folk.

He played around 15 songs in his hour and a half set and performed about 3 of those songs solo. And while I enjoyed every single song in his set I found myself leaving the concert with more a respect than an awe. He is a really talented guy who clearly has a gift for songwriting.  And while he’s not the best singer or guitarist in the world, he demanded respect, which gives him like a million points in my book.

There was a moment during the song “Hymn #101”  when the crowd had become loud and disrespectful, talking over him as he was pouring his heart out and he just stepped away from the mic. He kept singing and playing, but he was making a point: Listen to me; Respect what I am doing. You can hear the girl behind me in the video say “That was awesome,” and it was.

I don’t generally listen to a lot of singer/songwriters. I did when I was in high school and college, but then they all sort of morphed into this John Mayer character who writes songs primarily to make high school girls swoon. The songs stopped being original. So, I knew that Joe Pug was the real deal when I saw that the crowd was about 80% male. His songs resonate with people beyond the “I’m going to write songs about girls to sell lots of albums and fill arenas with 16 year old girls who will put posters of me in their lockers”.  I liked that the crowd wasn’t filled with girls talking about how cute he was, but was instead filled with guys who knew every word of his songs and the words meant something to them. Okay, I will get off my soapbox now…

I really had a good time at this show, and I think Joe Pug is what good music is all about. Check out some videos from the show.

Hymn #101

I Do My Father’s Drugs


Concert Review: Explosions in the Sky April 5, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 7:15 pm

Where: Amos’ Southend, Charlotte, NC

When: April 3, 2011

I have struggled on where and how to start this review. There’s so much to say and no real starting place. This is, of course, perfect irony for a band whose songs have no lyrics.

So I guess I will start with what I loved the most. What I loved about this band’s live show is the same thing I love about this band: they allow you to experience music. Without lyrics, the songs can become anything you want them to be: sad, lovely, painful, joyful… and the list goes on. It’s this kind of ownership that transports you right back to where you were the first time you heard it, or the first time you really heard it. And it becomes about that moment only.

Since the first time I heard it years ago, “First Breath After Coma” has been my favorite EITS song. I know, what an epic title, right? But when you listen to it, it really is the perfect title. The song starts with the eerie strums of a guitar that sounds like the increasing beat of a heart and explodes into the palpable excitement of life and rediscovery. It’s exactly what I imagine a first breath after waking up from a coma would feel like.

And this is what they do with all of their songs; they take a moment and give it life. And surprisingly, this magic translates pretty well to their live show.

I will get my gripes over with now. I’m not a fan of Amos’ Southend. Unless you are one of the lucky few to get a front row or balcony spot, you aren’t going to see anything. The sound mixing is a little rough too, and while I thought that was usually left up to the musicians, I had the same experience when I saw TV on the Radio there a while back, so it might be bad acoustics.

Bad acoustics weren’t enough to stop EITS from putting on an amazing hour and a half show though. I think it speaks volumes about a band that they can play to a packed house in Charlotte, NC without singing one single note. In fact, from other reviews I’ve read, these guys are used to playing sold out shows. It just goes to show the power of bold, talented musicians.

I was most surprised by how personal the concert felt, despite the full house. There were a couple of moments in the set that were so beautiful that I sort of forgot that anyone else was there. I can’t say that’s ever happened to me before at a concert.

The setlist spanned their 6 album discography, but the unquestionable crowd favorite was the painfully sweet “Your Hand in Mine”. I imagine many tears were shed in Amos’ during that number. (And I’m sure that’s a welcome change from the other bodily fluids I bet normally float around Amos’.) I just grossed myself out.

Here’s the setlist run down:

  1. Postcards from 1952
  2. The Birth and Death of the Day
  3. Your Hand in Mine
  4. Last Known Surroundings
  5. The Only Moment We Were Alone
  6. Catastrophe and the Cure
  7. Let Me Back In
  8. Greet Death
  9. Trembling Hands

Yep, you read that correctly; there was no encore. Big time bummer.

Here are a couple of videos I shot at the show. It’s certainly not the same as being there, but you get the picture. Enjoy!

Postcards from 1952

Your Hand In Mine


2011 Oscar Predictions! February 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 7:25 am

Lady and Gentleman (my 2 readers…which happen to be my parents…whom I pay to read this), it’s time for the Super Bowl of my year….The Oscars! There’s nothing more exciting in the months of January and February than watching the shameless campaigning and rivers of thespian tears that lead up to this pinnacle of the cinematic year. And while I have often kept my love of movies off of here because it is technically a music blog, this little lady wants to have it all. So we are gonna talk about some movies today!

Let me first start by saying that I have failed in my journey to the Oscars this year. For the past 6 or 7 years, in all my nerdy glory, I have prided myself on seeing all Best Picture nominees, but this year I am missing one from my resume. I must admit that I could not bring myself to watch “127 Hours” because unlike “Black Swan”, I knew in advance that the disgusting factor would be too much for me to bear. So here are some completely biased predictions based on my incomplete knowledge of the categories.

Best Picture

“Black Swan”

“The Fighter”


“The Kids are All Right”

“The King’s Speech”

“127 Hours”

“The Social Network”

“Toy Story 3”

“True Grit”

“Winter’s Bone”

My pick: I am rooting for “The King’s Speech” this year. Normally I don’t like cheering on the front-runner, but this was just such a wonderful movie and the dynamic between Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth is so understated and magical that it’s impossible not to be wooed by its charm. And it also stands to mention that I just love period dramas, so in my mind, it was always going to come down to TKS and True Grit (which is also an excellent movie).

Will Win: The King’s Speech. Not so long ago, it looked like “The Social Network” was the shoo-in for Best Picture, and perhaps it just peaked too soon, but all the buzz seems to be surrounding this sweet little movie about stuttering. I saw this film at 2 pm on a Sunday and it was a sold out show. And I keep hearing similar stories from friends in various cities, which goes to show how much we all want an uplifting movie to finally win Best Picture. (Go check out the past 7-8 years of Best Picture winners, and apart from “Slumdog Millionaire” you will understand what I’m talking about.)

Best Director:

Darren Aronofsky- “Black Swan”

David O. Russell- “The Fighter”

Tom Hooper- “The King’s Speech”

David Fincher- “The Social Network”

Joel and Ethan Coen- “True Grit”

My Pick: Much like my Best Picture picks, I’d like to see Hooper or the Coens take it home.

Will Win: This is still a tricky race as far as I can tell. It’s down to Aronofsky and Fincher and I’ve got a feeling they might give it to Fincher if “The Social Network” loses out to “The King’s Speech.” I’m just making up stuff now, I have no idea.

Best Actor:

Javier Bardem- “Biutiful”

Jeff Bridges- “True Grit”

Jesse Eisenberg- “The Social Network”

Colin Firth- “The King’s Speech”

James Franco- “127 Hours”

My Pick– Colin Firth. It’s hard not to let my love of this man weigh too heavily on my decision. I mean, he has played BOTH of my favorite Mr. Darcy’s for crying out loud. And apart from that one bad detour into “What a Girl Wants,” he’s built a nice little resume for himself. Last year’s “A Single Man” really showcased his abilities as a dramatic actor and this year I think he’s sealed the deal for himself with his role as King George.

Will Win: Colin Firth. See above. Not to mention he’s taken home every other award under the sun for this performance. It’s time Colin, it’s time.

Best Actress:

Annette Bening- “The Kids Are All Right”

Nicole Kidman- “Rabbit Hole”

Jennifer Lawrence- “Winter’s Bone”

Natalie Portman- “Black Swan”

Michele Williams- “Blue Valentine”

My Pick– Jennifer Lawrence. I am probably more passionate about this performance and this category than any of the others this year. Lawrence turned out one of the most flawless performances that I have seen in the past few years. She carried this gut-wrenching film from start to finish, And unfortunately she won’t win the Academy Award for it, but she’s walking away with something infinitely better: my stamp of approval (which is worth like $2-$5 American dollars).

Will Win: Natalie Portman. Looks like the preggo is takin’ the gold man home. Let this be a lesson to you aspiring actresses: if you have a fairly recognizable name, a production company that will spend millions to campaign for you and the discipline to starve yourself for your “art,” you too can win an Oscar.  Annette Bening is chomping at her heels, but I think it is Portman’s to lose.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale- “The Fighter”

John Hawkes- “Winter’s Bone”

Jeremy Renner- “The Town”

Mark Ruffalo- “The Kids Are All Right”

Geoffrey Rush- “The King’s Speech”

My Pick– I am so torn in this category. I think Geoffrey Rush and Christian Bale both deserve it. Bale is the more flamboyant character, which makes him a more obvious pick, but Rush’s silences in “The King’s Speech” can break your heart. I’d happily take either of them.

Will Win: Christian Bale. Let’s face it, Bale is probably not the nicest guy in Hollywood, but the man can act. And however crazy he is in real life, he turned out a layered and truly interesting performance in “The Fighter”. It’s not really until the end of the film, when the clips of the real Dicky Eklund are shown, that you realize how brilliant Bale is in this role.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams- “The Fighter”

Helena Bonham Carter- “The King’s Speech”

Melissa Leo- “The Fighter”

Hailee Steinfeld- “True Grit”

Jackie Weaver- “Animal Kingdom”

My Pick– Hailee Steinfeld. Understanding my pick in this category really requires you having actually seen “True Grit.” This 14 year old demands your attention every moment she is on the screen and she holds her own against previous Oscar winners Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Her winning would be the most deserved upset in the past few decades of The Oscars.

Will Win: Melissa Leo. Sometimes I think The Academy rewards actors and actresses for the roles they did not win for in previous years. Example: Renee Zellweger won Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for “Cold Mountain” as an acknowledgment for her role in “Chicago” which she did not receive Best Actress for the year before. It’s messy, but that’s how the system seems to work. That being said, I keep wondering it Leo will win this award more for her role in “Frozen River” than her performance in “The Fighter?” Don’t get me wrong, she’s good. Very good. But the hype feels forced.

Okay, I will stop here because I have no real opinions on the technical awards and I probably had you bored to tears at Best Picture. I am excited for Sunday’s show and I will hopefully post my feedback after it is all said and done.

Happy Oscar’s Weekend!


I just need to take a moment… February 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 7:24 am

to reflect on the fact that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammys) and I both chose the same album as the Best Album of the Year. I don’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted.

In related news, people are HEE-larious!