Off Beat Music Guide

Best of 2010 (so far) June 25, 2010

In honor of Paste Magazine releasing their Best of 2010 (so far), I thought I’d take a stab at my own list.

Thinking back to the beginning of this year, I was anticipating so many wonderful albums from some of my favorite bands, and for the most part I haven’t been let down.

So here’s my list, in no particular order (I know that’s a cop-out, but I will save the numbering for the end of the year.)

Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can– Judging by the tears that always creep into my eyes while listening, you might think Miss Marling’s sophomore album wouldn’t make it onto my list. But then this girl has always known how to make me cry, and I love her for it. I’m convinced that she has to be the oldest 20 year old on the planet; but whatever her troubles, she certainly knows how to pen a song.

Frightened Rabbit The Winter of Mixed Drinks– These Scotsmen easily won me over with this rip-roaring album (which is coincidentally mostly about loneliness and reflection). I got a chance to see these guys live a couple of months ago and it was just fun, just like this album.

The Black Keys Brothers– This was a no brainer for me. These guys have had me hooked for years and this album’s experimentation with soul and funk is solid gold. When I listen to this album, it feels like I’ve known these songs my whole life.

Vampire Weekend Contra– Apart from releasing this album of great summer anthems smack dab in the middle of one of the coldest winters in my city’s history, I can’t say enough good things about this band’s second LP. I love this album from top to bottom.

Beach House Teen Dream– If Victoria LeGrand’s voice were any lovelier, I would send out a memo to all other songstresses to just throw in the towel. Teen Dream is just what the title suggests; a perfectly lovely dream. I can enjoy this album in any mood.

The National High Violet– There are moments in this album that physically take my breath away. I was confident that they couldn’t top Boxer, but then I heard “Afraid of Everyone” and I knew they had really outdone themselves with this one. And then there’s the fact that Sufjan Steven helped collaborate on the album… (full on swooning going on over here)

Mumford & Sons Sigh No More– This folky London based quartet stole my heart in early 2010 with this fun (and surprisingly pensive) album. At moments it has a distinct Americana and bluegrass feel and at other times it feels very foreign, like Irish pub music. The superficial part of me loves their accents, while the true music lover in me really appreciates the good songwriting.

Local Natives Gorilla Manor– I only picked up this album when it was release in February and yet it already feels like very old friend. I wish all pop music was this clever and fun.

Suckers Wild Smile– I had heard rumblings about this band for a while, but I finally got to see them live a couple of months ago, before the release of Wild Smile. The only thing I love more than their Afro-pop, Bowie infused musical style, is this band’s insane personal style…a Saint Bernard printed cape, really, really?

Janelle Monae The ArchAndroid– She’s got funk. She’s got soul. She’s got style. Love, love, love this album.

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Concert Review: Vampire Weekend April 14, 2010

Filed under: Concerting,Music — bethstephenson84 @ 12:32 pm
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Where: The Tabernacle- Atlanta, GA

When: April 8, 2010

On the list of things that make me happy, somewhere near the top you might find these three things: having fun, listening to good music and watching white guys dance. Luckily for me I hit the happiness jackpot last week at the Vampire Weekend concert.

The opening band, Abe Vigoda, was a dud to say the least. Understandably, opening bands need to be a little less awesome than the headliner (with the exception of Dirty Projectors, who were much better than their headliner, TV on the Radio) but this was either a bad night for the band or a bad pick on the part of VW. Whatever the case, I found Abe Vigoda to be uninspired, copy-cat versions of whatever 80’s band is on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. Nothing new or fresh from this band. Sorry, but I am feeling brutal today.

Vampire Weekend on the other hand was just as you would expect them to be: young, energetic and fun. But I think I was most (pleasantly) surprised by how good they sound live; almost the exact vocal quality of their albums. Ezra Koenig breezed through falsetto riffs and didn’t lose a beat on that tongue-twister “Cousins.” And the harmonies were nothing short of pop  loveliness.

As for the white boy dance moves, I’ve never seen any better than those of bassist Chris Baio. I could have come to the concert just to see Baio’s moves and I would have left completely satisfied. This boy’s prancing faun-like moves are truly amazing; something to be marveled at.

The band did a nice job of incorporating songs from both Vampire Weekend and Contra into the setlist. Here’s how it went down:

  1. White Sky
  2. Holiday
  3. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
  4. I Stand Corrected
  5. M79
  6. Bryn
  7. California English
  8. Cousins
  9. Taxi Cab
  10. Run
  11. A-Punk
  12. One (Blake’s Got A New Face)
  13. Diplomat’s Son
  14. Giving Up the Gun
  15. Campus
  16. Oxford Comma

Encore:

  1. Horchata
  2. Mansard Roof
  3. Walcott

I think the Tabernacle probably oversold tickets to this show which made the viewing a little uncomfortable, but I still had a really good time. I think it’s just humanly impossible to be unhappy when you hear these guys play live.  “Fun” just sums it up nicely.

Here are some videos I shot at the concert. Pardon the girl in front of me who insisted on doing her hippie dance throughout the entire concert…what can you do? And if you’d like a laugh, check out my video for “Run” where I bust it about ¾ of the way through. Classic Beth move. Enjoy!

And as always, you can check out more videos from this show and other’s on my YouTube channel.

Cousins


Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

White Sky

Run

 

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

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

 

Music World Update September 16, 2009

Filed under: Music,Music News — bethstephenson84 @ 4:29 pm
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Ahhh…I know, I know, I’ve been such a negligent parent to you, my poor little blog. What with the moving to a new house, my real life job and lack of internet (because of previously mentioned move), I have not given you the proper attention you deserve. I guess the only way to get back into the swing of it is to cover some big topics to get us all up-to-date.

Vampire Weekend Announce Details for New Album

Hipsters all over the world let out a collective sigh of relief when VW announced on their website that their new album, Contra, will drop January, 12 2010. There are no specific details on the creative direction of the album, but frontman Ezra Koenig said that the 10 track album will be an exploration of different sounds and different instruments. Look for these Ivy-leaguers to expand the cool, afro-pop sound created on their self titled debut album while keeping things colorful with their wide array of popped collar polo shirts.

Contra:
1. Horchata
2. White Sky
3. Holiday
4. California English
5. Taxi Cab
6. Run
7. Cousins
8. Giving Up the Gun
9. Diplomat’s Son
10. I Think Ur a Contra

Decemberists to End Tour with Animated Performance

I have not attempted to keep my love affair with The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love album/saga a secret (mostly because it’s pointless, considering I have taken it upon myself to be a one woman crusader for this album; spreading the goodness to all who have not heard), so this news fills me with simultaneous excitement and sadness. For the band’s last performance of their US tour, they will unleash Here Come the Waves: Hazards of Love Visualized, a four-part animated film which will be synced to the full live performance of Hazards. I am giddy with the undoubted amazingness of this film which Paste Mag describes as being ” packed with rich visuals like lapping waves, precious bones and, um, wombs spilling out babies,” but I am heartsick that I will not be in attendance at the Oct. 19 show at UCLA’s Royce Hall (because I am a slave to the Man). Hopefully someone will be kind enough to put this on YouTube and I, of course, will pass it along.

SonVolt and Death Cab Frontmen Team Up for Kerouac Album and Tour

Jay Ferrar and Ben Gibbard of Son Volt and Death Cab, respectively, have teamed up to convert Jack Kerouac’s prose into song and verse for their album One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur due out Oct. 20.  In support of this project, the musicians will perform a series of 4 concerts where they will perform the new songs as well as surprise material. This project sounds pretty promising but as expected, they will be coming no where near North Carolina…a girl can dream though.

Oct. 23 – Los Angeles, Calif. @ El Rey Theatre
Oct. 24 – San Francisco, Calif. @ Bimbo’s 365 Club
Oct. 26 – Chicago, Ill. @ Lincoln Hall
Oct. 28 – New York, N.Y. @ Webster Hall