Covers Nr. 007: Joshua James covers Tom Waits

Joshua James “Green Grass” (Tom Waits Cover) from The Occidental Saloon on Vimeo.

 

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Best Albums of 2009: September Edition

Best Albums of 2009

September Edition (a bit late, sorry)

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

1.
J. Tillman
Year in the Kingdom


Two LPs in one year – not too shabby. Tillman’s 2nd offering of 2009 is hands down, one of the best indie-acoustic-folk releases in a long time, if not ever. It features his familiar dark, brooding, mellow vocals, quiet guitar strumming, and richly overlain harmonized oooings and aaahings in the background. There are some great string arrangements backing these tracks as well. And, it appears that Tillman has discovered the dulcimer, which adds a unique new texture to his music -giving Year in the Kingdom a distinct feel. Top Tracks are all of them. Seriously. Try these out though: Though I have Wronged You [download mp3] and Earthly Bodies [download mp3] via stereogum.

2.
Joshua James

Build Me This


I wrote quite a lengty review on this album last month as a stand-alone review. It is quite lengthy, so I’ll just direct you there. On that review I had originally posted a sample mp3 of Coal War – the albums opening track. Joshua had given me express written permisison to do so, but his record label disagreed and made blogger disable the post TWICE. I took the mp3 down immediately, but they felt it necessary to flag it for abuse a 2nd time (even though the link was gone). Bummer.

3.
Owen
New Leaves


Mike Kinsella’s now multi-year solo project, Owen, simply does not disappoint. I can’t get enough of his brand of indie-acoustic slowjam! New Leaves is marked by his now very well established noodly acoustic guitar tracking, oft-hesitant vocals, painful lyrics and interspersed lead electric guitar. Reportedly, this album still contains some material recorded in his mother’s basement – as per tradition – but clearly features a more well-developed writing and production process than previous releases. It follows in the footsteps of “At Home with Owen” in this regard. Great strings and other backing instrumentaiton abound. Top tracks include New Leaves and A Trenchant Critique [download mp3].

4.
A.A. Bondy
When the Devil’s Loose

I have just recently gotten into A.A. Bondy. The new album is good, but some of the alt-county production turned me off. I think I liked his 2007 American Hearts a lot more. I do appreciate his gravely vox though. Mmm Mmm. Loves me some good ‘ol fashioned gravely vox!

5.
Volcano Choir
Unmap


I have been a fan of Pele, and their later reincarnaiton as Collections of Colonies of Bees for quite a while. Avant-garde, experimental, noodly-guitar rock. When I heard they teamed up with Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon to form Volcano Choir, I was intruiged. I’m not a huge bon Iver fan, but his falsetto vox prove a great addition to the experimental Wisconsinites’ sound. In deed, many of the lyrics are indiscernable anyways, and his voice serves as another layer of instrumentation. Very nicely done boys. Top tracks include Island, IS [download mp3] and Still.

6.
Grand Archives
Keep in Mind Frankenstein



Grand Archives’ 2008 self-titled LP still stands as one of my favorites. It set the standard pretty high for their sophomore release. Even with mediocre expectations, however, Keep in Mind Frankenstein is disappointing. There are a few good tracks, but much of the album is simply boring. Dig That Crazy Grave is a travesty of alt-country devolution/digression. According to their label profile at subpop.com, they originally recorded a much more raucous album, but scrapped it, wrote this one on the spot, and recorded it. I think I would like to hear the more raucous one. The redeemable tracks are Topsy’s Revenge, Silver among the Gold [download mp3] and Witchy Park/Tomorrow Will.

Running LP List

  1. J. Tillman – Year in the Kingdom (September)
  2. Joshua James – Build me This (September)
  3. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  4. Brendan Benson – My Old Familiar Friend (August)
  5. fun. – Aim and Ignite (August)
  6. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  7. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  8. Owen – New Leaves (September)
  9. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  10. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  11. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  12. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches (August)
  13. Before Braille – Spring Cleaning (June + July)
  14. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  15. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  16. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  17. Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band (August)
  18. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  19. A.A. Bondy – When the Devil’s Loose (September)
  20. Volcano Choir – Unmap (September)
  21. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (June + July)
  22. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  23. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  24. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  25. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  26. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  27. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  28. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  29. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  30. Jonsi and Alex – Rice Boy Sleeps (June + July)
  31. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  32. Grand Archives – Keep in Mind Frankenstein (September)
  33. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  34. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  35. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  36. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  37. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Owen – The Seaside (August)
  4. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  5. Andrew Bird – Fitz and the Dizzyspells (August)
  6. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)
  7. Blue Scholars – OOF! (August)

Joshua James – Build Me This – Album Review

International Federation of the Phonographic Industry!!! 

NOTICE!!!ALL SAMPLE MP3S HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THIS POST!!!

So stop flagging it for removal!

(besides, the artist gave me express permission to post a track)

Initial Thoughts Album Review #6



Joshua James


Build Me This

Release Date: September 8, 2009 on iTunes,
September 22, 2009 everywhere else




Joshua James’ new LP, Build Me This, will appear in my monthly “Best Albums of 2009” post, but I just couldn’t wait till the end of the month to spread the good word about James’ new release.His debut album, Sun is Always Brighter, released in 2008, was a promising first effort. Earnest vocals, at times breathy and raspy, but laden with real sincerity. I know, I know – that sounds really cliche and cheesy! However, it is fitting. James’ lyrics comes across as deeply intimate without smacking of “emo” (whatever that means) wear-you-heart-on-your sleeve voyeuristic whining. This was refreshing.

Since then, James has released a the Sing Songs EP as well as a digital only single and b-side, Crash this Train / The Garden. These 2 releases pointed towards two very potential futures for James upcoming LP. Sing Songs was a quite EP with largely stripped down arrangements. The one outlier was “Farmer from the West,” which had a more robust sound and, more significantly, a simmering anger that lied just below the surface. Crash this Train was a political piece that featured new additions to James’ sonic palette and hinted at some alt-country, classic balladry and even gospel influences in his evolving sound. Build Me This takes from both of these new directions.

Build Me This expands Joshua James’ previous acoustically-grounded arrangements and introduces a host of new sounds. Most striking is the consistent use of electric and slide guitars and the bluesy undertones that gird many of the orchestrations. James’ previous work has always hinted at troubled thoughts, but Build Me This brings the looming darkness to front and center. He growls out lyrics with an intensity not seen before. The lyrical content itself is laced with foreboding as well. This is Joshua James at his darkest.

Do not misconstrue this to mean that Build Me This is a depressing, morose or slow-tempo LP. Quite to the contrary, it is surprisingly raucous! Songs like Coal War, Black July, Mother Mary, Magazine and Kitchen Tile have moments far-removed from James’ usual Americana folk roots. Coal War, for example, opens with an acapella and foot-stomping / hand-clapping harmonized gospel sing along before exploding into a electric guitar and organ-wailing climax. Black July is fully electric, heavy and dark. Mother Mary is ventures down bluesy avenues. Magazine, though progressing as an upbeat alt-country tune, devolves into a haunting violin duet waltz that seems pulled straight out of 1920s Jewish Warsaw. Kitchen Tile climaxes with choral swells throughout.

Complementing some of these newer sounds, Build Me This filled in with James familiar takes on Americana folk tradition. Taken as a whole, the LP holds together very well. His breathy, raspy voice and acoustic guitar tie together the disparate genres he incorporates into his signature sound. The consistent presence of organ and strings also offer a common base for the album as a whole. Build Me This features James evolving his sound without forsaking his roots. Sometimes, artists trying new things venture too far down new paths and loose their footing in unfamiliar territory. James avoids this pitfall: showing growth, experimentation and evolution while holding fast to the artist he has been on previous endeavors.

The fact that James was raised in Lincoln, NE (where I live now) and currently lives in Provo, UT (where I lived during college) makes this triumph of an album all the better.
He’s a fairly nice guy as well. Even if he were a complete jerk, however, I would still offer a glowing review of the album. The fact that he seems to be a descent human being is a nice bonus though.

I suggest you purchase Build me This on Vinyl. It is a double LP – with the 4th side adding the 5 songs from the Sing Songs EP! Also, it will include the album on CD!

Visit Joshua James’ myspace or website for more information.

Also consider purchasing his back catalog.

The Joshua James Store

Joshua James on iTunes

Joshua James on Amazon.com

 

Best Albums of 2009: May

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

May Edition

1.
Phoenix:
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


Phoenix has been on my shortlist of bands that I have been meaning to try out for quite some time. Boy am I glad that I finally did. First, I saw that they were playing on SNL, so I gave the performances a look and was just blown away. Check them out here and here. This album is so full of energy and is a great blend of electronica without getting overbearing in attempts to be experimental (as it seems SOOOO MUCH of the electronica genre does). This is well crafted indie-pop that is fresh and original while seeming very familiar at the same time. There were no tracks that I had to go back and relisten to because I didn’t quite get it. Yet, I didn’t find myself getting bored with any of the tracks either. An all around awesome, very fun, high engery album. Officially my favorite French band now. Top tracks include all, but certainly check out the 2 singles that have been put out so far: Lisztomania [download mp3] and 1901.


2.
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band:
Outer South


I first heard Oberst’s “solo” debut last summer while on a long solo road trip in Montana. I downloaded it while sitting in the Montana State University Archives and since I only had my laptop with me, could not load it onto my iPod to listen to while driving – so I stuck an audio cable from my laptop to the aux port in my car. Awkward, but satisfying. I found that album refreshing. Distinct from Bright Eyes, but recognizably Oberst (not just the vox, but lyrics and style as well). Coming off of that, Outer South is a little disappointing. I don’t care for any of the songs sung by other band members, and it is clear which songs were not written by Oberst. There are clear deliniations of quality in song-writing throughout the album. I think those songs should have been excised. The album seems a bit bloated and the fat which could be trimmed easy to identify. The songs that are good, however, are very good. Top tracks include Slowly (Oh so Slowly) [download mp3], Ten Women, Nikorette and Roosevelt Room.

Also consider Conor’s previous venture, Bright Eyes

3.
Iron & Wine:
Around the Well


It is hard to believe that an Iron & Wine double-disc (triple vinyl LP) isn’t at the top of this months list! For Iron & Wine fans, it is definitely worth picking up! However, if you are extremely OCD like me and have to collect every single last rarity track of the bands you like, you probably already had most of the songs from Around the Well. With the exception of God Make the Automobile, I had already dug these up. So, if you haven’t dug them up and especially if you like the more lo-fi end of Iron & Wine’s discography, this is a must buy. And, don’t worry, there are plenty of more hi-fi tracks as well. My favorites (which have been played quite a bit on my iPod for the last couple years) are Dearest Forsaken, Communion Cups and Someone’s Coat [download mp3], Sinning Hands and The Trapeze Swinger.

4.
Jeremy Enigk:
OK Bear


First – I would like a pair of the sweet kicks that the kid is wearing on the albums cover. Nice! As Enigk himself has explained, this LP is a bit more similar to Sunny Day Real Estate than his previous solo efforts. That is both good and bad. I like hearing Enigk with a little bit of edge. The Fire Theft was very satisfying in that way. However, I (and my wife) became very attached to the lush strings and acoustics of World Waits, The Missing Link and the United States of Leland soundtrack. I like OK Bear, but if I had my pick, I would plunge Enigk deep back into his most latest styles – rich with strings, piano, acoustic guitars and quite harmonies. Top tracks include Just a State of Mind [download mp3], Same Side Imaginary and Vale Oso.

5.
Joshua James:
Sing Songs [EP]

Joshua James is quickly rising on my list of bands that I sincerely hope break it huge! His songs are intimate, passionate and sincere. His voice took a little getting used to, but now it has really grown on me. This new little 5 song EP is great and combined with Crash This Train/The Garden mini EP from last year spells good things for his upcoming 2nd full length LP. I hate to try and make comparisons, but something like a mix of Elliott Smith, J. Tillman, Bright Eyes, etc . . . You get the general idea. Go buy everything this guy has put out. Support local musicians! Here’s a sample: Baby Boy [download mp3].

6.
John Vanderslice:
Romanian Names

Oh Mr. Vanderslice. I really liked Pixel Revolt. I liked it a lot. I also enjoyed Emerald City, but not quite as much. Romanian Names disappoints me. First, I am fluent in Romanian, so I had high hopes for this LP. I’m not sure why that would make the album inherently better, but I thought, “Holy Crap! Someone other than me mentioned Romania! Awesome!” The album seemed inconsistent. It didn’t hold together well. Some of the better tracks were Fetal Horses [download mp3], D.I.A.L.O. and Carina Constellation.

7.
Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest

After much prodding from friends, I reluctantly gave Grizzly Bear another try. I had given some of their previous work a few listens and really didn’t like what I heard. Veckatimest is better, but not by much. I don’t know what you call this style of vox – but it seems to be spreading like wildfire. Indie band after indie band has singers sounding like this, and I’m not a fan. This said, its not absolutely horrible. There are a few tracks that I enjoyed, but the majority of the album simply bored me. If I was on a road trip and a friend put this in, I wouldn’t be gritting my teeth the whole time, but I probably wouldn’t ask for a repeat spin. Top tracks include Two Weeks [download mp3], Ready, Able and While you were Waiting for Others.

Running LP List

  1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  2. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  3. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  4. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  6. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  7. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  8. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  9. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  10. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  11. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  12. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  13. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  14. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  15. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  16. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  17. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  18. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  19. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  20. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  21. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  22. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  23. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  24. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  4. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)