Friday, 31 December 2010

Year End Clean Out: Highlights of 2010

Well, it's that time again. New Year's Eve is here and all week everyone from news outlets to grannies in the street have been veering disconcertingly between 2010 reminiscence and 2011 predictions. It's all what my grandma might call 'a bit of a hodge podge'.

In that spirit - and because I only really have an hour before zipping into the East Village to get a fair few steps beyond tipsy - here's a mish mash of choice cuts from the past year, in no particular order or defined category...

VIDEO: Surfer Blood - Swim

One of the first stirring releases of the year and the most rousing track therein, Swim piqued interest early on and provides one of the highlights on superb debut Astro Coast.

MP3: Beach House - Norway 

Beach House didn't wait long to unleash their mesmerising effort Teen Dream either. The bleak winter of January and February was sweetly sound tracked by this hazy, gorgeous track.

Video: Deftones - Sextape

A sublime video for one of the most ethereal songs on the best album of my year. Nuff said.

MP3: Avi Buffalo - What's In It For Me?

Care free summer indie-rock from a band young enough to still spend all their time off and enjoying it. Lucky little blighters....and a great song for the sunshine.

Video: Solomon's Hollow - Silent Film

Great stop-motion shooting to provide some visual delight to my favourite acoustic/folk song of the year. This will help your New Year's Day come down as much as Gatorade or a fry up breakfast

MP3: Sufjan Stevens - Too Much

The Age of Adz is certainly a loooong player, but thankfully it really isn't too much. Rather, it blends myriad influences into one coherent whole...gloriously.

Video: Arcade Fire - Rococo (Live at Madison Square Garden)

Arcade Fire had arguably the most successful release of the indie-rock year, making the step to the mainstream and sell out shows confidently with The Suburbs and MSG concerts. Rococo was one of my preferred numbers from that album and this version is some great listening/watching.

MP3: Wildlife - When I Get Home

An end of year highlight from a Canadian band with tremendous potential. Can't wait to hear more from these chaps.


Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A Tune For Tuesday: Royal Bangs

Another jam skittering onto my radar via the Christmas car journeys and the Sirius radio therein (no, this isn't an advert series, just an appreciation of the novelty that system provided this time around), this Tuesday tune comes from Tennesseans Royal Bangs.

War Bells is an urgent indie-rock belter, infused with a healthy dose of pulsing electronic beats to propel it along at double time when required. With the apparent aggression of a Prodigy track at first it segues satisfyingly into a more raw, garage-rock tinged track channeling current darlings like Japandroids

Despite fusing several musical elements together, everything here feels coherent and is blended particularly well. Definitely one to rouse you from that slumber induced by a third day of left over Christmas dinner.

MP3: Royal Bangs - My Car Is Haunted

Buy it at Insound!

There's no freely available version of this particular track, but their label City Slang offers up the freebie above amongst other bits and bobs from a solid roster here. Find out more information on the band via their Myspace and purchase their wares via the Insound link.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Grand Old Sound: Stumbling Across the Old 97's

This week between Christmas is a great time to sift through past music, be it a release you missed during the last 12 months or a band you've been meaning to listen to for many previous years. With few releases slated until mid January and disposable Christmas income/gift certificates burning a hole in the pocket, exploratory listening can easily come to the fore.

For exactly this reason I can now say I'm familiar with the newest music of alt-country chaps the Old 97's, a Texas band that have been operating for almost two decades now,  in some form or another.

For all their history, though, the band have recent output that has bothered some 2010 end of year lists. Such is the delight of perusing many other blogs, in that one can take in the best of their music taste every year in one or two simple posts. The album The Grand Theater Vol. One is an atmospheric, heavily Western-influenced set of songs with a particularly strong identity for a genre that can on occasion sound rather contrived.

MP3: Old 97's - The Grand Theatre
Taken from the album The Grand Theater Vol. One, 
available now on amazonmp3 for $5.

On the first few spins, this is a solid album with an engrossing blend of traditional country rock and the less tangible, darker side of the genre, currently being employed by bands like Murder by Death, channeling the ever present spirit of Sir Johnny Cash. However you'd care to describe it, there is a depth to the songs that certainly pulls one in and encourages a closer listen. 

As the title hints, there will be a second volume of this song group and the release date appears to be as early as next spring, making this post as much a 2011 preview as it is a 2010 retrospective. This time around, I'll be well prepared for their arrival. You can too by picking up this new one on the cheap and/or delving into their archive of freebies here.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing a very happy Christmas holidays to all the readers, artists, & other entities that fuel the fire of Heavier ~ Than ~ Air. Enjoy your festive season & look forward to a success filled New Year.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Drive Time: Songs From The Road

As I've just been tweeting (yes, I hate that term too...makes all Twitter users sound like we're 6), I've been journeying West today on the arduous holiday traffic-filled trip from NYC to Cleveland, Ohio. All well and good, except that I spaced on the cable to connect iPod or mobile to the stereo....sacre bleu!

All was not lost, however, as I lucked out with the rental car being one of the rare models that comes with Sirius XM radio. Aside from the main benefit of moving from grungey 90's alternative, through bonehead nu-metal, and onto refined current indie music, this listening threw up a few new tunes - to me, at least - that I'm now looking up for further listening. It also fuels this blog for another day, as I'll share the better stuff with you right here:

MP3: Tamaryn - Mild Confusion
>>  I'd heard the name bandied about during CMJ but, as with most things musical during that week in NYC, much slipped by. Perfectly happy to catch up here, though, with this sublime track adding a more refined take on shoegaze, ending up somewhere between that and the bright skies of whatever dream-pop comprises these days. Highly recommended if you've been intending to check out the latest loveliness from the chaps at Mexican Summer. More info...

Stream: Tennis - Take Me Somewhere

>> Completely new to me, but apparently this charming indie-pop Denver duo - a husband and wife team - have an album out next month. Called Cape Dory, if it continues in the vein of this soothing slice of beauty then we'll be in for a pleasant treat. More info...

MP3: Beach House - I Do Not Care For The Winter Sun
>> A brooding yet soothing winter tune with a vaguely festive air, courtesy of the bells on which it rides in. Seems like this band can do no wrong this year - including a spot in the H-T-A Top 10 of 2010 - , with their final offering of 2011 being no exception. More info...

Stream: Toro Y Moi - Still Sound

>> Though I wasn't supremely enthused after seeing Toro Y Moi in concert, it seems that on record there's a lot more to dig into. This laid back gem is as good an advert for chill-wave as I've recently heard. More info...

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Gift of Music

Now that most independent musical folk can release an individual track even more quickly than they can record it, the phenomenon of the annual Christmas single is rapidly gaining popularity. From a select few last year, December 2010 now sees even the might of my Gmail storage wheezing under the strain of each new festive morsel, like an elderly relative struggling to scoff down the final few sprouts of their Chrimbo dinner...well, y'know, there was rationing and all back in their day. 'Waste not, want not' and all that palaver.

As much as the festive season is probably my favourite time of the year, it's nigh impossible to wade through so much music in a short space of time. Instead, here I offer you the equivalent of a gift certificate, dig through the various offerings I'll post here in the coming week or two and pick out something that suits your own personal festive cheer. 

Keep checking back if holiday playlists are like eggnog to your ears, there's going to be plenty of sweet drinking herein...


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  • SGC Media offer up their holiday comp for download here, including some better known names in Montpelier and ArpLine.
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  • MP3: Way Yes - Dreadlock Holiday. Columbus group's tropical dub yule effort to benefit an art space (Dude Locker) in their home town. You heard.
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  • Video: Esperi - Snowman. A b-side video from Christmas single Made For Life, which you can pick up here.

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  • Stream: Bear Driver - Walking In The Air. Fine young British rockers cover this classic theme from The Snowman, a childhood requisite in the UK.
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  • A pleasant chap by the name of Ben Scarbro popped through this Chicago Christmas collection, made up of indie artists from around the city. Knowing the musical heritage of the Windy City, there's sure to be something for everyone here. 
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  • More to come....

Sunday, 19 December 2010

REVIEW: Wildlife - Strike Hard, Young Diamond

I've been intending to write about this rather special submission I received for nigh on a month now. Alas, silly season is in full swing as year end lists bewilder the mind with their sheer depth and Christmas songs jostle for attention like eager kids in line to see the local mall Santa.

I digress. The reason for this text is to introduce you to a cracking independent release. To introduce you to Toronto's Wildlife and their, well, striking new album Strike Hard, Young Diamond.

Kicking off with the rousing Stand In The Water, there are elements of Arcade Fire, Sunset Rubdown, and numerous other indie luminaries lining up to advise the pounding rhythm section, 

MP3: Wildlife - Stand In The Water

Spencer Krug projects come to mind once again on Sea Dreamer, with that slightly off-kilter sound packed full of rolling guitar crescendos proving particularly satisfying. Fittingly for the aquatic/beach related titles

When I Get Home switches thing up a tad, with more of a classic Britrock drive to a song that tears away, briefly nodding at a tired looking Fratellis before charging off into the distance, bound for its own destination. It's especially encouraging as it shows the band can apparently flick the rock switch at will, altering the pace of Strike Hard, Young Diamond early on and to great effect.It all ends in a glorious cacophony of guitars, before fading out into the more reflective Drunken Heart. Again, the tempo change feels natural and the slight melancholy of the song contrasts well with the rapture of the tune prior.

MP3: Wildlife - When I Get Home

Brand New Weapon speeds up proceedings once again. The singing takes a shade more of the focus here, allowed as it is to breathe by the more subtle instruments twisting underneath it, where previously their pure energy demanded the attention. The breezy melodies aren't lost, however, and a pleasant comparisons to stars of 2010 like The Morning Benders and Surfer Blood can certainly be drawn by the atmosphere Wildlife stir up here. 
Matches provides another upbeat bounce of a track with an irresistible chorus, as does Move Into The City, an album highlight, after the more sombre American Eyes has run its poignant course. A mesmeric, experimental edge permeates Killing For Fun, with bursts of orchestral noise, light brass sections, and backing vocals ranging from choir-like to screaming bloody murder in the distance. It's a intriguing way to close the album, alongside Out which is essentially a stripped down, brief reprise of the Stand In The Water.

For all the comparisons made in this here rambling, the reality is that Wildlife are one of those bands that only remind you of their similarities to others in short bursts. They have so much at work on Strike Hard, Young Diamond, and glue it all together so well, that any touch points are referenced only for us listeners to attempt to get a handle on the release as a whole. It's a sweet, sweet moment when a submission warrants this level of investigation.

I've gradually enjoyed this album more and more for the last month and feel rather confident that it would have bothered my top 30, had I cottoned onto it earlier in the year. It matters not, though, when you get to enjoy it but simply that you do. At a time when aging musicians lament the state of the music world and question whether new generations will even have an appetite to create, Strike Hard, Young Diamond is a vibrant shake of the senses that answers such doubts with youthful exuberance. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

Suits You: New Video From The Radio Dept.

Just a quick nod to a rather lovely video from lush Swedish band The Radio Department, for their new song Never Follow Suit.

MP3: The Radio Dept. - Never Follow Suit

Almost certainly rooted in the synth-loving pop of 80's Britain, it's a warm track with an appropriately atmospheric video. Taken from the new release, Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010, which is due out on January 25, this should be a pleasing melody to guide you through all this winter malarkey that's coming our way. 

Visit the Labrador Records website if you dig the tune and fancy a bit more info on these Scandinavian lovelies.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Tune for Tuesday: Wye Oak - Civilian

Getting back to some semblance of order, following the mad dash to an H-T-A Best Albums of 2010 finish line, here's some music (and news) that I would have loved to post in a timely fashion as it broke last week. 

Wye Oak. New album. Title track. Big tour. Mmmmmmmm.

If you haven't seen all this already, the new long player will be entitled Civilian and comes out next March (8th is US, 7th Euro folks). The Baltimore duo will be here in NYC for a big trio of dates with The Decemberists in late January, then hit the road around North America during the spring. 

MP3: Wye Oak - Civilian (via Merge Records

Monday, 13 December 2010

H-T-A Best of 2010: Albums 10 to 1

So here we hit the real prime cuts of the year - at least in the humble opinion of the sounds that graced these pages - with the top ten picks for 2010. It's been an intriguing year for music, in my opinion, and a most welcome start to the new decade for anyone interested in digging beneath the major label whining and legacy acts. Not that some of the established acts aren't still capable of showing these stars of the digital age a thing or six....just check out numbers 1 and 4 for proof thereof.

10. Uniform Motion - Life

Life was another record that came from nowhere to perfectly accompany the first few months of my year. Taking in the soothing acoustic harmonies of this Anglo-French group brought calm to the utter insanity of days jaunting around Manhattan, then continued to relax the mind way into the wee hours. Songs like Roll Over and Back Up Your Soul stand out but do require the full album to show off their fragile beauty. 

MP3: Uniform Motion - Roll Over 
(free download at Bandcamp)

9. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

As with Band of Horses, it would have been a stretch to imagine including a new Sufjan album on my list as the year turned. Again, I have no real issue with the music but have rarely engaged with it in the way many seemed to. The epic electronic tapestry woven by The Age of Adz was a thoroughly convincing argument to perform a complete 180 on that though. Initially sprawling and mildly baffling, Adz reveals itself with each new listen, showing off immense talent on the part of Stevens to incorporate all the elements he does without the whole effort descending into farce. As a sheer labour of love this could top most of the albums released this year. It might not have sat well with fans of his previous work but it certainly converted this sceptic.

MP3: Sufjan Stevens - I Walked
Available also at Bandcamp

Buy it at Insound!

8. Beach House - Teen Dream

Another early release that met - and surpassed - all expectations, Teen Dream is a woozy, seamless joy to listen to. Achieving that rare quality of transcending genre boundaries and reaching other-worldly sounds, it was equally capable of accompanying the bleakest winter morning or the brightest summer's day. Still high in the passions of fans and critics alike after twelve months, Beach House have created an album that will extend long  into the future as a benchmark for the indie community as a whole. 

MP3: Beach House - Norway
via Bella Union

Buy it at Insound!

7. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

Initially hitting the H-T-A radar in mid 2009, as it had for much of their UK audience, Sigh No More proved more elusive in the US and only really surfaced this past spring. What this allowed was time for outstanding, emotive songs like Little Lion Man and Winter Wind to wind their way into the mind and create a burning desire to experience the album from whence they came. And, clearly, it didn't disappoint. With some of the most poignant and moving lyrics of anything released this year, not to mention an unexpectedly rousing effect for an album led by banjo and acoustic instrumentation, the songs of Mumford & Sons hit that sweet spot between individually cathartic and group sing alongs. Entirely worth the wait.

Buy it at Insound!

6. The Morning Benders - Big Echo

Big hooks and upbeat guitar rock were a prominent fixture in the better releases of this year. And bar Local Natives, no group delivered these so confidently as The Morning Benders. Big Echo is a sun-soaked, bounding joy of an album, with languid melodies and elastic guitars rebounding off one another in song after memorable song. An impulse download from Amazon MP3, this album certainly qualifies as my most serendipitous find of the year. 

Buy it at Insound!

5. Caribou - Swim

Where some albums simply had to show up to be greatly loved this year, Swim was up against the incomparable melodies of its wonderful predecessor Andorra, and so had more work to do. The beauty is that it not only that it managed this, but that it did so by taking an entirely different musical route. Packed with dance hall beats and bass-laden electronics, this album is a very different beast yet offers just as much as, if not more than prior releases. Only bolstered by one of the live sets of the year, Swim is a prime example of what happens when an artist feels no pressure to deliver what's expected and simply follows their muse to a new space. An exploratory, enveloping listen.

Buy it at Insound!

Caribou - Sun (Music Video) from Merge Records on Vimeo.

4. Isobell Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk

Few singers can be better suited to each other than Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan. With her soft, distant lilt and his wearied, whiskey-soaked voice, the two paint moving pictures of broken romances and country hedonism in perfect unison. Shifting tempos and styles as they go, Hawk runs long but never feels like a chore due to the diversity on show. All rooted in a dusty Western atmosphere, this album shows two artists feeding off each other at their peak.

Buy it at Insound! 

Stream the album via Isobell Campbell on Facebook

3. Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit

Released only last month and with just six tracks, it's valid to question how Marrow of the Spirit could slide in so high on any year end list. Put simply, there are very few black metal bands that could create anything of this scope and bleak beauty. H-T-A favourites Opeth are certainly one such band and their US brethren Agalloch are providing similar evidence with each new release. As often as its raging, wiry guitars whip up an intense feeling of claustrophobia, the band also allow room for the music to breathe with contemplative passages from folk to prog. Rarely should it work but Marrow flows spectacularly, with centre piece Black Lake Nidstång alone proving its worth. Any open-minded fan of heavy music from Isis to Iron Maiden will find an album to enjoy for years to come here, making Marrow of the Spirit a natural selection for a top pick of this particular twelve months. 

Buy it at Insound!

2. Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

Quite the revelation, Local Natives were merely a pleasing diversion upon the first few listens. As the year passed, though, I found myself returning time and again to Gorilla Manor, the glowing warmth of its songs cycling increasingly through my mind even long after the album had ceased spinning. The percussion is outstanding, catching the ear in a way that it rarely does with indie-rock bands. There are glorious sing along moments, spacey jams, quiet reflection and potentially huge anthems that give one confidence the band could survive in arenas, should they need to. For now they can rest comfortably knowing that they've created one of the most enjoyable albums of 2010.

1. Deftones - Diamond Eyes 

As one of my most adored bands, being a product of the 90's, not to mention one of the few 'nu' metal bands to emerge from that era unscathed by the notoriously knuckle headed element of its closing years, Deftones have nonetheless had their troubles in the decade since their seminal White Pony was released. Only with last album Saturday Night Wrist did they begin to find their way again, then to find themselves again mired in the agonising decision over whether to continue in the absence of bassist Chi Cheng, who tragically remains in a comatose state after a car crash two years ago. All of which makes Diamond Eyes one of the most invigorating listens of this, or any year.

Amid alternately seething and shining guitars, volcanic drumming, and the resurgent, iconic vocal of Chino Moreno, the band are on possibly the best form of their career here. Distilling all that made their heaviest work Around The Fur so exhilarating, then pumping it through the reflective influence of their White Pony-era, the songs here simmer, erupt, shimmer, then fade with astonishing consistency. Believing the band to have already peaked, one waits for the tail off, the filler, but it never comes. From beginning to end, Diamond Eyes is a fantastic listen in its own right, made all the more special by the circumstances surrounding its evolution. Whatever my thoughts on the other great albums I heard this year, for me nothing comes close to what Sacramento's finest have achieved with this one. In fact, just writing this means that I must go back to listen again. I highly recommend you do too.

So that's it for another year. Your favourites? it all in the comments or over on Facebook  for some heated debate (maybe).

Saturday, 11 December 2010

H-T-A Best of 2010: Albums 20 to 11

Continuing the count down of my 2010 highlights, here's the middle section. Top 10 coming tomorrow, then we can close this all off for another year. If I make this sound like a necessary evil at any point, you should know that I actually love this time of don't let the weary bugger at the end of all this tell you otherwise. 

20. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast

The first feverishly anticipated release of the year arrived just a couple of weeks in, with Florida's Surfer Blood living up to their CMJ hype. And then some. One of the purest guitar rock albums of the year, Astro Coast is chock full of mammoth tunes, as well as a diversity in tempo that I certainly hadn't expected of the band. It can be a heavy burden to deliver when you've been built up by all and sundry...happily these lads simply shrugged it all off and kicked the year off in fine fashion.

19. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms

Though I'd have little surprise at its inclusion in other year-end lists, that Infinite Arms appears on this one is just that. Previous releases have been just a touch too melancholy for my tastes...pretty but plodding. This album seemed to switch gears, though, as supremely upbeat tracks like Compliments and Laredo spread an unexpected positivity around the more introspective songs, adding up to a superbly rounded album. The mainstream beckons.








18. Dinosaur Feathers - Fantasy Memorial

Another highly anticipated debut - as foreshadowed back in January as part of the H-T-A Ten for 10 picks - popped up in good time for the gorgeous summer it so perfectly sound tracked. Fantasy Memorial builds on the shining indie calypso-pop of 2009's Early Morning Risers EP, as a fully realised body of songs channeling everyone from Animal Collective to Beach Boys. Poppy, good-time melodies mixed with pensive lyrics does an intriguing album make.

MP3: Dinosaur Feathers - History Lessons

17. Comeback Kid - Symptoms & Cures

As CBK's last album almost single-handedly rekindled my passion for hardcore (previously dormant since the late 90's), this album was a most welcome return. True to form, the Canadians deliver their unique blend of ferocious serrated riffs set to an undeniably melodic groove, topped off with traditional hardcore barks and unifying gang vocals. Seething anthems for a new decade.

16. Jónsi - Go

In the absence of any new Sigur Ros material, lead singer Jónsi decided to take his lustrous pipes and fashion some equally beautiful songs all of his own. Comparisons to the day job are natural yet limiting, as Go leans more on synths and electronics than full blown orchestral movements. The effect is still sweepingly cinematic and surprisingly fast paced, making for a lush, uplifting listen.









15. Menomena - Mines

A bizarre group of chaps, everything about Menomena seems to be instinctive. Experimental rock with jazz leanings and brass flourishes seem only natural to the band, with Mines an exceptional documentation of just how much sense it can all make when effected by skilled musicians with no perception of musical boundaries. That Mines is coherent at all is impressive. That it's also fantastically catchy and continuously engaging over almost one hour is nothing short of remarkable.

MP3: Menomena - Taos (via Insound)

Buy it at Insound!

14. Solomon's Hollow - Genre Studies

Out of nowhere, Nate Agenbroad's second outing as Solomon's Hollow found its way out of my inbox (a minor miracle in itself) and into my soul. Its quiet, understated acoustic numbers don't demand attention, instead relying on the confident knowledge that their quality richly deserves it. Genre Studies is a naturally beautiful listen and its lead track, Silent Film, is one of my favourites of 2010.  What's more? It can be yours too, for nowt.

MP3: Solomon's Hollow - Silent Film

13. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker

A firm critical favourite across the board this year, these Australians richly deserve the plaudits for the intriguing sonic mixture Innerspeaker brings to the party. Hazy, psychedelic washes of sound weave into more traditional rock - garage, classic, pop... the lot - across an album that is alternately spaced out and firmly rooted in the reality of its inspirations. Never derivative, Tame Impala succeed in sewing their influences together into an enveloping listen.
12. The National - High Violet

One of the few firmly established indie-rock artists to actually deliver the goods this year, to my mind, The National stepped into their rightful position as elder statesmen of an ever-sprawling Brooklyn music scene. As all around them fracture into more and more sub genres suffixed with -wave or -fi, these fellas trusted in the power of quality songwriting and lyrics of grace and depth. With songs both immediate and slow-burning, High Violet satisfies both the first time through and each spin thereafter, revealing more of its charms in time-honoured 'grower' fashion. Such growth symbolises The National in general, as they continue to subtly develop their sound with each release. 

MP3: The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio

11. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

Without reinventing the wheel, these Jersey boys served up another hearty meal of blue-collar alternative rock. Where they succeed so resoundingly is in creating fully accessible songs that belong on FM radio and imbuing them with a streak of integrity that runs for miles. From beginning to end, American Slang is the complete sing along album, building on all that debut The '59 Sound offered and delivering even more nostalgia for a time most of us never experienced. I have no idea what it was to live in New York City in the late 40's, but listening to American Slang can make one yearn for the era of the Cool as though it was a vivid childhood memory.