<p>Abigail Washburn and writing partner Kai Welch</p>

Abigail Washburn and writing partner Kai Welch

Album review: Abigail Washburn's 'City of Refuge' expertly performed

Country, folk, Americana effort one of the first new, great efforts of 2011

Abigail Washburn’s new album “City of Refuge” isn’t any one thing, but a montage of American(a) songwriting styles, from the soft-rock of “Chains” to the dots of bluegrass and old-timey music weaved between folk traditional and country structures. And Washburn’s natural diction and whirring voice is its leader. 

Her alto isn't meant to break down the “City” walls in its strength, but kind of burrows under them, with a little flip or tic on a turn of phrase. The set isn’t showy or too overburdened with noise, despite the sheer number of contributing musicians (more than two dozen).
 
What kills me is her choice of harmony singers, who in themselves are cool characters in her miniature army. Songwriting partner Kai Welch, Ketch Secor, Kevin Dailey and a “choir” of more than a dozen names never overstep their bounds as backup, but enhance the songwriting with their thoughtful, close harmonies.
 
The stage is cleared initially with a prelude to traditional “Bright Morning Stars” (which closes the set, too) and then Washburn enters with her expert hand on banjo, her buzzing vocals reporting for duty to the “City of Refuge,” a moody pump organ hrrrming below the melody.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>A still from &quot;Fight for Your Right Revisited&quot;</p>

A still from "Fight for Your Right Revisited"

UPDATED: Is Beastie Boy Adam 'MCA' Yauch bouncing back at Sundance?

'Fight for Your Right Revisited' will feature a visit from the cancer-battling MC

Every year, a new crop of films and events focused on music make its way to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. 2011 may shine a light (as it were) on some newsworthy appearances from Lou Reed, a new song from The National and, excitingly, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.

MCA was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and news has trickled out in bits and bobs since. However, as previously reported, Yauch may be bouncing back: with the news that the Beastie Boys will be dropping "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2" this year, they included a note from Yauch, emphasizing his involvement.

Then, It was confirmed that his short film "Fight For Your Right Revisited" would make its way to Sundance this year. And, according to a Sundance spokesperson, he will be attending its premiere and conducting a Q&A at the end of the shorts program. No doubt, he'll be fielding questions about his health, and the plans of the group going forward in 2011.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Eminem, of all people, shouldn't freak out.</p>
<br />

Eminem, of all people, shouldn't freak out.


2010 experiences another double-digit drop in album sales

Digital sales plateau: What high-water marks did Eminem and Katy Perry achieve?

Another year post-2001, another few seasons of double-digit drops in album sales.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, in the 52 weeks of 2010 with the end date Jan. 2, album sales in the U.S. fell 12.8% over the previous year. Total came in at 326.2 million units, down from 373.9 in 2009. And the sales of CDs themselves (as opposed to any other format)? Off by nearly 20%.

Individual digital track sales have appeared to plateau, managing only a 1% increase at 1.17 billion units (over 1.16), and "overall music unit sales" (albums, tracks, music videos) fell 2.4%.

As retail guru Ed Christman point out, though, digital downloaded albums are the bright spot in this bleak sales industry, with a 13% increase in 2010. Those 86.3 million units account for 26.5% of all album sales from last year.

The best-selling song was Katy Perry's "California Girls" with 4.4 million units; 2009's best-selling song was Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" with 4.8 million. The best-selling album was Eminem's "Recovery," scanning 3.4 million.

The biggest share of album sales went to Universal Music group with 31.4% of the market. Sony Music Entertainment had 27.4%, Warner Music Group had 19.8% and EMI had 9.6%. Indies -- altogether -- made up 11.6% of sales, if you're going by Billboard's definition of indie (licensed AND distributed by an independent company).

Nasty, right?

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Jack White with his monkey band</p>

Jack White with his monkey band

Watch: Jack White reveals new vinyl, White Stripes' Captain Beefheart singles

The Monkey Band and a Reggie Watts' 'Hair Record'

Ah Jack White, my vinyl crush. I may not be part of his Third Man Records' subscription-based Vault collectors, but I'd be in on some cute releases if I was.

The White Stripes/Dead Weather/Raconteurs/producer/guitarist/whatever-man has cobbled together a video to explain some new innovations at the Third Man HQ in Nashville. He's crafted the "Greeting Card Gatefold" vinyl packaging for the Wanda Jackson release "The Party Ain't Over," out on Jan. 25. It plays some music like a Hallmark card, get it?

Then they hooked up a stuffed monkey band to a quarter machine that plays 15 seconds to a minute and a half of new music from their acts inside the store. You heard me. And a Reggie Watts hair record, crafted from the hairs collected at barber shops from North America (and Australia). Better than a "Fuck Shit Stack Record," I suppose, imagine the mayhem. I like seeing White giggle under that little hat of his.

Oh, but hey, new Dungen. There's everything right with that.

Furthermore, in honor of the late Captain Beefheart, Third Man is re-pressing the White Stripes single of Captain Beefheart covers "Party of Special Things to Do," "China Pig" and "Ashtray Heart." The tracks were originally released in 2001 via another legendary label vinyl and new release collective, the Sub Pop Singles Club. Not only is it in honor of the recently passed Don Van Vliet, but also for Sub Pop executive Andy Kotowicz, who died in a car accident in October.

[Watch the video after the jump...]

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<p>CREEP</p>

CREEP

Credit: IO Tillett Wright

Song Of The Day: The xx's singer helps out on CREEP's 'Days'

Check out a free download of the Azari & III remix: Welcome to a dark-dance January

The xx are still up in the air as to whether or not they'll make a sophomore set -- the follow-up to their award-winning self-titled set -- but at least singer Remy Madley-Croft is staying a little busy.

She is the vocalist featured on track "Days" by CREEP, an electronic duo whose promo photo wants you to defintely, definitely know they're from Brooklyn. DJ Lauren Flax combines with Lauren Dillard to make something, well, creepy, a sort of wincing, wintry saddy that I'll like well through February.

Azari & III don't do anything to brighten it up in the remix, but throw a chilly house beat behind for six minutes of shoegaze sighing.

Info on a full-length album from CREEP is pending, but the remixed single -- which is up for free on RCRD LBL -- will be accompanied, too, by a remix from Deadboy. It's out via Young Turks on Jan. 25. Keep your eyes peeled, too, for a collaboration with Nina Sky on CREEP's next single, "You," at a later day.

<p>&quot;How to Train Your Dragon&quot;</p>

"How to Train Your Dragon"

Watch: Jonsi's 'Sticks and Stones' vid from 'How to Train Your Dragon'

It's all so very precious

Jonsi made one of my favorite songs of 2010. And "How to Train Your Dragon" was my very favorite animated movie for 2010.

It's like this clip was made for me.

The Sigur Ros frontman crafted a song for the film and Dreamworks just got around to patching together a series of clips together for a nice little music video for "Sticks and Stones."

Granted, it was posted in the middle of December. But I was probably in a Chocolate coma that day, let's be honest.

Good news is that a sequel to "How to Train Your Dragon" will be out in theaters in 2013. Meanwhile, Jonsi played his last date on his international tour on New Year's Eve and that sucker went up for stream. Sigur Ros -- the whole group -- let the film "127 Hours" at its previously recorded song "Festival" for its soundtrack.

[Watch the clip after the jump...]

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<p>The Decemberists</p>

The Decemberists

Credit: EMI

Listen to The Decemberist's new album in its entirety

Review: How did guests Peter Buck and Gillian Welch fare?

The Decemberists weren't kidding when they said their new set "The King Is Dead" would be concise.

The album is streaming in full via NPR, and comes in at only 10 tracks long and 40 minutes.

Not to knock their previous "Hazards of Love" (OK, only sort of) and "The Crane Wife," but abandoning fully conceived concepts in favor of song-songs really highlights their evolution as a band and maturing songwriters. Colin Meloy is less mouthy and really puts his efforts into the dynamics of the songs, instead of the dynamic of the album on the whole. Gillian Welch as a harmonizer sounds natural, not a show-off at all, and a great replacement, in my opinion to past backing vocalists like tinny singer and drummer Rachel Blumberg and My Brightest Diamond frontwoman Shara Worden.

I'm particularly taken with "This Is Why We Fight," opener "Don't Carry It All" and Peter Buck-featuring "Calamity Song." Some familiar themes of royalty, falling from grace and natural imagery are there.

"King" is less country-leaning than I thought it'd be, but still grounded -- even rooted -- at its core.

The album is out in stores on Jan 18. It was among our 25 Most Anticipated Albums of 2011.

UPDATE: Get a free download of the song "Down By the Water" for today only via iTunes.

<p>Arcade Fire</p>

Arcade Fire

Top 30 songs of 2010 from Immaculate Noise

Kanye, Robyn, Wiz Khalifa, Jonsi, Arcade Fire, Hot Chip, Cee-Lo and more

I feel so cheap putting my favorite music into top 10 slots. I mean, lists are kind of cheap anyway: Music is not a competition. But what's the fun of gumming on and on about totally subjective lists if there isn't something (as imaginary as "something" may be) at stake?

So here's 30 songs, ordered more than arbitrarily, but less than in stone. 2010 was a good year for pop. And for dance music. There's your usual parade of indie stars, and some surprising returns. A few of these were on my top 10 albums of the year, and even some that overlap HitFix's Melinda Newman's top 10 songs list.

I can't wait to fight about these in the New Year.

  1. kanye-west" class="autolink">Kanye West, "Runaway": Even the fact that Kanye can't sing makes this song great
  2. Robyn, "Dancing on My Own": She's every woman
  3. Cee-Lo, "Fuck You": Fucking brilliant
  4. Sleigh Bells, "Rill Rill": Makes me still wish I had a car
  5. Jonsi, "Tornado": His timing and arrangements are just breathtaking
  6. Arcade Fire, "We Used to Wait": Sing along!
  7. Clubfeet, "Last Words": This whole effort is great, but when that bass beat comes in...
  8. Janelle Monae, "Tightrope" featuring Big Boi: Makes me still wish I could dance
  9. Frightened Rabbit, "Swim": Mellow-drama
  10. Titus Andronicus, "Four Score and Seven": Worth the wait
  11. Kanye West, "Monster" featuring Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, Rick Ross: Two Kanye songs, ya heard me
  12. The Roots, "How I Got Over": I'll never get over it
  13. Black Keys, "Tighten Up": Dan Auerbach could sing the alphabet and it'd still sound sexy
  14. Katy Perry, "Teenage Dream" It was between this and Pink's "Raise Your Glass," sorry...
  15. Pearly Gate Music, "Big Escape": Lo-fi good
  16. Gigi, "No, My Heart Will Go On": Epic
  17. Mumford & Sons, "Little Lion Man": Precious and great
  18. Sade, "Soldier of Love": Welcome back, soldier
  19. The Low Anthem, "Ghost Woman Blues": From their forthcoming 2011 album
  20. Hot Chip, "One Life Stand": A cute play on words, I don't mind
  21. Gauntlet Hair, "I Was Thinking": I'm a sucker for drama
  22. Vampire Weekend, "Cousins": One song that could convince me to put on pants in the morning
  23. ceo, "White Magic": Magic
  24. Yeasayer, "O.N.E.": Best parts of the '80s
  25. Spoon, "Written in Reverse": Nasty
  26. Rihanna, "Rude Boy": Did she have a good year or what?
  27. Tallest Man on Earth, "King of Spain": Listen to those lyrics: you couldn't write those.
  28. Wiz Khalifa, "Black and Yellow": Tacky and catchy as hell
  29. Victoire, "Cathedral City": Makes me feel like I'm trapped in a music box
  30. Frog Eyes, "A Flower in a Glove": Hey Dead Oceans, how do you keep putting out insane records?

 

<p>Jay-Z and Eminem</p>

Jay-Z and Eminem

Listen: Eminem, Dre, Jay-Z, 50 Cent diss hip-pop on 'Syllables'

Plus: Em's 'Cocaine' with Jazmine Sullivan leaks

Quite a crew: Eminem, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Ca$his and Stat Quo all collaborated on a track "Syllables," which leaked online this week, and they're taking down dumbed-down hip-hop with it. The crew tackles raps on "20 is the new 30" (and 40 being the new 30) to the sentiment "It is not about lyrics anymore: it's about a hot beat and a catchy hook," tearing at what they see as a plague pulling apart what real rhymes are.

"And the DJs playing them hits / 'Aww this my jam, this my sh*t / We don't know a word to the song all we know is the chorus / Because the chorus repeats the same four words for us,'" rhymes Eminem, who lets Slim Shady mock the A&R guys at the beginning and end, and lets his own words lope around Dre's classic piano hook.

What's fascinating is how each rapper approaches their own hip-pop sins, like integrating 50's "In Da Club" catchphrase "Go shorty / It's your birthday" before the rapper concludes "just give me my check and I’ll be on my way / sunny bunny money and funny / you aint even listening and I just took your money." And Em mockingly introduces the limp chorus (about loving one's shorty), bringing home the fact that the "kids" don't listen to anything but the chorus anymore.

"I repeat every evil deed done of mine / no rest contest, contract to sign / by blood I’m in this squad for life / hear out my wind pipes and I just chime / I’m the reason you guys won’t say that line," Ca$his says of his own Aftermath/Shady association.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Elbow</p>

Elbow

Song Of The Day: Elbow's 'Lippy Kids' from new album

Hey: 'Build a Rocket Boys!' is a pretty good record title

British rockers Elbow are returning with a new album on March and have led things off with a firecracker of a preview track. And by firecracker I mean a stupendous sad bastard of a song. Just the kind of stuff I like from Elbow.

A live version of "Lippy Kids" went up this month in advance of "Build a Rocket Boys!", out on March 7 in the U.K. A U.S. release date will be announced later.

The band has a dozen tour dates overseas scheduled. Guy Garvey is one hell of a charismatic frontman (apart from channeling Peter Gabriel); I recommend snapping up a ticket once they head over here.

"Build a Rocket Boys!" is an insanely good album title and the set will be the follow-up to Elbow's last "The Seldom Seen Kid" (2008).

[Video after the jump...]

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