<p>The Decemberists, &quot;The King Is Dead&quot;</p>

The Decemberists, "The King Is Dead"

Credit: Capitol/EMI

Album Review: The Decemberists' 'The King Is Dead'

How does this exercise in brevity suit the quintet?

While a lot has been made of “The King Is Dead” being a more country or Americana-leaning set, the ‘90s guitar rock makes quite an appearance, too. Particularly on “Down By the Water” (hey jealousy?) and “Calamity Song,” frontman and songwriter Colin Meloy allowed for a specific showcasing of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, doing what he does.

Buck’s contribution (or perhaps Chris Funk’s) on “This Is Why We Fight” really ties the room together and makes for one of the best songs the Decemberists have ever made. The drumming is tight; the chugga chug of acoustic properly preps the listener for this tiny war, capped by a fireside postmortem from Gillian Welch.

And it’s Welch’s voice that helps make this album stand out as more than wallflower music. Opener and single “Don’t Carry It All,” sweetened with tittering mandolins and harmonica, feature simple harmonies from the alt-country great, like a good omen that hangs over the rest of “King.”

[More after the jump...]

Read Full Post
<p>&quot;Blue Valentine&quot;</p>

"Blue Valentine"

Grizzly Bear, Ryan Gosling sing on 'Blue Valentine' soundtrack

Previous Sundance pick finally gets a soundtrack release date

Way, way back last January I had pulled out "Blue Valentine" as one of my favorite Sundance Soundtracks. Why? Not only did indie fave Grizzly Bear leave their mark (ew) all over that thing, but Ryan Gosling actually sounded exquisite in the film, singing pop tunes from the '50s.

Now the film has gone wide(r) after a long battle with the Rating Appeals Board -- going from NC-17 to R -- and more folks are seeing just how sad is. But hey! On the bright side, more exposure for them Bears and Daniel Rossen's Department of Eagles.

Lakeshore, which works in tandem with the film company of the same name, will drop "Blue Valentine" on Feb. 1.

There are no previously unreleased Grizzly Bear songs on here, but some alternate versions. And Gosling's appropriate cover of "You Always Hurt the Ones You Love."

Fun fact: when I asked Gosling at Park City last year if he was planning on taking his mad vocal and ukelele skills wide, he laughed it off and offered up young Matilda Ledger -- real-life daughter to co-star Michelle Williams -- as the real musical talent. See you in 20, kid.

Here is the tracklist to the "Blue Valentine" soundtrack:

1. Granny Dinner - Grizzly Bear
2. In Ear Park - Department of Eagles
3. Easier (Instrumental) - Grizzly Bear
4. Lullabye (Instrumental) - Grizzly Bear
5. I Live With You (Instrumental) - Grizzly Bear
6. Foreground (Instrumental) - Grizzly Bear
7. Dory (Instrumental) - Grizzly Bear
8. You Always Hurt The Ones You Love – Ryan Gosling
9. You and Me – Penny & the Quarters
10. Shift (Alternate Version) - Grizzly Bear
11. Alligator (feat. Zach Condon, Dave Longstreth & Amber Coffman) [Choir Version] – Grizzly Bea
12. Easier - Grizzly Bearr
13. Lullaby – Grizzly Bear
14. I Live With You - Grizzly Bear
15. Foreground - Grizzly Bear

Read Full Post
<p>The Dodos</p>

The Dodos

Neko Case sings with The Dodos on new LP 'No Color'

Watch: Trio becomes a duo, bringing the '90s back

The Dodos' last two albums have been incredible, so I'm quadruple-y excited for the third. Particularly since Neko Case appears to be involved.

"No Color" will be out on March 15 via Frenchkiss, who insanely continue to put out solid records, damn them. Alt-country standout Case is singing on about half the set, according to FrenchKiss.

This is after the San Francisco-based band has gone back to being a guitar/voice and drums duo, losing the vibraphonist the helped out on their last "Time to Die." Instead, expect a '90s comeback. Welcome to the twenty-teens

“I have a love for ‘90s riffs that I haven’t gotten to showcase in this band,” said singer/guitarist Meric Long in a release. “The most fun I had with this record was when I got to strap on the electric guitar and come up with Billy Corgan riffs while the tape was rolling.”

[More after the jump...]

Read Full Post
<p>Black Keys on &quot;Colbert Report&quot;</p>

Black Keys on "Colbert Report"

Black Keys and Vampire Weekend defend sell-out status on 'Colbert'

Host praises alternative album Grammy nominees for equally 'whoring' music

This holiday shopping season, in particular, you may have noticed the abundance of commercials sporting an indie-rock soundtrack. Two of the most spirited contributors -- the Black Keys and Vampire Weekend -- earned their public due for the feat on "Colbert Report" last night, as Stephen Colbert had Ezra Koenig, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney had a little chat at the Comedy Central studio.

The Grammy Award-winning host was parsing through his own 2011 Grammy ballot, musing the past winners behind "screwing on your lunch break" ("Afternoon Delight") and "touching Justin Bieber" (a current best new artist nominee).

And then the battle for best alternative album was staged. Literally. Colbert forced Koenig from Vampire Weekend and Carney and Auerbach from the Black Keys into a "sell-out-off" -- combatants who had "equally whored out your music."

Let's just say the ultimate face-off involved "Holiday," "Girl Is on My Mind," a baseball bat, chains, a crowbar and the Recording Academy president.

[Check out the video after the jump...]

Read Full Post
<p>Cake's &quot;Showroom of Compassion&quot;</p>

Cake's "Showroom of Compassion"

Album review: Cake's 'Showroom of Compassion' wants you off its lawn

Six years in waiting for the same dog-and-tiger show

The good news, Cake fans, is that the band is still up to its old tricks. The bad news is, it feels like bad news. 

“Showroom of Compassion” is the Sacramento band’s first studio work in six years. The title of the set itself reeks of the usual, dry sarcasm perpetuated by John McCrea and his crew; its cover features a fierce-eyed tiger attacking a human. I see what you did there.
But irony is blunted by joylessness. In between the signature whoops and “heys” from McCrea’s speak-singing yaw are lyrics of droll disenchantment -- of coughing cars in “Easy to Crash,” L.A. hipsters, goobers of “Italian Guy” and the politicos of “Federal Funding.” The interplay between mariachi brass arrangements, and mechanical, frills-free drums are punctuated with the cute dots of vibraslap or cheap keyboard sounds, like those on “Long Time” and “harpsicord” in “Italian Guy.” Same thing with ominous instrumental “Teenage Pregnancy,” as an elementary piano line gives way to an obnoxious retelling of that same line on a plunky keyboard. It’s not a story, it’s a diversion.
The band even seems to make fun of – and pull punches – on itself in single “Sick of You.” “I’m so sick of you / so sick of me / I don’t want to be with you” the lead-in to the thin, conclusive chorus line “I want to fly away” (so you… just want to fly?). It lacks the upbeat ascent or any ounce of fun that previous hits like “Wheels,” “Short Skirt, Long Jacket”  and their cover of “I Will Survive” boasted.

[More after the jump...]

Read Full Post
<p>Cover for Kanye West and Jay-Z's &quot;H.A.M.&quot;</p>

Cover for Kanye West and Jay-Z's "H.A.M."

Listen: Kanye West and Jay-Z are hard as a mother... in 'H.A.M.'

Review: 'Watch the Throne' is under surveillance today

It's kind of nice that when Kanye West says he's gonna do something, he's actually done it. A 30-minute mini-film for "Runaway?" A collaboration with Justin Bieber (sigh)? Solid Getting Out Our Dreams (G.O.O.D.) signees and a G.O.O.D. Friday release every week leading up to his album release last year? Check, check, check, check.

When he boasted of a forthcoming EP -- and then a full-length album -- with Jay-Z, I'll admit I doubted. But this thing, "Watch the Throne," just got a lot more real.

As previously reported, Ye and Hov plotted a single release for today, and I'll be damned, they're trying hard. "H.A.M." is raucous and urgency, bursting with paranoia when those choral voices jump in, dripping with bravado when both rappers are released from their respective cages with some of the same *rowr* they harnessed in "Monster" from West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."

But -- hear this -- West's nasally "haaaam" on the chorus sounds downright silly, a made-up acronym for "hard as a motherfucker," as bleating, double-time beats, a full string-orchestra and instrumental interludes force "Transformers" level of mechanized drama. It makes me take the thing less seriously, but I don't blame producer Lex Luger, who's signature move is those gargantuan peaks. Jay-Z seems to have more fun with his rhymes, so maybe it's just West you makes it sound like he's the only one who thinks he's got something left to prove.

[More after the jump...]

Read Full Post
<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...]

Read Full Post
<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...]

Read Full Post
<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...]

Read Full Post
<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...]

Read Full Post