Select Page

Category: Best New Music 2011

Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest : Album Review

Album: The Harrow and the Harvest Artist: Gillian Welch Year: 2011   Gillian Welch is one of those artists who I always like but only occasionally love.  With an eight year gap between albums, fans and critics alike had to wonder which Gillian Welch The Harrow and the Harvest would present.  Would it be the Gillian Welch of 2003’s rather dissapointing Soul’s Journey or the Gillian Welch of the classic Time (The Revelator). Thankfully, The Harrow and the Harvest presents Welch at her finest.  This album is smooth and sweet and just the right amount of dark.  Yes, the music comes from a style that is a century or more old, but in the hands o Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest feels contemporary and fresh. A consistent listen from start to finish, The Harrow and the Harvest has barely a weak track to be found.  Opening with the classic-sounding “Scarlett Town”, followed by the appropriately somber “Dark Turn of Mind”, the album moves seamlessly from upbeat folk-tunes to story telling ballads to alt-country sounding rock.  Gillian Welch hits every base here, without losing any steam. Tracks like “The Way it Goes” are both wistful and fun and the memorable track “Tennessee” does great justice to an old trope of lost religion.  Even choruses of nonsense words like “fa la la, fa la la li” seem gorgeous coming from Welch’s lips. Folk music...

Read More

Tim Hecker, Dropped Pianos : Album Review

Album: Dropped Pianos Artist: Tim Hecker Year: 2011   When an electronic composer is bad, it is very very bad, but when it’s good, it can create something really wonderful, something that music with lyrics just can’t touch.  This was my reaction to the new Tim Hecker album of sketches, aptly titled Dropped Pianos. Electronic composer Tim Hecker simply called the tracks on Dropped Pianos “Sketch 1”, “Sketch 2” and so forth and sketches are exactly what they are.  In fact, the sketches on this album are the actual rough material that became Tim Hecker’s sprawling album, Ravedeath, 72, released earlier this year.  Where that album seems to fill any space in which it’s played, Dropped Pianos seems to do the very opposite.  Rather than fill the space around it, Tim Hecker forces the space to shrink, pulling the listener in to his tiny, intimate world. These tracks are less than sparse, but they are truly lovely and more than that, they take your mind to an alternate plane.  The world of Tim Hecker on Dropped Pianos is cold and gray, but like a crisp winter day, there is something enlivening about spending time within it.  Tim Hecker doesn’t offer much to hold on to on this album, but what he does offer is well worth...

Read More

Album Review: tUnE-YaRdS, “WHOKILL”

Album: WHOKILL Artist: tUnE-YaRdS Year: 2011   No it’s not tune-yards.  It’s tUnE-YaRdS, and no it’s not indie-rock, it’s some kind of Afro-pop-electronic-soul fusion.  And yes, the music is wonderful and new and different and deserves all the the acclaim it is receiving. tUnE-YaRdS is essentially a one-woman band, the work of Merrill Garbus, a young woman from New England who seems to have some peculiar and maybe just brilliant ideas about what music should sound like.  As tUnE-YaRdS, Garbus is full of contradictions.  She herself is white, but she leans heavily on the sounds of African drums and neo-soul sounds.  She is young and fairly new, but her voice can be both abrasive and cracked, and then instantly sweet and melodious. On WHOKILL, tUnE-YaRdS sounds like a band that is calling out the rest of the world from its dreamy sleep.  This album is load and relentless, with an energy that is aggressive, angry and jubilant.  In a sea of navel-gazing indie rock bands, tUnE-YaRdS turns their attention outwards and practically attacks its listeners where they sit. WHOKILL is a wonderful listen and rewards fans for listening over and over.  There are layers and subtexts here that have to be absorbed and chewed over.  At the same time, there are danceable, ear-wormy hooks that dig into your brain immediately and won’t get out.  It may be pre-mature to call tUnE-YaRdS the future of music,...

Read More

Album Review: Balam Acab, “Wander / Wonder”

Album: Wander/Wonder Artist: Balam Acab Year: 2011   The artist known as Balam Acab takes his name from a Mayan myth about a demi-god who shot an arrow into the clouds to relieve a drought.  In the version I came across, the arrow pierces the cloud and draws out a rainbow, along with the rain. This story is significant in this case, as Wander/Wonder, Balam Acab’s latest release, is an album that comes back, time and time again, to the fundamental life force of water.  “Welcome”, the LP’s first track, starts with the sounds of dripping water over scratchy vinyl.  Sounds of splashing, trickling, bubbling and so on are heard throughout the 36 plus minutes of music, creating a sonic theme that ties the entire album together. While stretched and modified vocals are liberally sprinkled across the 8 tracks, they are never truly the focus of any song.  Instead, Wander/Wonder used the manipulated vocals along with other sounds, both musical and otherwise, the create a kind of dreamscape.  To be clear, Balam Acab is conjuring a space for dreams, not nightmares, as the micro-genre of “Witch-House” might suggest. Again, the myth of Balam Acab comes into play here.  Like his namesake, Acab is taking the drought that is so much of the dark and sinister sounds of his genre and churning out rainbows, in this case sonically dense rainbows. Wander/Wonder is...

Read More

Album Review: Shabazz Palaces, “Black Up”

Album: Black Up Artist: Shabazz Palaces Year: 2011   I’m not an aficionado of hip hop or rap, but from time to time a hip hop album will grab me by the gut and not let go.  This was the case with my first listen to the new release from Shabazz Palaces, Black Up.  From the thumping beats of “Free Press and Curl” to trippy bass and effects of “Swerve the Reeping of All that is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding),” the track titles aren’t the only weird and original items to be found on this album. Black Up finds Shabazz Palace in comfortable place.  The beats are heavy, but the tone is light, almost airy and the rhymes feel natural and breezy, rather than forced and heavy-handed.  Although the booming bass lines never let up, this isn’t exactly an album that will make you want to dance.  It’s too cerebral to be a club set.  These are tracks that make you think and make you feel something.  The tone is light, but the content is heady and Shabazz Palces isn’t just rapping about thug life, but about the deeper issues of race, identity and history. After the third of fourth listen, Black Up feels like a classic.  It’s the kind of album you want to come back to and listen with headphones.  In other words, Shabazz Palaces isn’t just making background...

Read More