The Weekend Review New Music Report: 2010 Edition

Originally posted 2011-01-17 10:00:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In the past, before the Weekend Review was officially a segment on the Laptop Sessions blog and my articles had the oh-so-clever title of “Music Review” — and I know, I know, “the Weekend Review” isn’t all that much more clever — I have been accused of writing reviews that were positive to a fault.

This may well be true, as I have found it challenging these past couple years to define and refine my voice as a music critic who is also a singer/songwriter.  After all, it has been difficult to find a comfortable middle ground between praising music simply because someone labored over it and pointing out flaws to bring others down a notch.

Being an “amateur” has allowed me the opportunity and relative privacy to hone my craft.

I’ve come a long way from the every-so-often, knee-jerk nature of my early “CD Reviews,” articles that I typed and saved on my computer long before the Fusco-Moore Productions blog — now known as the Laptop Sessions blog — was launched.  I’ve also come a significant way since the aforementioned “Music Reviews.”  And, I’d like to think that I’ve progressed as a writer over the past year of “Weekend Reviews.”

So, this being my fifty-second and final Weekend Review of 2010, I decided to dedicate it to laying out a table of contents of sorts for the fifty-four reviews I’ve written this year (including “Yes, No, Maybe So?” one-sentence reviews).  They’re arranged below in descending order from my one five-star rating down to my handful of one-star reviews.

What it all amounts to is a lot of music from a diverse range of artists that run the genre gamut.  The one common denominator here, the one solid link between all subjects of the Weekend Review, is the presence of the singer/songwriter.  With the exception of a couple of cover song albums, these are albums of original music released in 2010.

The best I can offer as an overall statement for the year’s music is that this was, overall, an excellent year for new music.  The range tended to follow the bell curve (1 five star, 14 four stars, 23 three stars, 13 two stars, and 3 one stars), but this should not undercut the fact that there were fourteen very strong, interesting, entertaining albums released this year.

In all fairness, what the year was lacking was any albums that really blew everything else out of the water.  Although several have argued this point with me, I do not hesitate a moment to give All in Good Time (BnL) the full five-star nod.  That being said, I do not consider it their best album, not by a long shot.

So, where does that leave us?

In my opinion, it leaves 2010 as a very strong year with at least fifteen strong reasons to buy new albums, but it also leaves a gap for those attuned to and awaiting the next, best classic albums for the ages.

I hope you’ll check back for my final post (at least for a while) on the blog tomorrow and that you’ll consider checking some of these albums out while they’re still available on the ever-increasingly trend- and contempo-centric CD shelves.

54 New Albums, 2010: Arranged in descending order of star ranking (out of 5).

All in Good Time (Barenaked Ladies) – 5 stars
Bad Books (Bad Books) – 4.5 stars
Be in Love (Locksley) – 4 stars
Broken Bells (Broken Bells) – 4 stars
Heaven is Whenever (The Hold Steady) – 4 stars
Kaleidoscope Heart (Sara Bareilles) – 4 stars
Lonely Avenue (Ben Folds & Nick Hornby) – 4 stars
Mines (Menomena) – 4 stars
Mojo (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) – 4 stars (4.5 w/o “Candy” & “Takin’ My Time”)
Night Work – (Scissor Sisters) – 4 stars
Sea of Cowards (The Dead Weather) – 4 stars
Suburba – House of Heroes – 4 stars
The Grand Theatre Volume One (Old 97’s) – 4 stars
The Suburbs (Arcade Fire) – 4 stars
Volume Two (She & Him) – 4 stars
A Postcard from California (Al Jardine) – 3.5 stars
A Singer Must Die (Steven Page with the Art of Time Ensemble) – 3.5 stars
American Slang (The Gaslight Anthem) – 3 stars
American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Johnny Cash) – 3 stars
As I Call You Down (Fistful of Mercy) – 3.5 stars
Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (Brian Wilson) – 3.5 stars
Brothers (The Black Keys) – 3.5 stars
Dark Night of the Soul (Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse) – 3.5 stars
Death to False Metal (Weezer) – 3 stars
Destroyer of the Void – (Blitzen Trapper) – 3.5 stars
Easy Wonderful (Guster) – 3 stars
Everything Under the Sun (Jukebox the Ghost) – 3.5 stars
High Violet (The National) – 3.5 stars
How to Destroy Angels (How to Destroy Angels) – 3 stars
Hurley (Weezer) – 3.5 stars
Light You Up (Shawn Mullins) – 3 stars
Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights (Broken Social Scene) – 3 stars
Page One (Steven Page) – 3.5 stars
Sigh No More (Mumford & Sons) – 3.5 stars
Something for the Rest of Us (Goo Goo Dolls) – 3.5 stars
Stone Temple Pilots (Stone Temple Pilots) – 3.5 stars
To The Sea (Jack Johnson) – 3 stars
Transference (Spoon) – 3.5 stars
Court Yard Hounds (Court Yard Hounds) – 2.5 stars
Crazy for You (Best Coast) – 2.5 stars
Eureka (Rooney) – 2 stars
Everything Comes and Goes (Michelle Branch) – 2 stars
Familial (Philip Selway) – 2.5 stars
Forgiveness Rock Record (Broken Social Scene) – 2 stars
Heligoland (Massive Attack) – 2 stars
Infinite Arms (Band of Horses) – 2 stars
National Ransom (Elvis Costello) – 2 stars
Realism (Magnetic Fields) – 2.5 stars
Women & Country (Jakob Dylan) – 2.5 stars
Write About Love (Belle & Sebastian) – 2.5 stars
Y Not (Ringo Starr) – 2.5 stars
100 Miles from Memphis (Sheryl Crow) – 1.5 stars
Clapton (Eric Clapton) – 1 star
Interpol (Interpol) – 1 star

“Box Full of Letters” (Wilco Cover)

Originally posted 2008-12-18 23:39:11. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to yet another all-new Laptop Session at your web blog for a session-a-day, guaranteed through December 31st, 2008. Now, that guarantee is swiftly running out, but don’t fret. We’ll be introducing a new schedule of performances for 2009 that will not only introduce many new types of posts to the blog on a regular basis, but also maintain a steady and prolific stream of new cover song music videos!

But, let’s focus on the present for now…

I had originally intended to record a Christmas song tonight, but I got busy with napping, fast food eating, Christmas shopping, and TNA Impact! viewing, so I decided to pull out my one and only “backup video.” If I haven’t already, I should introduce this video by announcing my desire to record a cover video for at least one song from each Wilco album. I’ve been listening to this band a lot these past several months, picking up their albums one by one as I find them on sale or used. I’ve already recorded a song from their third studio album, Summerteeth, called “How to Fight Loneliness” — that video is posted in the members only area of this blog (scroll down to the bottom to sign in and/or sign up!). Previous to that, I recorded “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” from their critically acclaimed fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This was a great song — easy to learn, fun to memorize the lyrics for the performance, and I even got a compliment from a former student who watched the video!

Last week, I picked up a copy of their subsequent album, A Ghost is Born. Ironically, I’m listening to that album now and — literally the moment I typed the title of the album (!) — I just heard Tweedy singing “a ghost is born…,” which is in the lyrics to the song “Theologians.” I don’t think that A Ghost is Born is as impressive an album as Foxtrot or as rocking and enjoyable an album as Summerteeth, but I’m warming to it. There’s a great deal of experimentation, particularly on the 15-minute penultimate track “Less Than You Think.”

But I’m not quite ready to record a song from that album yet, so I went back to the first Wilco album, A.M., which is the final album that I own thus far. This album was more of a straightforward country rock effort, reminiscent of their predecessor Uncle Tupelo. Tweedy himself doesn’t sound all that impressed with the album, but I think it’s actually the most upbeat of the Wilco albums I own. It’s certainly the best album to listen to in the car!

This is my version of the single from the album, titled “Box Full of Letters.” I don’t know what it is about this song — something about the combination of the guitar hooks, lower lead vocal that resonates, and the catchy chorus — but I love it.

And it puts me one step closer to having recorded one song from each album!

When I return next week, I’ll have three sessions for the week — barring unforeseen difficulties, I’ll be bringing you three holiday-themed songs to finish out the season for me (musically, at least).

Thanks for reading and watching, and don’t forget to hurry back tomorrow and the next day for great videos from Jeff and Jim. They’ll be “slapping yourself in the face to make sure you’re not dreaming” good!

See you next session!

“Found Out About You” (Gin Blossoms Cover)

Originally posted 2008-03-18 17:26:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff Copperthite:

Good day to you out there on the internet! It’s Jeff here for today’s installment of The Laptop Sessions.

Today I bring you a great song from a band that is new to our series. The song is “Found Out About You” by the band Gin Blossoms. They have long since disbanded, but many of their hits still get plenty of airplay on the radio and this is a song you probably know quite well. This song is from their 1992 album “New Miserable Experience”.

I have always been a fan of their singles, and among them this ranks as my favorite behind “Hey Jealousy”. The issue with this song is that it doesn’t translate as well as I thought it would to acoustic. Still, I am proud of this version and I hope you enjoy it as much.

Original Wednesday is less than 24 hours away, and I can’t wait to see which song Jim breaks out of hiding!

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Jeff’s acoustic cover song music videos are no longer on YouTube, but we decided to keep his cover song blog posts up.  We figured these music blog entries would be good for posterity’s sake and because Jeff always gave such insightful posts each Session.  We hope to see Jeff’s impressive catalog of acoustic rock songs here on the Laptop Sessions cover songs and original music blog again in the future.  But, for now, please make sure to check-out hundreds of other acoustic cover songs from all of your favorite bands here on the Laptop Sessions music blog!

Broken Bells’ “Broken Bells” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-04-04 21:21:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

Having never heard a Shins album (or even as much as a thirty-second preview clip of a Shins song), I came to Broken Bells with no expectations or preconceived notions of how it should sound.  To be fair, that isn’t entirely accurate.  Seeing Danger Mouse’s name in the mix made me wonder just how experimental, or just how “far out,” this would be.  When my wondering gave way to actual listening, I found something I hadn’t expected.

Simply stated, Broken Bells is a beautiful collage of influences finely knit together with unique modern qualities that set this record distinctly apart from the jurisdiction of terms like “retro” or “derivative.”

Still, never in one album have I found such a wide range of interesting influences.  Here and there, a pinch at a time, I have perceived subtle flecks of styles from the Beach Boys to Elliott Smith to Weezer to Phantom Planet and back to the Bee Gees, or perhaps the Scissor Sisters.  As was the case with his collaboration with Beck on 2008’s Modern Guilt, Danger Mouse’s more synthetic sounds and beats are finely balanced out by the more conventional instrumentation and sensibilities of the Shins’ lead vocalist and guitarist James Mercer.  Between the two, Broken Bells is a celebration of many sounds that have come before, newly contextualized and altered here to create something new, something all their own.

This is also the rare record that only gets better as it stretches out.  Without question, the first two tracks are the standout efforts of the album.  That being said, the album does lag a bit after them, particularly after “Your Head is On Fire” fades out.  However, as the second half of the album kicks off with “Trap Doors,” it is only onward and upward from there.  By the time “The Mall & Misery” closes the album, it would be difficult to deny another go-round kicked off by lead single and opening track “The High Road.”

Broken Bells' self-titled debut (2010)

Broken Bells' self-titled debut (2010)

“The High Road” is an excellent choice for leading off the album, as well as representing it as a single.  Danger Mouse’s synthesized sounds somehow manage to appear random while obviously being the result of a very purposeful pattern.  Under all the layers lies a fairly straightforward piano ballad, a simplicity that is realized in the stripped-down outro.

From the piano and vocal fade follows the acoustic and vocal intro to “Vaporize,” another standout track on the album.  This is where Broken Bells start to lay out some of the themes that will follow in the songs to come.  As Mercer sings,  “Common fears start to multiply; we realize we’re paralyzed.”  He continues, “It’s not too late to feel a little more alive.”

What an excellent lyrical anchor for an album that is all about shaking up the format.

“Your Head is On Fire” is a particularly fascinating track.  It kicks off with instrumentation and a vocal arrangement that strongly conjures seventies Beach Boys (my favorite!), with a particularly heavy emphasis on sounds characteristic of Dennis Wilson’s solo effort Pacific Ocean Blue.  By the time the acoustic guitars strum in, the song proceeds to a second movement, but it does return for one more retro romp in the outro that would have felt right at home on SMiLE.

The following two tracks — “The Ghost Inside” and “Sailing to Nowhere” — carve out a clearer idea of what the Broken Bells sound is going to be.  Although they are strong tracks, they are the sort of fare you might expect in the half to three-quarters swampland of your typical record.

Instead, Broken Bells comes alive with new vitality in that region, kicking off with the steady beat and buildup of “Trap Doors,” followed closely by the multi-movement “Citizen.”  The latter peaks with an essential question: “From the moment that we’re born, ’til we’re old and tired out: Do we ever know?”

The opening piano riff of “October” may conjure Phantom Planet’s “California,” but it quickly progresses into the multi-vocal attack that Broken Bells have asserted as their own throughout this record.  And the pace isn’t lost on the low-register vocals of the next track, the beat-driven “Mongrel Heart.”

The aforementioned “Mongrel Heart” blends seamlessly into the album’s final stop.  “The Mall & Misery” is an exercise in perfect timing, another gorgeous mixture of beautiful acoustic guitars, lush harmonies, and a bed of beats and other synthesized sounds.  “Use your intuition; it’s all you’ve got,” Mercer declares.  Every lyric resource on the Internet seems to disagree with me, but I read the refrain as “I know what I know will not fill a thimble.”  I won’t even share what the misconception (?) is; I’m quite attached to what I’ve heard.  At the close of the stylistic odyssey that is Broken Bells, what a fitting final thought.

All in all, Broken Bells’ self-titled debut is a sharp, vivid album that presents a series of interesting lyrics and sounds mostly by way of tight but thoughtful little pop songs, the pieces which work together to form a greater whole.

And that’s more than enough to hook me.