The Weekend Review: March 2011 Report

By Chris Moore:

March 2011 was one of those months (at least in new music news) that make other months pale in comparison.  As you flip through the albums highlighted below, I hope you’ll find something to catch your attention.  With a couple notable exceptions, there were more quality releases unveiled in March than probably will be unveiled for the rest of the year.  This is not to suggest that there aren’t more positive reviews coming — because there are a couple of very positive ones — but it should be taken to suggest that there are mediocre reviews coming in more than equal ratio to what you’ll find below.  So, enjoy, and I’ll hope to see you back soon!

The Baseball Project, Vol. 2
The Baseball Project  



March 1, 2011

3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Buckner’s Bolero” & “Don’t Call Them Twinkies”

For the follow-up to a low-key, sports-themed side project, High and Inside is an entertaining and educational album that demonstrates an impressive range, musically as well as in terms of baseball trivia.  Thus, the Baseball Project lives up to its name, a largely straight-up rock album heavy on lyrics and smooth, lush harmonies.

The bouncy brightness of tracks like “Chin Music” (the song which contains the title in its lyrics, celebrating the use of “chin music” as a strategy) contrasts with the contemplative, sober feel of such songs as “Here Lies Carl Mays” and “Buckner’s Bolero” (a brilliant study in the art of the what-if).  Meanwhile, songs like “1976” sound like they could have been ripped off a jangly sixties LP, while others like “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” provide clear signposts that this is a modern record.  Guest vocalist Craig Finn’s lead performance on the latter track is a highlight of the album.  Bringing every bit of the lyricism and nearly-spat-out vocal delivery of his Hold Steady recordings, Finn unrolls a passionate appeal via an intimately thorough review of Twins’ history.  This is perhaps what works so well on the record, what translates so well: each member is clearly fervently invested in a baseball team.

The range of teams, time periods, and perspectives represented across Volume 2: High and Inside is impressive, and along with the range of styles employed, ensures the success of the collection as a complete thought.  All told, the songs cover a broad array while also driving home the suggestion that there is simply too much trivia, too many stories, to ever be told in one or two volumes.  There is something here for everyone, whether you enjoy the subtly tongue-in-cheek romp “Panda and the Freak,” the gorgeous acoustic balladry in “Pete Rose Way,” the intimate sing-along “Fair Weather Fans,” the overly serious tone of “Tony (Boston’s Chosen Son),” the hero celebration of “Ichiro Goes to the Moon,” the cocky strut of “The Straw that Stirs the Drink” (balanced brilliantly with the background singers), or the quasi-humorous warning “Look Out Mom.”

All told, High and Inside defies expectations for this sort of side project, and  is in fact one of the strongest efforts of the year.


The Valley

Gary Leach, Austin Deptula, Eisley


March 1, 2011

4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Ambulance” & “I Wish”

Apparently, for both Eisley and Noah and the Whale, the third time around is the charm.  Both bands have delivered strongly defined, carefully developed #3 efforts, Eisley’s being marked for its seamless integration of pensive vocals and foundational piano textures with electric guitar and drums that elevate The Valley to the full status of rock album.

There are slower songs to be certain, “Kind” being perhaps the most subdued, but most songs have sort of edge.  There is “Mr. Moon,” a song that starts out quietly but soon builds into a full pace multi-vocal attack, or the gorgeously moody closer “Ambulance,” which builds from solo piano ballad into a full-on arena rock-worthy epic chorus.

Overall, The Valley is more than listener-friendly, offering catchy choruses and upbeat verses, yet also very ambitious, particularly on songs like the title track where strings are added and vocals are layered upon vocals.  Sara Barreilles-worthy piano tracks like “Watch It Die” are juxtaposed with riff-ridden songs like “Sad.”  Just when the mood drops, as on “Better Love,” Eisley returns with a beautiful, charged song like “I Wish.”

All in all, the attention to production and arrangement makes The Valley one of the year’s strongest releases and yet another reason why March was such an impressive new music month.


Collapse Into Now

Jacknife Lee & R.E.M.

March 7, 2011

3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Uberlin” & “All the Best”

When, prior to March 7, I read several headlines referring to Collapse Into Now as a return to R.E.M.’s “classic” sound, I was less than enthusiastic.  After all, I have yet to find an album from anywhere remotely near to their aforementioned classic period that I would unflinchingly award with five stars. 

There can be no denying that they created a sound that one might argue – without exaggeration – created a standard for and perhaps pioneered the alternative rock genre: crunchy guitars, interesting but not overly complicated bass and drums, and stark vocals only ever lightly supported.  In short, they stripped away the frills, riffs, and accents that had edged toward being overvalued in popular music before they entered the scene.  However, 2008’s Accelerate was a return to life from their mid-nineties to early-2000s wasteland of often spineless adult contemporary “rock,” a period that was peppered with some incredible songs and yet few strong albums.  Accelerate truly rocked with raw vocals and riffs and didn’t stop for a breath across eleven tracks.

To lose all that sounded less like a slogan in support of the record and more like an ominous warning to lower my expectations.

Not so.

Collapse Into Now somehow manages to combine the defining features of their earlier sound with the vitality they had regained in 2008.  As is always impressive in a band that has spanned three decades with recognizable music, this latest release offers up songs for the ages, such as “Uberlin,” a track that will surely be included on any decent R.E.M. essential collection going forward from here.  Their sense of rawness and humor is still very much intact, as evidenced on “Mine Smell Like Honey,” while tracks like the adjacent “Walk It Back” recall the most tender moments of their career.

What restricts Collapse Into Now, what limits its ultimate appeal, can be heard in the flatness of the repetition in the lead single, “Discoverer.”  Additionally, there are the moments of experimentation, particularly in the latter half, as in “Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Antimatter” and the closer “Blue.”  These moments of divergence from the model established earlier on the record waver occasionally in their entertainment value (read: lack of attention to attention spans) and, less often, their intellectual value, and yet this is also one of the more promising aspects of the release.  After all, it would be all too easy to fall into the “classic” groove and churn out a predictable release without much risk involved, without vigor required.  Instead, we have the living, breathing Collapse Into Now.


No Color
The Dodos

John Askew

March 15, 2011

3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Companions” & “Don’t Try and Hide It”

The Dodos, on their new disc No Color, cleverly walk the line between instrumental immediacy and more predictable riffing.  The ultimate result is a potentially trance-inducing nine-track sequence of acoustic music that creates mood through a responsive attention to subtleties and an elusive lyrical approach. 

As evidenced by tracks like “Good,” the Dodos are comfortable leaping from restrained to frenzied, sometimes without much warning prior to the transition.  This is good, as all but two of the nine tracks on No Color stretch past the four minute mark, the second and third songs clocking in at six minutes each.  This sort of time commitment to songs that lack clear, catchy choruses to act as anchors must needs be balanced by some other factor; in this case, it is a sensitivity to mood that modulates several times per song, adjusted with the introduction of keys and strings, as in tracks like “Sleep.”

I’m not certain whether they released a single, but if they did, it should certainly have been “Don’t Try and Hide It,” the closest they come to a song that will get stuck in your head.  Still, it is “Companions” that easily springs to the fore when deciding on the most textured, instrumentally impressive, and, frankly, beautiful track.

Overall, No Color is a finely sequenced and intelligently balanced disc that will spin and spin (or digital album that will… play and play?) without triggering a desire for more: my vote for best pleasant-trance-inducing music of the year.


Last Night on Earth
Noah & the Whale

Charlie Fink & Jason Lader

March 7, 2011

4.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Tonight’s the Kind of Night” & “Give It All Back”

Every so often, an album comes along that I didn’t expect, one like Noah and the Whale’s third album Last Night on Earth, and blows me away.  Before March 7, I didn’t even know they were a band.  Truth be told, I was drawn in by their album cover: retro to be certain, yet just artful enough to be eye-catching.

Sonically, listening to Last Night on Earth is like jumping in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and getting off circa the first Back to the Future film when rock still ruled, though it was synthesizer-drenched and put a premium on experimenting with new technologies over the basic set of real instruments.  Vocally, Charlie Fink sounds like the latest “new Dylan,” or perhaps a “new Petty,” and the overall aura of the album might draw “new Springsteen” references, as well.

Regardless of these throwback references, Noah and the Whale is a truly authentic force, lyrically a product of no other time but our own.  The figure in “Life is Life” may throw “his back onto the back” of an “eighties car,” but it is “run down,” and ultimately, it is a bus that transports the boy in “Tonight’s the Kind of Night” to a land of opportunity “where everything could change.”

As on “Old Joy,” the past is celebrated in some ways, though the point is less nostalgia than a warning to “Forget the things that get away / Don’t dream of yesterday.”  Photos kept in drawers reveal “bad hair cuts” and cigarettes, poor decisions from past lives, along with memories of being “a lustless romantic trying hard to impress.”  In putting this latter sentiment into words and song, as in so many ways, this album is, as Fink would say, a “victory for the kids who believe in rock and roll.”

Some might write off the more buoyant tracks like “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.,” but if they do they will miss Joey’s “black and blue body” and brandy-drinking “rock and roll survivor” Lisa going “down on almost anyone.”  In a very dark – and perhaps a very real – way, this track is about cutting ties with regret and being at peace with life as it is.  Fink adeptly slips in a note that “to a writer / the truth is no big deal,” as if inviting us to reimagine our own pasts, or at least to believe in the “the kind of night where everything could change.”

If only for the 33 minutes across which this feels possible, Last Night on Earth achieves something special through well-written tracks aptly performed and carefully arranged: all through rock and roll, albeit rock that conjures the tones of a lost time.  It may not be large-scale enough to reach the heights of last year’s eighties homage (Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs), but in my book Noah and the Whale have twice the imact in half the time.


Meyrin Fields
Broken Bells

Danger Mouse

March 29, 2011

2/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Windows” & “An Easy Life”

I’ve been interested in the Broken Bells sound ever since a friend played me the lead single to their debut release.  My respect has climbed with every listen to that album, particularly the ones when I was writing my review last year, picking out the nuances and influence-blending that make Broken Bells such a subdued yet brilliant project. 

This being said, although I was clearly one of the first to be excited by the prospect of four new songs from Danger Mouse and James Mercer, sometimes it pays to wait until an album’s worth of top-notch tracks are prepared.  And, as much as I detest the perpetuators of this repackaging ploy, the four tracks on the Meyrin Fields EP would have made for very strong bonus tracks attached to Broken Bells.

As a work unto themselves, they fall short of highly listenable.  And, clocking in at under twelve minutes, this “EP” plays more like a two-for-one single release.  (Or, to more precisely represent the price point, a two-for-two single release.)  The title track begins with grit and attitude, yet relaxes into essentially the same groove for three minutes.  “Windows,” easily the standout, adds a funky bass line to the usual mix and several segments.  “An Easy Life” is perhaps the most reminiscent of Broken Bells (2010), which is a good thing indeed, while “Heartless Empire” clearly deserves its place, last on this release.


Rolling Papers
Wiz Khalifa

Stargate, Jim Jonsin, Benny Blanco, I.D. Labs, Papa Justifi, Oak, King David, Bei Maejor, Noel “Detail” Fisher, Lex Luger

March 29, 2011

2/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Black and Yellow” & “Fly Solo”

Rarely has an album with such a well-attuned balance between inventive sounds and pop mentalities been layered with such regularly insipid lyrics.  While I still tread lightly in my reviews of the hip hop genre – understanding that I, in my suburban white-breadedness, may never truly relate to the timeless themes of “bitches and champagne,” as Khalifa sings – I simply refuse to believe that an album like Rolling Papers, with its beautiful backing vocals, ambitious arrangements, and hints at more insightful commentary, is not shooting for the lowest common denominator with its constant topical return to hos, weed, and partying.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good song about hos, weed, and partying just as much as the next listener, but when nearly every song is layered thickly with misogynistic, drug-soaked lyricism, I begin to feel numbed to the insensitivity. 

Clearly, Wiz Khalifa has more potential than he is capitalizing on, evidenced by the big, bad swagger of the gorgeously catchy “Black and Yellow” and the acoustic framework of the surprisingly bright power pop track “Fly Solo.”  Of course, he makes good on the double entendre implicit in the title, played out in “Roll Up,” and more fully explicated in a recent Rolling Stone magazine review.

The middle of the album truly dips in quality, though the tracks are musically inventive, including interesting usage of electric guitar and synthesizers on what is perhaps the worst track, “Hopes and Dreams,” second only perhaps to “Star of the Show” and third to “Top Floor.”  “Wake Up” is more likely to induce the opposite reaction, though the middle shows off a vocal sensitivity not present elsewhere.  “The Race” is hardly excellent yet prominently displays Khalifa’s mastery of beats and catchy tunesmithing.

It is, however, the penultimate track, “Rooftops,” that perhaps best hints at Khalifa’s potential when he juggles bald-faced materialism and misogyny with social commentary, listing off his conquests, affecting cocky, yet singing, “Used to not be allowed in the building, now we on the rooftops, rooftops.”

For all the issue I take with the uneven quality of the album, it is bookended well, “When I’m Gone” serving well as the opener and “Cameras” aptly closing the disc.  All in all, Khalifa has my attention, and I can only hope that his next record contains lyrics that are as thoughtful as his musical arrangements.


All Eternals Deck
The Mountain Goats

Brandon Eggleston, John Congleton, Scott Solter, Erik Rutan

March 29, 2011

3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Estate Sale Sign” & “Prowl Great Cain”

This album resets the standard for me when I hear terms like “minimalist” and “lo-fi.”  For a professional full-band recording, it is as stripped down as they come, essentially an acoustic guitar, bass, keyboard, and light drums on most tracks.  Rarely do they play at full speed, and when they do, it is rarely all at once.

This understandably “cultivates a space,” opens a gap that, in this case, is filled admirably: lyrically.  In a manner that is rare of modern music, All Eternals Deck places a premium on the words so much as to subjugate the music to them.

As a result, the new Mountain Goats disc is not as eminently listenable and reliably re-listenable as, say, the Decemberists, but the words are clear and strong.  From the vampire metaphor in the opener (that is a metaphor, right?…) to the numerous references which range from Biblical to pop-cultural, the tracks are consistently intellectually engaging, though the minimalism does feel… well, a bit minimal at times.  This is frustrating, as the band is clearly very capable of balancing high-octane performance with engaging communication (see: “Estate Sale Sign”).

Regardless of its shortcomings, All Eternals Deck is a clever, winning collection of performances, and they continue to assert themselves as a thoughtful band.  Having been first introduced to the Mountain Goats via Steven Page’s cover of “Lion’s Teeth,” these tracks have made me all the more interested to find and hear the MG original sooner rather than later.


“Keep On Going” (Original Wednesday Acoustic Song)

By Chris Moore:

And welcome one, welcome all to my Laptop Session for this very special Original Wednesday here at your source for the best acoustic cover and original song music videos available on the internet today!  (That’s a mouthful…)

You may be wondering, why is this day so special?

Well, for one, this is the birthday of Laptop Sessions series creator Jim Fusco.  On behalf of the other contributors and the loyal viewers of this blog, I’d like to wish him a very happy 25th birthday!  Only a quarter century in, and he’s accumulated quite a back catalog of music, writing, and side projects.  If you haven’t already, you should head on over to

Take it from me: the best gift you can get Jim this year is to spend a measely $10 on his brand new album Halfway There.  Go ahead, check out the album in streaming audio at his official website, or use the search function at the top of this page to listen to Laptop Sessions of many of the Halfway There tracks, read a full review (another one from Jeff coming soon…), and see the beautiful, custom artwork he used for the cover.

Okay, that’s enough plugging for one post.

Tonight’s session is based on a song that I never recorded for an album.  “Keep On Going” is an early track, as you will most likely be able to tell!  Although the words are straightforward and the chord progression is simple, I’ve always liked this little tune.  I originally wrote this song as a direct statement to my best friend (Jim, if you haven’t made the connection yet), assuring him after a rough week that things really will turn out all right, even though people — particularly high school aged people — can be cruel.  I hope he’s seen that to be true, as he’s moved on to college, made many lifelong friends, and become engaged to Becky Daly.  For all you former Pine Loft faithfuls: yes, this is indeed the same Becky Daly of Chris, Jim, and Becky fame!

I still sing “Keep On Going” when I feel stressed out or begin to think something — a relationship, a professional endeavor, etc. — won’t work out.  I hope you like it.

As a final note, stepping back into the present, I just started listening to the new Bob Dylan album, Together Through Life.  In case you’re questioning my devotion, there’s only one reason why I didn’t start listening yesterday: I pre-ordered the album on and didn’t spring for any more than Free Super Saver Shipping.  So, I’m cheap.  What do you want???  🙂

Did I mention I’m loving the album?  As I type, it’s blaring through my room and probably throughout the condo complex.  I may even get a letter in the mail from the condo association condemning me for noise pollution or disturbing the peace or some other such nonsense, but it will be worth it!  I spent the day at school today wearing the Best Buy exclusive Together Through Life t-shirt that Mike so graciously passed along to me from his purchase of the album (thanks again, Fusc!!).  I made certain to wear a white button down shirt today and a narrow tie, so as to have the Dylan t-shirt show through.  Thanks to at least one inquisitive student in each class I taught, I got to talk about the new album at least once every 82 minutes today!

I’ll save my commentary on Together Through Life for the review that will most certainly come, but allow me to share a couple comments.  First, this is not what I was expecting after Love & Theft and Modern Times.  Then again, that’s pretty much what Dylan himself suggested, so I’m not really surprised.  My favorite line thus far is the chorus to track three: “Hell is my wife’s home town.”  As if there’s any question as to whether Dylan’s dry sense of humor is still intact, just listen for his chuckling — yes, his chuckling — in the outro of that song.  Finally, although it’s a slow album to start, just wait for “Jolene” and “Shake Shake Mama” to really get your foot tapping.

And, with that taste of this new Dylan album, I’ll emphatically suggest you need to buy both Halfway There and Together Through Life and be on my merry way.

See you next session!

Your New Music Report! (May 2010)

By Chris Moore:

Well, it seems that I won’t be able to post the set-list for tonight’s Pearl Jam concert in real-time after all, due to either issues with the site or my WordPress app or both.

Instead, let’s talk new music!

It’s been two weeks since the first third of the year flashed by, and it’s been quite a year for new music.  Perhaps my surprise and excitement is due to the fact that I didn’t have high hopes for this year.  After all, nearly all of my favorite bands have put out music very recently (i.e. the past two years).  And yet there have been more than enough new releases to pick from these past four months.

Some artists, like Ringo Starr and Jakob Dylan, continue to put out music that lives in the shadow of their greater efforts of the past.  Others, like the Barenaked Ladies and Spoon, have somehow managed to create some of the best music of their lengthy careers.  Still others, such as She & Him and Broken Bells, are creating music and casting the shadows that future efforts will need to live up to.

This year has certainly had its hits and its misses, and it got off to an eclectic but ho-hum start, but I have already been hooked by five outstanding records.  Now, only one of these has received my five-star stamp of approval (All in Good Time), but the other four are a full four stars without question (Broken Bells, Volume Two, Heaven is Whenever, & Sea of Cowards).

The latter four albums represent an interesting range of sounds and influences.  Broken Bells have found a compelling sound by blending the rock basics with some more experimental, synthesized sounds.  She & Him give you the eery feeling that you’ve stepped into the past without actually sounding dated.  The Hold Steady have put together the best all-out rock and roll album of the year, to be sure.  And the Dead Weather present an out of control frenzy of rock, this time around with more single-worthy songs and considerably better continuity as an album.

In the midst of the outstanding and the forgettable are some interesting records.  Take American VI: Ain’t No Grave, Johnny Cash’s final posthumous release of new material.  It certainly doesn’t stand up to IV or even V, but it is such a beautiful that includes a perfect closing track for his long and storied career.  Steven Page’s first solo effort incited extreme reactions from most fans and critics, divisions in both categories respectively hating it for being so unlike his other music and loving it for… well, the same reason, I suppose.  As for me, I’ve very much enjoyed A Singer Must Die, although I rarely listen to it in the car and I’m very anxious to hear his first solo album proper, which should arrive later this year.  (And, to be fair, I downgraded it from four to three and a half stars in deference to what a full four stars should really represent.)

If you haven’t been listening to the first albums of the new decade, then you’ve been missing some real gems.  And, if you’ve missed my reviews along the way, I’ve compiled them below for your reference.  I’ve even translated my “Yes, No, or Maybe So” reviews to the standard five star system for your ease.   I’ve been listening constantly to the four listed as “coming soon” — between rounds of BnL, She & Him, and the Wallflowers, that is — and I’ll have those reviews posted throughout the next two weeks.

New Albums, 2010:

Y Not (Ringo Starr) – 2.5 stars

Transference (Spoon) – 3.5 stars

Realism (Magnetic Fields) – 2.5 stars

Heligoland (Massive Attack) – 2 stars

A Singer Must Die (Steven Page with the Art of Time Ensemble) – 3.5 stars

American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Johnny Cash) – 3 stars

Broken Bells (Broken Bells) – 4 stars

All in Good Time (Barenaked Ladies) – 5 stars

Volume Two (She & Him) – 4 stars

Women & Country (Jakob Dylan) – 2.5 stars

Forgiveness Rock Record (Broken Social Scene) – coming soon!

Court Yard Hounds (Court Yard Hounds) – coming soon!

Heaven is Whenever (The Hold Steady) – 4 stars

Sea of Cowards (The Dead Weather) – 4 stars

High Violet (The National) – 3.5 stars

The Top Ten Albums of 2008

For the 2008 “Yes, No, or Maybe So” one-sentence reviews, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

At long last, here it is…

My top ten list of the best albums of 2008.

Top Ten Albums of 2008

1.  Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings – The Counting Crows
2.  That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson
3.  Viva La Vida – Coldplay
4.  Accelerate – R.E.M.
5.  Modern Guilt – Beck
6.  Snacktime – Barenaked Ladies
7.  A Hundred Million Suns – Snow Patrol
8.  Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs
9.  The Red Album – Weezer
10. Loyalty to Loyalty – Cold War Kids

Honorable Mention:

Liverpool 8 – Ringo Starr
Momofuku – Elvis Costello