Sometimes choosing our Album of the Year is a no-brainer, but not this time around.
Over the last few weeks, a couple of front-runners emerged but if you had asked us just a couple days ago which of our Top 3 - Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's Lie Down in the Light or Shearwater's Rook - would win out in the end, we'd have thrown our hands up in the air. All three have what it takes - Bon Iver's record is the year's warmest blanket, Billy's is one of the finest works of this decade's best songwriter and Shearwater's is as haunting and as deep as rock gets.
But this morning - decision day - we woke up and our winner was clear. No album this year was played more often, more diced and dissected, more quoted and proselytized, more treasured and enjoyed, than Rook. So much so that we've overdone it a bit - we're looking forward to the albums that will grab us in 2009 to give Meiburg and company a well-deserved rest.
All three of our favorite records of 2008 were introspective and gorgeous, but perhaps there was one element that gave Shearwater the advantage: Rook rocks. Not quite as much as its predecessor, Palo Santo, and not as much as we'd have liked it to - and not as much as we'd like the NEXT ONE to - but it was a nice change of pace to shuffle from Bon Iver's best track - Re: Stacks - and Bonnie Billy's standout cut - You Remind Me of Something - to Shearwater's knock-your-socks-off anthem Century Eyes or the ringing electric pulse of Rooks.
Only time will tell if Rook is still No. 1 years from now, but that's the beauty of music - and the risk of choosing an Album of the Year. It's also what makes the choice special - we might hate Shearwater in a few years, but we'll always have the memory of how much we loved them right now.
(Happy New Year!)
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sometimes choosing our Album of the Year is a no-brainer, but not this time around.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Decided to play around with iMovie. So...here's an audio clip of Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power playing Independence Day, live at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Nov. 11, 2008, along with still photos (audio and photos taken with an iPhone). Both Matthew and Geoff G. attended the show, which was fantastic. Even met Vic briefly outside the men's room afterwards.
Posted by Matthew at 1:33 PM
A little late for Turkey Day as the tradition goes, we know, but here they are, in alphabetical order. As you can see, we kept it real short this year.
(A full-on audio podcast version, if you're interested, is available as well. Just email us or tweet @thebigm.)
Antony & The Johnsons - Another World
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Lie Down in the Light
The Magnetic Fields - Distortion
The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
R.E.M. - Accelerate
Shearwater - Rook
The Baseball Project - Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails
Bowerbirds - Hymns for a Dark Horse
Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power And The Amorphous Strums - Dark Developments
Kimya Dawson - Alphabutt
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
The Fireman - Electric Arguments
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
The Innocence Mission - Street Map (EP)
Randy Newman - Harps and Angels
She & Him - Volume One
Posted by Matthew at 12:49 PM
Monday, September 22, 2008
Here, in reverse-order Twitter posts and iPhone photos, is RIB's review of Bon Iver/Bowerbirds at Bowery Ballroom, from a long, long time ago (July 29, to be exact).
Posted by Matthew at 11:11 AM
Monday, July 21, 2008
Moni sent this in eons ago but we've been too lazy to post. We're almost too lazy to post it now, too, but we don't want to cause an international incident. However, we can't help but include Moni's own email preface: "Is it too obvious that I was drunk when I wrote half of this? Anyway, I dunno if this review is usable in any way, and I am wondering the same about that damn album. Grr." That being said...
RIB gently asked me if I wanted to review Death Cab For Cutie's latest record, "Narrow Stairs." Right now, I'm not so happy with it.
It's not that I think it's a bad record, not at all. I'm just a little frustrated with it. The album does have its beautiful moments, smart instrumentations, lyrics to scratch your head over, as well as more sweet bass lines than any other Death Cab album to date. It also has many things I know from earlier Death Cab albums - the quiet, almost serene intro track, Ben Gibbard's penchant for repeating words/phrases (and in the case of "I Will Possess Your Heart" I found that repetition quite fitting) and that somewhat muted, fluffy guitar sound.
Overall it's not too different from earlier Death Cab albums, despite claims that this is their "prog" album. There are moments that I enjoy every time I listen to the record, like the piano and bass intro from IWPYH, Gibbard's vocals on "Talking Bird" that seem to be floating above the instruments, the lyrics on "Your New Twin-Sized Bed."
"Narrow Stairs" could be a great record - it sounds great, it's smart, well made, it works your brain and your heart. But for some reason it doesn't really touch me. I am missing something that every one else who loves this record has found, and if you have any idea what I might be missing, please let RIB know.
Posted by Matthew at 11:43 AM
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Back in the early nineties, Michael Stipe would talk in interviews about hanging out with the late River Phoenix. He would usually bring up that River always wore his sunshades inside, as if River was trying to hide. Or to keep the world out.
For the last half dozen times I've seen R.E.M. live over the past 7 years, Stipe has worn his Daryl Hannah replicant makeup. It, for all intents, served the same purpose as River's sunshades. This Thursday, he left it off.
In fact, Stipe at Madison Square Garden didn't --
- Read his lyrics from a nightstand
What he and Peter and Bill (and Scott and Bill) did was rock. Rock a very large room for two hours. It was great. And it was very different than the R.E.M. shows we'd been used to.
The post - millennial concerts up until now all seemed to be (in retrospect) performed almost in defense of the material on Up, on Reveal, on Around the Sun. Throughout, the band was trying to conjure a moment of transcendent beauty with new songs like High Speed Train, or Falls to Climb. R.E.M. wanted to prove so badly that they still had it. And everyone had just shown up for a rock concert.
And that disconnect, between people in their late twenties and thirties, who associated the music with their youth, and the band on stage who desperately wanted late career legitimacy (the kind U2 enjoys in thier third decade of performing) directly lead to the Stipe & Co. of old. I'm a serious fucking lyrical master -- see my music stand. I'm a record company whore -- here, I lost my shirt. I'm deep -- you can't see my eyes. And maybe I can't see you.
Needless to say, that's all disappeared. On Thursday, the house lights were up more than they'd ever been, and you felt like the band really saw the audience this time. And the audience really saw them. Accelerate was a reinvigorating album (and tour) on so many levels. Foremost, it redefined the band: R.E.M. is a quirky, unpretentious, ridiculous, angry, political rock band. The most important word is "rock". It's good to have you back, boys.
(image from workinpana)
Posted by Geoff G. at 12:39 AM
Monday, June 16, 2008
We'd like to write about the neat-o Mountain Goats cartoon we got from Brianna or speculate about the fact that the Innocence Mission just posted on their Web site that "Right now we are recording some new songs. We hope to have a record finished later this year" - but we really would be remiss if we didn't get a word or two up about the two records that have been wearing out our stylus and/or sucking the last bit of juice out of out six-year-old iPod as it makes its way toward retirement (it's eligible for a full pension on July 11), starting with:
SHEARWATER- ROOKSo if you've received an email from us anytime in the last year-plus, you've noticed the phrase "There's something singing in the ice" at the bottom. That's a Shearwater line, from their last album, Palo Santo, which has been praised to the skies on this blog.
Well, if you've gotten an email from us in the past two days, you might have noticed that our signature has changed. The new line - "Look with century eyes till they make you go blind" - is from Shearwater's new one, Rook. Jonathan Meiburg, the lead singer/songwriter, formed the band with Will Sheff, as a side project to Okkervil River. For their first couple albums, Sheff and Meiburg were co-leads - until Palo Santo, when Meiburg was given the reins and the band soared. So much, in fact, that Meiburg left Okkervil to devote himself fully to Shearwater.
We're glad he did.
Okkervil River is a good band (the Stage Names was one of our favorite records last year), but Shearwater is a great band, and they prove Palo Santo was no fluke by releasing a record that somehow is even more beautiful. We're not gonna say it's better or worse overall, just that it is a worthy follow-up. Rooks and Century Eyes grab you on first listen, but slower songs like The Hunter's Star, The Snow Leopard and I Was a Cloud keep you coming back. The first track, On the Death of the Waters, is about a shipwreck and, just before reaching a dramatic climax musically, Meiburg sings, "Turn your bow to the biggest wave/but your angel's on holiday/and that wave rises slowly/and breaks!" and his voice obscures the words enough throughout to make you want to print the lyrics and read along. Doing so proves our bird-lovin' friends are now firmly established as one of the best bands of this decade.
BONNIE "PRINCE" BILLY - LIE DOWN IN THE LIGHTSpeaking of the decade's best, it's going to take quite a lot in the next year and a half to unseat Will Oldham as this decade's best songwriter. The winner of the 2003 Album of the Year has been extremely prolific and has now released three records that are as good, if not better, than his winning effort, Master and Everyone. (He's also become somewhat of an accomplished actor, and yes Becca, we've developed a serious man-crush on him to boot.)
Lie Down in the Light could be his best yet. We read somewhere that this is an upbeat, countrified anti-I See A Darkness, and we agree. The songs are celebratory - "you remind me of something, the song that I am, and you sing me back into myself...and dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn, to my favorite song that has no end" - and every one is a winner, packed with lines to treasure. Though it's still so new, Oldham has another old-friend record under his belt.
***So back to the title of this post. It's always great to have so much to choose from, especially this early on, when we think of the year's best. Palo Santo finished second in 2006, Oldham's The Letting Go was third. Despite the competition, we think top 3 finishes for both artists are certainly not out of the question in 2008.
Posted by Matthew at 10:04 PM
Saturday, May 17, 2008
After too long an absence, RIB is proud to post the following concert review from our lone international (and female!) correspondent, Moni. Moni, as you may know, is the world's foremost Ken Stringfellow stalker. Her review this time? Why Stringfellow's band, the Posies, of course.
Band: The Posies (acoustic)
Venue: Flex, Vienna, Austria
I have waited to see an acoustic Posies show since I bought the band’s sophomore album, “Dear 23.” I got a used copy in Athens, Ga., signed by Mr. Stringfellow himself, who wrote, “Pls. take me home!” I just had to do him that favor.
The first thing that captured me were the phenomenal harmony vocals of Stringfellow and Jon Auer all over the record.
My only previous time seeing the band was a couple of years ago in Munich, in full-band mode and ear-shatteringly loud - at one point it was almost impossible to recognize the songs. Harmony vocals? Yeah, maybe. I couldn’t really tell from all the white noise coming from the speakers. Until this show at the Flex, the Posies hadn’t been to Vienna for almost a decade.
So the whole way to the venue I kept wondering if I'd be disappointed. Truth be told, the show didn’t meet my expectations at all. I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn't sure what to think of it at first. I was certainly a bit let down by the low turnout - I had expected the venue, which holds a few hundred people, to be more or less full, but there were maybe not more than 60-80 people there. We made quite a lot of noise between the songs, though, and I had the impression Jon and Ken felt very welcome.
Overall, I was expecting something more loose and more wild. (I know, how wild can an acoustic show get? Still, leave it to those guys to turn any show into happy, drunk debauchery.) But I guess that's a small complaint, since, as laid back as the show was, it was very sharp - I have no idea whether the two of them still have to rehearse after all these years; seeing them make music together looks and sounds incredibly effortless, but without ever sounding stale or having an air of mere routine. Those brilliant vocal harmonies sounded as great as ever, especially on beautifully melodic songs like “Every Bitter Drop,” where they were pure bliss. And while I prefer Jon’s guitar playing, Ken’s voice is simply amazing. That man sounds like he could hold a note past the point where any other singer would’ve gone blue in the face.
They worked their way through songs from every album and even a song from their EP, “Nice Cheekbones and a PhD,” and even “Believe in Something Other” from their debut album, “Failure” - just not a single song from “Dear23." Maybe I’ve lined up too much bad karma? After almost two hours, the Posies closed their set with the nicely sinister “Coming Right Along."
In his blog Ken later wrote, “It’s these relaxed shows that I love the best, where playing with Jon feels like putting on your favorite old leather jacket, and effort is minimal for maximum effect. And for sure people loved it. We had great praise after the show from Daniel from Nada Surf, who was home between tours.”
Yes, Ken, we liked it lots. I’ll take one point off for the complete lack of songs from “Dear 23," though. Maybe next time? I just hope it won't take them another ten years to come back.
Posted by Matthew at 10:54 PM
Monday, April 07, 2008
Kimya Dawson has reached the pinnacle of her fame with the Juno soundtrack (although a second soundtrack is reportedly coming soon) after achieving cult status with The Moldy Peaches. Her child-like voice, her simple guitar picking and cutesy lyrical style could easily seem immature and start to become grating if you don't pay close enough attention; but if you do, and if you go along for the ride, you'll find her songs are plenty rewarding, inspiring and just plain amusing - especially in the way they address non-conformity and adolescence (such as I Like Giants - "I like giants, especially girl giants/because all girls feel too big sometimes, regardless of their size" and Eleventeen - "You may feel strange, well you are an angel/stuck in tight pants, stuck at a high school dance/stuck doing people things, not knowing you have wings").
Her show last night at Webster Hall began with a pair of opening acts that were both entertaining; first up was a French quartet called L'Orchidee D'Hawai, whose album we meant to pick up on the way out but the show ran late and Becca especially needed to get back home. L'Orchidee D'Hawai played songs in Polish, Italian and English (there was probably French mixed in there as well, but we can't exactly recall at the moment), in what they said was only their second show ever in the U.S. They combined an Eastern European/Gogol Bordello-vibe with surf rock and some kick-ass drumming by a very entertaining fellow on the skins.
Next up was Dawson's baby daddy, Angelo Spencer, who rocked out pretty hard despite playing alone and following D'Hawai. The highlight for us was "a brand new song" we would think would be titled "Music is My Sweat" which found him setting a bass guitar on fire (not literally, sadly) to an anthem tune akin to "Music is My Boyfriend" but without the bubblegum.
Kimya took the stage at about 10:45 and her entire set was acoustic and pretty quiet, certainly compared to the openers. She was joined on stage by Matt (Matty Pop Star) Tobey and Erin Tobey, who sang along, played ukulele and xylophone and also played a song or two each solo (Matty Pop Star was a bit too cute and heavy-handed in his songwriting for our taste but we came home and immediately downloaded the song Erin played, called Secret Letters, which was a bit more entertaining live than in recorded form, but a fine song nonetheless). Note: If you're a Kimya fan, these are the Tobeys Kimya refers to in Tire Swing ("I never met a Tobey that I didn't like").
For us, the highlights of Kimya's set were the segment in which she played tunes from her upcoming children's album, Alphabutt, which were hilarious, and the end of the set and encore, where musician friends of Kimya's dressed in bags joined her on stage for a choreographed dance to Loose Lips and I Like Giants, plus a series of covers including The Greatest Love of All and The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow (which provided the lone encore that Kimya said was unrehearsed, and featured Kimya's toddler, Panda, appearing on stage right and clapping along).
Despite some obnoxious drunks yelling for Loose Lips throughout the show (we might have run into them later on 14th St.; two young girls barely able to walk straight loudly singing the song, who told us they loved us "even more" when we surprised them by joining in for the "fuck this war!" line), it was well worth getting home in the wee hours of the morning. We always enjoy Webster Hall, the crowd skewed very young, fun and enthusiastic and though Kimya is definitely a fad at this point, we've enjoyed her music since her moldy days and expect to stick with her.
Posted by Matthew at 11:23 AM
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
So the Today R.E.M. quiz is royally fucked up (or purposely fucked up because it's April Fool's Day?). Click below to enlarge.
Also, we actually got one of their questions wrong, which would be a shock if not for the fact that THEY got it wrong. R.E.M. may mean "Rapid Eye Movement" in the dictionary - but the band's name is just three letters and dots. (Serves us right for overestimating Today's quizmaster.)
Posted by Matthew at 11:25 PM
If you weren't following my frequent twitters (tsk tsk), here's how it went (and yes, I'm dropping the usual "we" for this post):
I left Hobo at 4:30 a.m., but slow orange-line trains kept me from Rock Center until around 6. Only a handful of people on line at that point, but I still couldn't have arrived at a better time, because I got to share a spot on line with Matt and Mary Lou, and soon got a tap on my shoulder and met Jen behind us. All Murmursians, all great people - and all new friends.
We were around the corner from the stage, but not long after we arrived we heard an instrumental Losing My Religion off in the distance. Some nice folks held our spot in line while we snuck over to watch the band's first soundcheck, this one in the rainy dark under a tent. We walked up close to the stage but were shooed away by security. I took some video over my shoulder as we walked back toward the line, and then took some more photos from further away.
Eventually, we were allowed to file into the plebian section, which was separated from the stage by the VIP/Al Roker walkway area, though we were close enough to be satisfied (and actually were allowed to get closer right before the concert began).
Matt left us after a second soundcheck to run to work/buy fanclub presale tickets for MSG, and Mary Lou, Jen and I passed the time making fun of The Today Show, making fun of Jen for watching The Today Show, and learning interesting facts about Barack Obama (he prefers basketball to bowling; who knew?). We also made faces for the camera and my mom called to tell me she saw me on TV (I haven't seen it yet, but it's on the DVR). Eventually, after a brief run-through of Losing My Religion again, the end of the 8 o'clock hour began to approach and Matt Lauer introduced the band with a brief interview on stage.
I believe he said Rolling Stone called Accelerate "their best record ever," which is not true if he did (David Fricke called it one of their best); anyway, his comment seemed to embarrass the guys. Then it was time for Losing My Religion proper, which really got going on Buck's mandolin solo, as usual. Just as they started playing, it began to rain, and there was a great moment where Stipe pointed to the sky and smiled. Supernatural Superserious and Hollow Man rounded out the set and both sounded vibrant and really got the crowd going. Perhaps not my choices for singles, but they really worked in that venue, so maybe Warner Bros. knows a thing or two I don't.
Right after they finished up, Lauer made his closing remarks and they began tearing down the stage. We were hoping for another song perhaps later on, but it wasn't to be. Mary Lou suggested finding a record store, so we asked a cop and he directed us to the nearest Best Buy, where we grabbed a copy each and toasted to R.E.M. and new friendships. We also gushed and gushed about R.E.M. and didn't have anyone roll their eyes at us, which is a rare and glorious thing indeed.
Overall, the perfect way to celebrate Accelerate Day. Here's a video clip as I head back to bed for a much-needed nap...apologies for not being much of a photographer in the previous photos or in the vid below...
Posted by Matthew at 10:44 AM
Monday, March 31, 2008
We're getting up at the ass crack of dawn tomorrow (probably well before actually) and trekking in to catch the R.E.M. mini-concert on the Today show. We'll be Twittering our progress via cell phone, so if you have nothing better to do, follow along here.
In the meantime, watch this performance of a song that has yet to land on any of their albums but hopefully will eventually (who thought R.E.M. would ever be this cool again?):
Posted by Matthew at 8:52 PM
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Okay, so you might not think RIB buys records anymore. Well, we do. And we’ve bought a ton recently. Certainly since the last time we actually wrote a record review here. We’ll never get fully caught up, but here’s a look at five albums we’ve picked up in the past few weeks:
R.E.M. – Accelerate
Obviously, we didn’t buy this one yet, as it doesn’t come out ‘til Tuesday. But we’ve preordered three copies for friends and family and will be dutifully grabbing a hard copy of our own after we brave the cold to catch their performance on the Today show on release day morning.
A lot has changed since we shared our first impressions of the album, following a once-over at Warner Bros. headquarters. We’ve now lived with the album for a couple weeks, and we are happy to report that we are absolutely thrilled with it.
Accelerate is not only the best R.E.M. album in a decade (which isn’t saying much), it’s an honest-to-goodness classic.
For the first time in the Post-Bill Era, this band is rocking again, thank God, and they sound fantastic. After the mediocre and mostly forgettable Reveal and the giant turd that was Around the Sun, we angered many of our good buddies at Murmurs by calling for them to hang it up on a nearly daily basis. Especially on ATS, the band could do little right; the production was horrendous, the lyrics embarrassing, the music dull and lazy.
But if Accelerate could only have existed because of ATS – which we believe is the case – then it was worth it. The trainwreck lit a fire under this band, got them to finally drop Pat McCarthy as their producer (open letter of thanks to Jacknife Lee forthcoming) and start writing urgent rock songs and record them in days instead of weeks and months. It also helped give Stipe a stiff kick in the pants, and he found something to say again (even Sing for the Submarine, which we hated originally, has charmed us completely – and, lyrically, it is a direct reaction to ATS).
We’re actually shocked that the band was able to turn out a record this good after being so unbearably lame for so long. But they did – the music is tight, it has drive and a pulse, it’s packed with good ideas well-executed - and it’s once again a great time to be an R.E.M. fan. In 34 brilliant minutes, the band goes from being over-the-hill and fading fast to one of the world’s best rock bands again.
If we sound like we’re doing for Stipe & Co. what Monica did for Bill Clinton, then so be it. Love may be blind, but they’ve earned ours again.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Not to keep gushing, but…
Bon Iver is our first great discovery of 2008. We may be a bit slow coming to the party (Bob Boilen has been gushing for awhile; we took our time getting to it), but we’re early enough to think of this as a personal treasure, and it earns that distinction.
Justin Vernon, who named the band from the French “bon hiver” or “good winter” and sings in a soulful falsetto, wrote the album while living in a cabin in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin after his previous band’s breakup, and it shows both in the content and the sound of the music. Slow, beautiful, warm, intimate.
It’s worth Googling the lyrics when you can’t make them out. Take this from our favorite track, Re: Stacks, a song about internal spring cleaning:
This my excavation and today is kumran
Everything that happens is from now on
This is pouring rain
This is paralyzed
I needed to replace
The fountain in the front yard is rusted out
All my love was down
In a frozen ground
There's a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed
And he's dangling my keys; he even fakes a toss
Whatever could it be
That has brought me to this loss?
This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization
It's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be
Safe with me
At the end of the song, the album’s last track, you can make it out as he gets up from his seat and walks over to the phone. The winter is over and it’s time to reach out to the world again.
The Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride
We just picked this one up yesterday (finally!) and we have not been disappointed. There are soaring moments here (Sax Rohmer #1 and Heretic Pride especially), and at least one song that hits home enough to qualify as our personal theme song of the moment, Autoclave:
I am this great, unstable mass of blood and foam
And no one in her right mind would make my home her home
Another very strong effort from Mr. Darnielle, who grabbed the five spot in our 2006 Album of the Year countdown.
Counting Crows – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings
Loathe Adam Duritz all you want, but Counting Crows made two of our favorite albums of all time in August and Everything After and This Desert Life.
They’ve also made some crap (I’m talking to you, 2002’s Hard Candy).
SN&SM falls into the latter category. David (Mr. Gillette) Lowery does a great job again on the production, but Duritz is impossible to stomach on this one, both for his lyrics and his delivery. The way he sings on this album at times, we feel like slapping him, either for a shallow, cutesy earnestness or an annoying bravado. In Los Angeles, he talks through the last minute or so, doing his best Brother Love impression (“No more Boston…no more Nashville…no more Oakland! Oh baby, come on out to the sea. Come on talk a walk down Sunset with me! Oh we’re gonna get drunk, find us some skinny girls and go street walking! Street walking, baby, in Los Angeles! And man it's a really good place to find yourself a taco.”) and he sings the following pseudo-political nonsense in Cowboys:
Everyone's in bed tonight/But nobody can sleep/'Cause all the satellites are watching through our windows/She says she doesn't love me, like, like she's acting/But it's as if she isn't talking/'Cause Mr. Lincoln's head is bleeding/On the front row while she's speaking
They Might Be Giants – Here Come the 123s
Another children’s album to go along with No! and Here Come the ABCs and probably the first disappointment of the lot.
Not that it’s particularly bad or anything, but none of the songs have grabbed us really. Apartment Four, Seven Days Of The Week (I Never Go To Work) and Figure Eight are the only numbers we'd be able to recall off the top of our heads, and none of them are essential.
Maybe it's too much kids stuff already, but No! and ABCs were both a riot.
We’ve also picked up back catalogue from The Decemberists, Shearwater, Okkervil River, The National,Cat Stevens, Ryan Adams and several others, but our fingers hurt from typing.
Posted by Matthew at 1:37 PM