Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Album Review: A Church That Fits Our Needs by Lost in the trees

We would like to welcome Amy Heishman as a guest contributor to Final E Chord music blog.

A Church That Fits Our Needs (2012)
It was my growing obsession with Mount Moriah that led me to Lost in the Trees. Perhaps not quite as literally as that may sound; either way, it’s an easy path to follow. I’m not sure what got me first- the orchestral sounds or the haunting voice of Ari Picker. I’ve always been in love with classical instruments; Picker is a classically trained musician. This was bound to happen. 

While I will be forever in love with All Alone in an Empty House (2008), there is something gritty about A Church That Fits Our Needs (2012). Their debut track, “Red” is more defined than the much loved “Walk Around the Lake.” The old album was lyrical; it told ballads, it made up stories. Here, in their sophomore release, Picker’s lyrics are poetry in their own right. Picker wrote the album while dealing with his mother’s suicide, and perhaps his own journey through that is what moves this beyond simple storytelling into a well-articulated statement of beauty and loss. It’s easy to see why “Red” is the debut track; you can’t help but hear the “beautiful garden that blooms” in the careful considerations of percussion. The xylophone is the budding flower behind the strings and yet the vocals never let one forget that we can “still hear you weeping beyond the wall.” Like the album, “Red” is a celebration of mortality. Picker has, in many an interview, spoke of music as a religious experience and this is certainly true of the album and much more so in the title track. 

If “Red” is an upbeat realization then the title track, “A Church that Fits Our Needs,” is an angry questioning and tribute to the healing power of music. The song is part chamber music, part folk, and part something else. The album as a whole should be considered much the same: part worship, part storytelling, and part something else. It will take more than one listen, but you’ll want to listen more than once. And, while I still remain devoted to the first album, I have a feeling that even the morose tones of the second will take root. I’ll just call it "the thinking man’s album", and go from there.

Album Review: Todd Snider's "Time As We Know It-The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker"

In his second release in as many months, Todd Snider pays tribute to one of his biggest influences, the great Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker is probably best known for "Mr. Bojangles" which has been covered by nearly everyone imaginable. Walker is also credited with helping start the career of Jimmy Buffett, and ran around with the outlaws of country in the '70's, i.e. Willie and Waylon. But more than that, Walker's story-teller style is what has influenced Snider the most. If you have ever seen Todd live, it is one of the best shows you can see. He comes on stage, normally barefoot, and tells hilarious stories that lead to songs that can be, and usually are equally as funny. Some songs you may know from Snider in the past, "B-E-E-R Run", that you have heard on Bob & Tom, and "Alright Guy" covered by Gary Allan in the mainstream market. If your familiar with the singer-songwriter, folk style genre, you SHOULD already know who he is. Snider is a true artist, and captivates anyone that will sit and listen to him.

Jerry Jeff Walker
On "Time As We Know It-The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker"(Aimless Records), Todd pays homage to the songs that have influenced him the most over the years, hand picking the ones most influential to him out of at least 30 years worth of  fantastic Jerry Jeff music. So many songs to choose from, but the 14 he chose are perfect. With "Sangria Wine", one of my personal favorites, I can picture Todd sitting down and flashing back to his early years and what made him want to be a song writer. "Railroad Lady" which Walker co-wrote with Jimmy Buffett is another fantastic rendition, well worth being on the album. Can't forget "Mr. Bojangles" or "Pissin' In The Wind", which he nails. I'm pretty sure that Todd knew all of these songs from memory, as they have his feel to them and seem to flow naturally, not the forced feeling that can come from a lot of tributes.

Snider & Walker on stage together
This album was produced by the Grammy Award winning Don Was (Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Iggy Pop, Rolling Stones,and on and on.), and in my opinion, the only thing that could of made it better, is to hear a live version where Todd could tell the stories of why he picked the songs he did. Otherwise, it is a fantastic album well worth checking out. It is nice to see a singer care so much about his influences, and hopefully, if you don't know who Jerry Jeff Walker is OR Todd Snider you will take a minute to give them a listen. Promise you won't be disappointed.

Todd with his trusty sidekick, Cowboy Jim

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hopscotch 2012 Lineup Announced

Fans enjoy The Flaming Lips at The Plaza Stage, Hopscotch 2012
The Independent's Hopscotch Musical Festival in Raleigh, NC is back for the third year with a stellar lineup featuring something for just about every musical taste. This year's headliners include The Roots, Scottish 80s alt-rock group The Jesus and Mary Chain, Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo, and Liars. Hopscotch is unique in its support of the homegrown music scene. Notable locals include Birds of Avalon, Roman Candle, The Beast, Arnold Dreyblatt/Megafaun, and The Mountain Goats. Even with the sheer amount of local groups there are bands from all across the US and the world, for that matter (High Wolf, Hubble, and Holograms are all European). Other US bands include Damien Jurado, Ducktails, and Wye Oak, as well as numerous others.

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Hopscotch 2011
With so many bands in so little time how do they fit them all in three days? Hopscotch makes use of many well-known venues in the area but also utilizes bars and clubs with smaller stages for smaller acts. Concerts are ongoing at fifteen venues all over downtown, starting at staggered times so patrons can hopscotch Raleigh, giving festival-goers a chance to see what Raleigh is all about. The festival features headlining shows at The Plaza on Fayetteville St. on Friday and Saturday night.

Titus Adronicus at Tir Na Nog, Hopscotch 2011
VIP passes are already sold 
out and 3-day wristbands are on sale now for $110. One day passes will be available soon. Check their tickets page for availability. Look for band previews on Final E Chord in the months leadng up to the festival. All photos shown, courtesy of Ronny Nause Photography.

Wayne Coyne surfs the crowd

The Dodos

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Man Behind the Drums

We are glad to welcome Justin Taylor as a guest contributer to the Final E Chord music blog.

Most people of my generation more than likely don't know the name, but the songs are forever etched in our memories from high school and on. Levon Helm, 71, died yesterday (4/19) after a long battle with cancer.

Mr. Helm, I will refer to him as Mr., because that is the kind of respect a man like him deserves, was a singer and drummer for the 70's rock group "The Band", most notably. Songs like "The Weight", "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down", and "Up on Cripple Creek" are just a few of his works that most know by heart. But his influence in Americana and music in general goes so much deeper.......

The son of Arkansas cotton farmers, Helm was influenced by the likes of Elvis, Conway Twitty, and Bo Diddley, in their early years. He was around when rock n' roll was formed. He established his first band in high school, The Jungle Bush Beaters, and at 17 started playing in bars and clubs around his area. After high school, he was invited to play in former Arkansas native, Ronnie Hawkins' band, "The Hawks" who were popular in southern Canada. In the 60s, Bob Dylan, whom at the time was in his electric rock phase, asked "The Hawks" to be his back up band. Helm, didn't like the negative response Dylan was getting with his new sound, and decided to return to Arkansas. After a two year layoff working on some oil rigs, Helm was invited back to "The Hawks" in '67, who were now pretty much referred to as "The Band". This is where most of us pick up on Mr. Helm's music. "The Band" played together until '76, their farewell performance "The Last Waltz" was filmed as a documentary by legendary film director Martin Scorsese. Between '76 and '83, when "The Band" reunited without Robbie Robertson, Helm worked on some solo work, playing with the likes of Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris. In '83, "The Band" reunited, in '86 band member Manuel committed suicide and the remaining 3 members carried on until 1998.

In the late 90's Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer, ending his singing career for several years. After removing the tumor, his voice became hoarse and raspy, forcing him to mainly play drums in his later years. Overwhelmed by medical bills, Helm decided to host a series of concerts at his Woodstock home. These became known as "The Midnight Ramble", artists like Kris Kristofferson, Steely Dan, Gillian Welch, and even Norah Jones contributed to these works. His final album was in 2007, "The Dirt Farmer", which was a solo album that won him a Grammy for Traditional Folk Album. He also released a live album from a 2008 concert titled, "Ramble at the Ryman" that won him another Grammy for Best Americana Album.

On April 19th, 2012, we lost a true troubadour that has influenced music from my past, and continues into the music I listen to today. I hear his name everywhere I turn in the Americana genre, from Robert Earl Keen, Cody Canada, Blackberry Smoke, Jerry Jeff Walker, and on and on and on. His smile and creativity will be missed and felt all over the music world.

R.I.P. Mark Lavon "Levon" Helm
May 26, 1940-April 19, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Concert Recap: Washed Out with Memoryhouse

Washed Out started his expansive spring tour on a high note with a packed crowd at the Cats Cradle. Last time Washed Out (aka Earnest Greene) performed there was as an opener for Cut Copy, playing only a brief set. This time fans got to hear a mixture of 11 tracks, all from Life of Leisure (2010) and Within and Without (2011), which were rearranged for live performance. Additionally the audience got a more complicated lights display, and a band seeming more grown up since their last visit. 

Earnest Green performs alongside his wife, Blair 
As with any of Washed Out's songs, the echoing vocals melted into the dreamy synthesizer sounds. Blair Greene, Earnest Greene's wife, accompanied him on synthesizers, as did their bass-guitarist from time to time. Washed Out also featured a live kit-drummer but they were down one synth player since the last time I saw the band. Musical rearrangements and Washed Out's usual unintelligible vocals made figuring out songs a mere guessing game, but made the show more unique, nonetheless. They opened with "Echoes" from Within and Without while keeping the crowd moving with "Get Up" and "Feel It All Around", both from Life of Leisure. "Amor Fati" had fans clapping to the beat during a vocal bridge and Washed Out finished strong with an encore featuring "Hold Out" and "Eyes Be Closed".

Canadian trio Memoryhouse opened the show. Their sound was spot on with their albums. The crowd was very engaged and hardly said a word or cheered between songs, befitting of the mellow, sometimes somber feel of their songs. Lead singer, Denise Nouvion, played keyboards and her Canadian drawl carried through as she sang. The band openly promoted Sub Pop Records, attributing their tour with Washed Out to sharing the same record label.

Washed Out Set List

  • Echoes
  • Get Up
  • Far Away
  • New Theory
  • Before
  • You'll See It
  • Soft
  • You and I
  • Feel It All Around
  • Amor Fati
  • Encore: Hold Out & Eyes Be Closed

Friday, April 13, 2012

Artist Review: Alabama Shakes

If you took Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and mixed them with the Black Keys you would get a band like Alabama Shakes. Brittany Howard's vocals are filled with soul and passion and that goes well with the heavy, southern guitar (Heath Fogg) and strong drums (Steve Johnson). While they have an older soul/southern rock sound, Alabama Shakes are a very young but talented band.

Brittany Howard pretty much founded Alabama Shakes while playing the guitar back in high school in Athens, Alabama. She soon approached bassist Zac Cockrell and they started playing/writing music together after school. Desperate for a drummer they approached a local music store worker, Steve Johnson, who agreed to join and they quickly started making recordings. Before opening for Heath Fogg's band, the Shakes (earlier name), asked Fogg to join their band as well. Soon Fogg was a full time member and the band changed their name to Alabama Shakes in 2009.

After releasing their first EP, Alabama Shakes, in September 2011, the band got national recognition and soon started playing in cities like New York and Chicago. Their single, "You Ain't Alone", got used for a Zales' 2011 holiday jewelry commercial. By February of 2012, Jack White noticed the band's great sound and had them make some recordings at his own personal studio Third Man Records.

After all their early success, last Tuesday (April 9th) Alabama Shakes released their first LP Boys & Girls. I think the band has a great sound and Brittany Howard's lyrics are wonderfully expressed in her energetic, free range voice. This band has taken a lot of older music genres (funk, soul, Motown, and rock) make them fresh and youthful again. If you enjoy these music genres then this quickly successful, young band is for you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cut Copy Bassist Releases First Solo EP

Ben Browning, bassist of Cut Copy, recently released his first solo EP, Lover Motion. Gus Franklin and Haima Marriott embellished tracks in post-production while Cut Copy keyboardist Dan Whitford added retro synthesizers to enhance that classic 80s sound. 

The first track, "I Can't Stay", features a catchy chorus and funky bass and drums that would fit well on any Cut Copy album. "Night Dunes" is a slow yet grooving electronic interlude while "Feels Like" is an upbeat tune, feeling like it danced its way right out of the 1980s. "Mistaken Images" makes me imagine The Beatles with synthesizers. And wrapping up the EP is "Bullet Island" which builds from two guitars into intense talk-back between synthesizers, guitars, synth drums, and Browning's thumping bass guitar. The EP is quite dynamic and very enjoyable to listen to. Lover Motion was released on Cut Copy's very own record label, Cutters Records. Browning is currently based in Melbourne, Australia. Check out Cut Copy's website for solo tour dates.

Ben Browning - Lover Motion by Cutters Records

Upcoming Show: Washed Out with Memoryhouse at the Cat's Cradle

Ernest Green aka Washed Out
Washed Out will be at the Cat's Cradle on April 16 with Memoryhouse.The last time I saw Washed Out he opened for Cut Copy at the Cat's Cradle. The performance was great, albeit short, leaving much more to be desired. I told my friends I felt that the next time he was on tour he would likely be the headliner. Lucky for fans, that is now the case. 

Washed Out is Georgia native Ernest Greene's stage name. He began creating music in his bedroom studio in 2009, moving up through the ranks of the music world via music blogs and MySpace. From 2009-2010 he released three EPs, the second featuring his most popular tune to this day (Feel it All Around from Life of Leisure). In 2011 he shook up the music world with the release of his first LP, Within and Without (Sub Pop Records), which peaked at 26 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Washed Out typically travels with an accompanying band so I would expect the same for this show.

Evan Abeele and Denis Nouvion of Memoryhouse
Opening the show will be Memoryhouse of Ontario, Canada. The band began as a multimedia project with classical musician Evan Abeele and photographer Denise Nouvion. The band features drums, echoing guitars, piano, synthesizers, and cello. Nouvion's smooth wispy vocals are pleasant to the ear, and when blended with Abeele's flanged guitars melt the music into a dreamy aerial bliss. Memoryhouse released their first LP, The Slideshow Effect in February 2012 on Sup Pop Records. They are indeed a band to watch, as they are sure to be the next big thing in indie rock. Tickets and info here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Album Review: Port of Morrow by The Shins

After five years of anticipation The Shins finally released a new album. Turbulent times followed the release of Wincing the Night Away (2007). After a domestic abuse incident with a live-in girlfriend, keyboardist Marty Crandall was booted from the band in 2009. Drummer Jesse Sandoval was also replaced that year.  Lead singer and front-runner James Mercer used this as an opportunity to explore a sound new to The Shins. Anyone expecting something similar to Oh, Inverted World (2001) or Chutes Too Narrow (2003) will find themselves quickly disappointed with Port of Morrow. This album is better listened to with no expectations of a sound similar to that of the past.

Though the lyrics and music were lackluster in some tracks (very few solid guitar leads), a handful came through as very good tunes. The tracks featured sounds that surprised me and piqued my interest. Simple Song was reminiscent of older Shins and the chorus reminded me of Gone for Good ("I found a fatal flaw/in the logic of love"). For a Fool is a neat track. It has a slow country feel to it with acoustic guitar throughout, though the chorus was a bit weak, "taken for a fool / yes, I was because I was a fool". Fall of '82 caught me by surprise. It has striking similarities to Steve Miller or Chicago with classic electric keys and organs. The drums and bass, played tightly together like a Steely Dan song, fed that retro feeling. The tune even featured a trumpet solo to tie is all together. 

Another notable tune was 40 Mark Strasse, featuring lots of acoustic guitar and that same retro feel that Mercer nailed in "Fall of '82". The vocals in the chorus were dreamy, with an echoing piano accompanying Mercer. It was around this point in the album that I realized Mercer wasn't going for that classic The Shins feel but rather something new, possibly a mix of power-pop and 1970s-era rock. Taken for what it is, Port of Morrow is something to be celebrated, afterall, this album was long overdue. However, it did fall a bit short of my expectations, for I am a fan of the old Shins. Even a continuation of Wincing the Night Away could have served them a bit better, but it is clear that Mercer is ready for something different and I respect that. I give the album 3 out of 5 stars. Port of Morrow was released March 20, 2012.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Artist Review (Forecastle Preview Edition): Bassnectar

For the past decade, Bassnectar (Lorin Ashton) has been creating many unique, electronic tunes. With a  freeform electronic and dubstep sound, Bassnectar is best known for his live performances, light shows, and community engagement. With 8 different LP's along with many remixes of other artist songs, Bassnectar is releasing his ninth album titled VaVa Voom on Tuesday, April 10th and with any successful live DJ there is a 2012 VaVa Voom tour this spring and summer. Luckily, for the people of Ohio Valley, his tour comes to Louisville at the beginning of Forecastle weekend and he will be headlining the Friday lineup.

For anyone who has never heard Bassnectar's music, it has very heavily electronic bass with many unique sounds mixed together. While I don't feel like his music is best for casual listening, it is fun music as there is a lot of energy and would be great to hear at one of his live shows.

Ashton's main musical influence comes from heavy metal and grunge bands such as Nirvana, Megadeath, and Metallica and it shows in his music. He has been creating genre-mixing music since the early 90's and has gained popularity through his live shows with music that consist of heavy tempos, lots of play with double time and half time and using electronic methods to embellish and reinforce other styles of music. Since 2009, he has been doing live shows constantly and has appeared at many music festivals and sold out shows around the world.

Bassnectar is also an active proponent of creativity, discussion, thoughtfulness, communication, health, education, safety, interaction, and critical thinking, and has fostered a community through his online discussion forum based around these principles. He has openly advocated for causes such as free press and true media, net neutrality, ending corporate personhood, public knowledge, and the non-profit organization Conscious Alliance.

Be sure to stay around for Bassnectar the Friday night of Forecastle weekend, as I am sure no one will want to miss his crazy ass live show.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Dirty Projectors Album in the Works

Dirty Projectors have a new album in the works, which is likely to be released this spring on Domino Records.

"Gun Has No Trigger", brings in a more well-rounded, less chaotic sound when compared to their last LP, Bitte Orca (2009). This song is more straightforward with little musical experimentation and a nice driving bass beat with crisp female harmonies. However, given their avant-garde indie rock tendencies, "Gun Has No Trigger" is likely not indicative of the upcoming album as a whole, but rather a small sliver of what is sure to be a great release. Dirty Projectors is based out of Brooklyn.
Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger by DominoRecordCo