"What Are You Doing New Years Eve?" and a Glaring Omission

After compiling my 12 Best Albums of 2011, I realized, about 8 hours after posting it, that I left off one album that was incredible and necessary... essential even! That album is Nine Types of Light by TV On The Radio. It's truly excellent from beginning to end and harkens a charming and potent return to form for the experimental, shoegaze outfit. You should list to that too. And if I missed anything else, I'm truly sorry. It's tough to throw together a comprehensive list without neglecting some of the excellence that is all around all the time.

But, with that wrong righted, "What Are You Doing New Years Eve?"

And for the Scrubs fans out there... a fun little version of a Christmas classic.

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GLMedia's Top 12 Albums of 2011

You didn't ask for it. You don't really need it. But here it is! This is our Top 12 Albums of 2011. It has been quite a year, and while I haven't had the incredible luxury to listen to everything that came out this year, I have listened to a whole lot. That breadth and pool of great music means that it's a bit tough to round the list down to a simple 12, but with such brevity comes wit, as they say. Before we start the list, a minor programming note. I have and will be adding, from time to time, a track or two to the 30 Greats of 2011. Yes, that means the list will balloon a bit, but I will add only tracks that seem so perfectly essential. This week, well this today, I'm adding "Die" by Girls from Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Amerigo Gazaway's "Beanie Weather." The former is an epic piece of shredding, spacey, soulful, guitar rock and the latter is a beautiful Christmas-themed hip-hop track by the exceptional Fela Soul producer and Gummy Soul contributor. These are great tracks! Incredible pieces of 2011 like these deserve attention.

But now, your TOP 12 Albums of 2011... chosen by Gas Lantern Media.

12. The King is Dead/Long Live the King by the Decemberists - Despite having two of my favorite and most memorable songs of the year, the Decemberists' The King is Dead and Long Live the King EP were inconsistently spectacular. Both are undeniable offerings of new Americana, and each feels like an influence-powered homage to Neil Young, REM, James Taylor, CSNY and others. Truthfully, these two albums slip to the twelve-spot only because there are so many albums that were ever so slightly better. It was that kind of year.

11. Stone Rollin' by Raphael Saadiq - An album that my friend Carrie first alerted me to, Stone Rollin' fast became one of my favorites for its combination of soul, funk, guitar rock and infectious melody. Saadiq impresses throughout the album's first half, but it falls off a bit after that, ending on the dark, excellent, and haunting (especially if you've seen the video) "Good Man." Were it a more thoroughly complete entry, this would have landed in the Top Five.

10. Apocalypse by Bill Callahan - This incredibly lush and calming, often raucous and protesting, but always poetic album didn't get enough props this year. Callahan has long been an unsung writer of great tunes, but with Apocalypse he submits a magnum opus on par with the best. It is an album that is solid from start to finish and leaves the listener feeling both haunted and informed, while projecting age and knowledge that doesn't stop with its musical aptitude. If you haven't listened to it, you should, right now.

9. Zonoscope by Cut Copy - The Australian dance pop outfit returned in 2011 with a quieter, less dancey album that remained full of ornate instrumentation, thoughtful samples and tight lyrics. Zonoscope encompasses everything you could want in a chill afternoon or evening soundtrack, but its pace is at times inconsistent, which is the main reason it fills the nine-spot. Even so, it's a clear indication that Cut Copy continues to make great music and will, hopefully, do so as time marches. Or, perhaps, as time dances.

8. The King of Limbs by Radiohead - This highly-anticipated album is truly great, but marred by the dour and spare instrumentation that caused many to show concern with the inevitable Yorke-ification of the perennially-incredible band. The King of Limbs is still an album that makes you think and one that drives discussion as well as serving as the best background music one could ask for. Clear influences, like the late-Beatles catalog, shine, but fans craving more experimentation and epic guitar work will be disappointed.

7. David Comes to Life by Fucked Up - Probably the best theme album of the year, the punk band's great 2011 entry is powerful, thoughtful, complex and enjoyable from start to finish. As a narrative, it is complete, and as an album it is thoroughly addictive. There are at least 7 songs on David Comes to Life that grab your ears and scream into them passionately, and the rest are still incredible even if they take a little bit of growing. Punk like this isn't for every listener, but the stories and the philosophical revelations within the lyrics are for everyone.

6. Burst Apart by The Antlers - From start to finish The Antlers topped their amazing Hospice with an album that is lighter-hearted, more pop-minded and thoroughly enjoyable. Frank and thoughtful, Burst Apart speaks to all the fear and pain of break ups, relationships, loves and life. And it's so much fun to listen to each and every time. There's joy to spare in this album, and hints of a bright, beautiful future for a truly great and mostly unsung band.

5. Undun by The Roots - Jimmy Fallon's incredible catch of a house band, The Roots, submitted their newest at the 11th hour of 2011. It's a socially conscious and brilliant collection of hip-hop and lyrical masterpiece, and it even includes a beautiful and decadent breakdown of classical music for the last four tracks. This album will certainly make tons of lists for next year, as it was illegible for submission on various other internet music 'zines, but for me, it deserves a mention now, amid the other greats.

4. Bon Iver by Bon Iver - Justin Vernon's Bon Iver's self-titled second album is beautiful. Plain and simple. When you hear songs like "Perth" and "Holocene" you shudder with joy and anticipation. The songs are thick and complicated, drowning in ambiance and thriving on incredible melody. And while over time, this album wavered, not maintaining the same consistency and novelty of Vernon's previous, Bon Iver is still a crowning achievement in songwriting and design. It's a mood album. And it's so powerful that it makes you into the mood it wants, no matter how you go into it.

3. The Rip Tide by Beirut - As complete as an album can be, Beirut's newest offers you more than just baroque, delightful tunes about time, space and contemplation. It also offers some hits that will stick with you from the first time you hear them. Mellow and thoughtful throughout, The Rip Tide, doesn't demand your attention so much as peacefully earn it. And when you need a dose of hope, and some brilliant horns and strings, Beirut is there to answer your call. You can do only slightly better this year as far as music is concerned, but at the three-spot, it's clear that you can't do much better.

2. Metals by Feist - Leslie Feist just never stops amazing. Metals isn't perhaps as catchy or poppy as The Reminder, but it is more full. From beginning to end, you find poetry and subtly at the forefront, with beautiful arrangements and experimental amazement everywhere else. The album is a bit of a grower, requiring a few trips through to latch onto all of its grace and dignity and epic quality, but once you've heard it, once you've tapped in, it's almost impossible to get away. If Feist makes another album on par with this one, she will cement herself as one of the most prominent and incredible musicians of our time. Easily.

1. Strange Mercy by St. Vincent - Annie Clark is a sonic goddess. She does things with a guitar, with complex arrangements and with lyrics that no one else can even challenge. This album, the third, and a clear cap to the arch she started with Marry Me, covers identity, desire, passion, love, loss, confusion, fear, family, society, gender roles and so much more. And the thing is, it's just great the whole time. As a treatise, it is mind-altering, and as a piece of music it will change your heartbeat, drive your emotions and create joy and a haunting sublime experience. It is almost a piece of literature more than an album, and it's an indication of what music can do! 2011 was better for her contribution. And there's no denying it.

Now, an honorable mentions for album of the year Bad As Me by Tom Waits. It was great, but it just wasn't my favorite for the year. Still, it deserves note because Tom Waits is an American treasure. Okay, that's it for GLMedia for 2011. Have a safe and happy New Year's, and we'll see you back here in 2012.
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30 Great Tracks from 2011 - Part Two: The Convergence of the Twain

Welcome to Part Two: The Convergence of the Twain in my amazing two part 30 Great Tracks from 2011 Playlist. Last time we covered the first 15 tracks. And I'll remind you that these are not ranked, they're just in an order because well, every track list needs a beginning, middle and end. So, before I tackle 16 - 30, let's talk about something that's complicated. That thing is this very thing, the creation of a list. The problem is that we (and here I mean I) are absolutely, definitely, undeniably going to mess it up and forget a few tracks that were still exceptional in their own right. Last year I pretty much left Mumford & Sons off altogether. That was mostly just a mistake, a true and honest oversight. You see, it's a sin to have to make a list because you MUST leave something out. I could make a playlist that's 1000 songs long, but who in their right mind cares for that long... that's at least 3000 minutes, or 50 hours. No one wants that.

So, here are a few of the bands I've neglected to include, but whose work made 2011 an epic year: Fleet Foxes, Amerigo Gazaway, James Blake, The Black Keys, She & Him, Fruit Bats, Vetiver, The Head and the Heart, Josie Charlwood, The Weeknd, Lil Wayne, Chad VanGaalen, Friendly Fires, Austra, Panda Bear, Dustin O'Halloran, Pink Hawks, The Dodos, Bill Callahan, The Strokes, Toro Y Moi, Gruff Rhys, The Dears and many, many more... You should check each and every one of them out. Just open those links in tabs so you can keep going here? Thank you.

Okay, so now that we've all got a little perspective on who has been left out, let's see who found spots among 16 - 30! As in Part One, you can find the list through Spotify or ShareMyPlaylists.com by clicking either of them pretty links right there.

16. Bon Iver "Perth" from Bon Iver - It's pretty much a no brainer. This had to be on the list. But here, following Fucked Up's "The Other Shoe," it calms the pace and primes you for the second half.

17. Death Cab For Cutie "Doors Unlocked and Open" from Codes and Keys - The rumors of Ben Gibbard's death were greatly exaggerated. He returned with a strong and pleasing new album in 2011, including this track that bores into your brain like a space slug. Still, it's lamentable that he and Zooey didn't work out.

18. How To Dress Well "Suicide Dream 2: Orchestral Version" from Just Once EP - It's a retread of the track from Love Remains, but the delicate piano, lessened echoes, and more prominent vocals make this version ever more haunting and beautiful.

19. Beirut "Santa Fe" from The Rip Tide - Beirut established some pop cred with The Rip Tide. It's an album that never wavers far from pleasing. And with this song, there's a funky, electronic warble that is both groovin' and completely suitable to their traditional style.

20. Eleanor Friedberger "My Mistakes" from Last Summer - The first time I heard this song I was hooked. It perfectly captures youth turning into reflection. And the quirky Fiery Furnacer's voice is as great as ever. Dig that syncopation.

21. Dirty Gold "California Sunrise" from ROAR - I first heard this track through Turntable.fm. And as I look out at the snow falling past my apartment window, I can only wish that this song will take me away to a warmer place. And despite its sad tones, its goodbye to summer, it's still warmer than now.

22. St. Vincent "Cheerleader" from Strange Mercy - The album is SO GOOD. You need it. You do. And "Cheerleader" is just the track that popped for me the most after the initial loves for "Cruel," "Surgeon" and "Chloe In The Afternoon."

23. Jens Lekman "Waiting for Kirsten" from An Argument With Myself - Jens is in true form here, telling a cute, mostly funny story of waiting for love... with Kirsten Dunst. It's referential, intelligent and tongue in cheek, but always sincere.

24. Lana Del Rey "Video Games" from Lana Del Ray - We've all heard this song a lot. And while it may have reached critical mass in indie circles, it remains one of the best individual pieces of work for the year. It's haunting and honest, heartbreaking and powerful.

25. Feist "How Come You Never Go There" from Metals - Teamed with the great video that came out last month, Feist's return was made ever more triumphant with this instant classic. Leslie Feist is just so great, and this bouncing, understated track just highlights that fact.

26. theendisthebeginning "Tropics" from Tropics - This is what happens when the internet exists. I'd never have heard this band without it. And this full-figured track is the best of their album, but not by an incredible margin. They are worth checking out... but I think I've implied that.

27. Mikey Joseph O'Connor "(Not All) Pretty Blonde Girls are the God Damn Devil" from The Day I Stopped All This - Call me a homer if you wish. Mikey is part of the It's A Thing! podcast, but he also wrote a really, really, incredible song. This is that song.

28. Tom Waits "Kiss Me" from Bad As Me - The wolf with the jazzy clothing returned with one of his best albums ever. "Kiss Me" is the sweet, piano bar, nightclub, smoke-dripping, whiskey-soaked love song we all need a little bit of.

29. The Roots "I Remember" from Undun - One of this year's best albums, by far, came out at the end of the year and produced tons of great tracks. It was very difficult to choose one, but "I Remember" has some excellent vocals and a distinctly delicate feel that just seemed to fit as we close this list out.

30. Oddisee "Skipping Rocks" from Rock Creek Park - The last album I will have reviewed for 2011 features some of the greatest jazz/beat and rhyme work I've heard all year. That said, the mellow, contemplative, enjoyable and peaceful "Skipping Rocks" closes this out... because as much as you'll hate to see this playlist go, you'll love to hear it walk away.

That's it! There's your list. It's Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas, if that's your bag. If it's not, then may all your holidays, travels and quality times be great ones. May love and peace fill your heart. And may you dream of a new year full of possibilities. And if you don't have Spotify, you can find most of the complete list in a streaming grooveshark player... here.
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30 Great Tracks from 2011 - Part One: In which Doris gets her oats

In 2011, we saw a lot of chaos unfold around us. The economy continues to stumble. Occupy surged, slowed and soldiered on. And a several great (and unequivocally not-great) people died. But, for all the shit-storm action in 2011, it also brought us some truly incredible music, yet again. And a lot of that music slipped past/under the collective popular radar. We saw old stalwarts continue making great stuff. Great returns by Sloan, TV On The Radio, The Decemberists, Raphael Saadiq, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, St. Vincent and so many more, made the year, as crazy as it was, a tolerable one. Also, I turned 30. So, in admittedly vain and somewhat hackneyed honor of the beginning of my 31st year on this little ol' planet Earth, here's a list of 30 great tracks from 2011. This post is Part One: In which Doris gets her oats. (And if you don't get that reference, please seek out a little song called "I Dig A Pony" by the Beatles.) Because, we're referential as hell around these parts. You know, it's literary.

The tracks on this list are in no particular order. There are tons of music mags and blogs that rank them based on quality, but really, the listening experience is so subjective (based on mood, repetition, likes and dislikes) that it's difficult (if not impossible) to properly assign an arbitrary, or even critically determined, number to each one. Instead, here's the first 15. If you're savvy, and I know you are, you can check out the whole list by hitting up my Best of 2011 GLMedia playlist on Spotify. Of course, if you've got a bit of Christmas/holiday spirit left in you, you can also stop listening after the end of this list and wait until the next post (coming oh, so soon) to finish it out.

But, before we get to the other tracks, I have an honorable mention. This track, and its creator were not active in 2011. The Popovers were active between 2004 and 2009, a joint, exceptional pop band comprising Tim LaFollette and Catie Braly. They never played live, but they did create some memorable, incredible songs over those 5 years, including my honorable mention track, a cover of Snuzz's "The Worst In You," one of 12 perfect tracks from their compilation album Make It So! Sadly, Tim was suffering from ALS over the last few years, and this year he succumbed to his illness. It was tragic not merely because of the loss of life, but because LaFollette was such a talented song-writer and a brilliant lyricist. The loss of potential is terrible. With a heavy heart, I give 2011's honorable mention to The Popovers' "The Worst In You," a song you won't find on Spotify, but one that I hope you will listen to.

Now, the list.

1. Sloan "Follow the Leader" from The Double Cross - Sloan has been active for 20 years, and they just continue to write amazing power-pop. This song opens the playlist with vigor, and some appropriate "leadership."

2. TV On The Radio "Will Do" from Nine Types of Light - One of the best albums of the year, TV On The Radio returned triumphantly. And this sweet, romping, twinkling, experimental and instantly catchy track highlights just how great they can be. And that's VERY great.

3. Raphael Saadiq "Go To Hell" from Stone Rollin' - Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, gave us one of the year's best soul, funk and 50s-60s genre rock albums. And with "Go To Hell" you get a song with beautiful horns, true lyrics, and complex instrumentation. It's beautiful.

4. Okkervil River "Wake And Be Fine" from I Am Very Far - Will Sheff and the boys of Okkervil River provided one of my favorite shows of the year, despite an ankle injury that made my experience hellish. And this track has all the pop sensibility and energy of their best, with the maturity only a veteran band can possess.

5. The Decemberists "I 4 U & U 4 Me" from Long Live The King - This track, a home demo from the band's post The King Is Dead EP, is just about as purely folk-tastic and sweet as anything they released on the full record. It's a great love song, and a brilliant piece of Americana Redux.

6. Cut Copy "Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat" from Zonoscope - While their 2011 release wasn't as perfect as 2008's In Ghost Colours, it still produced a large handful of mellow, dance-rock wonder. This is one of those, and believe me, I had a hard time choosing only one.

7. PJ Harvey "Bitter Branches" from Let England Shake - England's post-punk, fuzz-rock, experimental darling PJ Harvey returned with an epic album. "Bitter Branches" is perfect mix of her old-style clatter blended with some palatable song structure. It's raucous, driving and enjoyable.

8. Radiohead "Morning Mr. Magpie" from The King of Limbs - Well, it's Radiohead. The album is still better than many remember. It's not an instant classic, but it has a lot of quality and a lot of character. And this song is one of the best they gave us this year; chaotic, jumbled and satisfying.

9. The Decemberists "Down By The Water" from The King Is Dead - Yeah, I know, two songs by Colin Meloy and Co. I'm a fan. I won't apologize. This one is so fun, rousing and delightful that it had to make the list, even if that makes me seem a little biased. Long live the Decemberists! (I bet no one used that doozy of a pun-continuation all year.)

10. Big K.R.I.T. "Sookie Now" from Return to 4EVA/R4 The Prequel - Big K.R.I.T. is doing some of the best rhyming around right now and this anthemic, party-starter, leaves you full of energy and ready to rock the faces of every crowd you meet. Beat that Bon Jovi.

11. Starfucker "Mystery Cloud" from Reptilians - This is just a beautiful, dream-space dance tune. Starfucker is instantly catchy. And the climbing pseudo-8-bit strings and measures are infectious. It's a good disease of the ears.

12. The Antlers "I Don't Want Love" from Burst Apart - I mean, tell me this isn't amazing. The opening line "You want to come up the stairs, I wanna push you back down," is a perfect bit of a-romantic hyperbole. (I hope.) Just beautiful.

13. Maritime "Paraphernalia" from Human Hearts - While it might not even be the best song they've written (still a tie between "Twins" and "People, The Vehicles" from We, The Vehicles) this perfectly captures their style and really calls to that great album. Beautiful lyrics and jangling guitars.

14. Peter, Bjorn & John "Second Chance" from Gimme Some - After "Young Folks" PB&J were kinda pigeonholed. Then they released Living Things and fans jumped ship because of the sonic darkness, but Gimme Some brought back the pop and the glee. It's not as folksy, but "Second Chance" is great and hey, listen to that cowbell!

15. Fucked Up "The Other Shoe" from David Comes To Life - Fucked Up's concept album about heartbreak and starting over was a huge surprise for me, simply because it's so complex and ornate, pulling away from punk toward a more theatrical design. This song is a perfect example, with great harmony and a powerful, addictive riff.

Alright, that's Part the First. Dig into the list on Spotify. Or use Share My Playlist at this here link: http://bit.ly/vV9axP
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Oddisee - Rock Creek Park

Here's another toast to the beauty of the internet! It was by the grace of Amerigo Gazaway's Fela Soul that I came up Oddisee and the grooving, smooth and mellow Rock Creek Park. Having a great network of music, especially artists who aren't immediately recognized by major or even Indie labels, is the soul of the internet music scene. And I have to give a shout out to Mello Music Group's bandcamp set for opening my ears and my proverbial eyes to something truly wonderful. Through 12 tracks, Rock Creek Park provides a seemingly endless store of goodwill, charm and honestly, genuine great feelings. The musical arrangements, complete with horns and strings and some excellent drum beats, are nothing short of perfect. This is an elegant, peaceful album that brings joy every time it plays. And in Oddisee's own words: "This album is my interpretation of [Washington, D.C.'s] Rock Creek Park through break beats, samples & live instrumentation." And the album feels like that. It's a park day album. It is a calming refuge from the hustle of the city and the day's responsibilities. And it's really infectious. Since listening to it the first time, I have chocked at least 5 additional listens (all in a couple of days) and considering how music I find around me all the time, this staying power is a testament to the quality and the beauty of Rock Creek Park.

There isn't a bad track here. And while I could nitpick a phrase or two, I don't have any interest in doing so. Songs like "Skipping Rocks" and "The Carter Barron" create such a chill atmosphere that they're almost impossible not to like. But the kicker, especially with those two tracks, is that they're also incredibly memorable. This isn't just mood music. These aren't just songs that feel good but digest faster than Chinese food. They stick with you. For all of the light pleasure inside, they're still stick-to-your-ribs music. The break-beat, funky, horn-strewn "Scenic Route to You" is brilliant and bass-heavy. The delicate and jazzy "All Along the River" feels like a careful prance along the banks that leads you to the dancier "Uptown Cabaret." And as I said, there's just not a bad piece to this pie. "Clara Barton" and "Beach Dr." are both stellar. But "Mattered Much" may be the best of the final 5. It just seethes with jazzy passion and quiet joy. And there's a little bit of something I've heard before in there. Ultimately, Rock Creek Park is an album that takes the Jazz Fusion of late Miles Davis to another level, but it's never inaccessible or problematic. It's just really, very fucking good.

The final two tracks, one a lyric'd version of "Mattered Much" featuring Olivier Daysoul, and the closer "For Certain" featuring Diamond District are two epic ways to end this already chill and exceptional set. The quality rhymes and pacing guide you to the inevitable silence when the music ends, and leave you feeling empowered, refreshed and positive. It's just good shit. That's it. Just good shit. You should listen to this. And then buy it. Paying a mere $7.99 for this is a steal. And I'm sure you'll find yourself listening to it time and time again. Check it out here. And then go to the bandcamp site.

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The Roots - Undun

Undun is a lush, beautiful, goddamn perfect album. Don't be fooled by reviews to the contrary (I'm looking at you Pitchfork!) because The Roots offer a wonderful, low-key, groove-heavy, charming and almost CONSTANTLY ENJOYABLE album. Considering that the band also holds down a day job as Jimmy Fallon's Late Night house band, the achievement of Undun is even more remarkable. And frankly, this album is probably the most exciting thing to happen in media this time of year short of the Chris Paul trade situation(s) and, dare I evoke the name, Timothy Richard Tebow. The fact is, Undun opens with a polite, warming swell and ends on notes that are downright classical. The content in between is amazingly poetic, overflowing with harmonies, delighting loops, and some rhymes that are both socially responsible and politically driven, and fucking killer.

The wistful "Sleep" kicks off the album on a proper, emotional note. Addressing what it means to be awake and alive. And Big K.R.I.T.'s turn on the mic in "Make My" is a treatise on what being rich really means, and that slippery slope that it involves. But "The Other Side" and "Stomp" have a special place for me, both driving, drum-powered pieces of pure excellence. I'm reluctant to even say it, but the album has a couple misses, "Lighthouse" is a little too dissonant, with hollow beats backing it, as if The Roots wanted to pull out all the stops on this track, but all the stops, well, they just don't work together. Sometimes harmony means recognizing that some parts must not be involved. And, I know that I'm railing here, but the chorus feels like something Friendly Fires might utilize on one of their weaker pop-dance fusion pieces. It's not terrible, but it's definitely skip-able. The rest of the album, however, is not.

The beautiful, music-box-esque, "I Remember" brings the album back to form and really re-centers Undun before we reach the final five tracks. "Tip the Scale" has a perfect blend of soul and rap. It's all slow-burning, pristine groove. And it has a social conscious. Without being heavy-handed. That's a crowning achievement right there. And hey, indie-kids, there's a Sufjan track on here and it's beautiful and classically Stevens. "Redford (For Yi-Yi & Pappou)" creates a truly elegant lull following the album's central hip-hop peaks. It's a brief experience, but a hauntingly beautiful one. And the three movements that follow, each a progressive breakdown from the track previous, capture the album's name well. Undun isn't just about the emotion and the social conscious in the songs with lyrics, it's also about the decay of the album, turning from kind of beautiful sound into something knock-down, drag-out chaotic. Undun is one of the best albums of this year. Even with a couple of "meh" tracks, the bulk of it is so emotionally and intellectually affecting that choosing not to give it a listen is a sin. Don't make baby Jesus cry. Listen to it below, and then get a copy. It's great music for just about any situation.

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The Black Keys - El Camino

El Camino is by no means a bad album. Nor is it a bad Black Keys album. The major issue with El Camino is that it lacks the heights and greatness the band has reached previously. No band is always perfect, but sometimes these things are just matters of dilution. El Camino is the seventh studio album by the Akron, Ohio duo. And there seem to be signs here that their trademark blues-rock sound is growing slightly stale. Fans of the band, and I count myself as one, have experienced true greatness from Thickfreakness and Magic Potion, but even on 2008's Attack & Release there were tracks that felt only like they were there, rather than being there to dazzle. Part of it is that when you put out anthemic power-tracks like "Set You Free" and "Have Love Will Travel" some of the newer touches just never feel quite as strong. It's not the Weezer Effect, though, because El Camino is still infinitely listenable and much of it grows on you as you churn through it. Some tracks, though, sound a little like Beck/Eels take-aways. And others are just too muddled to be catchy.

But there are some powerful highlights. "Lonely Boy" has all the essential ingredients. It features thunderous drums and a continuous, powerful guitar riff with some quality blues-standard lyrics. Check it out below.

The Black Keys - Lonely Boy (RSD Exclusive) from wbrdigital on Vimeo.

"Dead and Gone" is another especially interesting track, with some sweet backing vocals that make the track memorable. And "Little Black Submarines" is great too, a delicate, heartfelt Led Zeppelin-esque acoustic ballad. And there's the catchy, whining "Run Right Back" too. El Camino is plainly solid for the most part, but it doesn't resonate quite the way Brothers did, or any of the great work they've done on their other 5 previous albums. What's most interesting is that The Black Keys refuse to stream the album on any of the usual services. No Spotify. No Grooveshark. No anything. Instead, the album is a buy only proposition, so I suggest giving it a try. If you are a fan of The Black Keys, then this is definitely a good buy. There are enough gems here to make it worthwhile. But if you expect a return to most recent form, you may be disappointed.
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The Walking Dead - Pretty Much Dead Already

Out of fatigue, I'm only finally getting around to the first-half finale of AMC's The Walking Dead. There have been a lot of disappointments this half of the season, but luckily, and well, frankly surprisingly, "Pretty Much Dead Already" pulls out everything it needs to make the show compelling for its extended holiday break. Parts of the episode speak to a sort of utopia, not entirely unlike Plato's Republic, wherein the living, breathing, thinking humans, now the best of their species by proxy, could attempt to at least respectfully store and protect their zombie counterparts, their walkers, their former friends now turned to fools with blood-rage by whatever mystery caused all of this in the first place. But the climax, another twist, but this time a good one, comes in the form of a boiling-over of negative energy, a great outpouring of fear, that means those with the minds to think and choose take out those who have long since lost their true humanity. While it provides a titillating bit of zombie gun-violence, it also feels strangely evil; an act of execution undertaken by those who fear what they still don't really understand.

There are threads that continue, Dale confronts Shane, even needling him about killing Otis. Lori is still pregnant. Rick tries to convince Hershel to let them stay, both to have normal lives, but also to preserve his unborn child's chance at survival. And while Rick and Hershel go off to round up some of the walkers who were trapped in bog mud, Shane falls entirely off his proverbial rocker. And sadly, Carol and Daryl go off to search for Sophia (who has long been a bit of a joke, but whose story takes a tragic and incredibly effective turn here).

But the big storm comes right at the end. Shane, freshly angry at Dale for even considering ditching their weapons to preserve some kind of truce with Hershel and his family, catches a glimpse of Rick and Hershel bringing in two walkers humanely. They intend, of course, to put them in the barn. But Shane can't take that. The world is dangerous. He is out of patience and out of belief. He is all fear. And he charges, shooting one of the walkers and then cracking open the barn. I have to commend the writers and the director for making the final battle, a sort of no-holds-barred gun-violence-orgy, so emotionally effective and poignant. As the walkers leave the barn one-by-one. Shane shoots one. Then Andrea jumps in and shoots. Then Daryl. Then T-Dog, and finally, reluctantly, Glenn. Rick does not shoot. And Hershel falls to his knees, heartbroken that the people he believed he could save were now destroyed. It's only once they've taken down 15 - 20 adult walkers that we get the slow reveal.


Sophia, the long lost somewhat joke of a side-story little girl emerges. She's a walker. She's gone. And she still looks mostly like herself. It's a horribly emotional reveal. And possibly the greatest thing The Walking Dead has done since its premiere. She walks out slowly. Crossing the pile of corpses, heading for the group. And as Carl hides. And no one else can move, everyone so fucking shocked. Rick steps up, set to do the truly noble thing. If the walkers are beyond cure, then he is one who is willing to euthanize. It's almost a perfect mirror of the scene in Season One when he shoots a little girl near the gas station. Or when he shoots the half-a-body-walker from the premiere. He takes no pleasure in it. That's Shane's thing. He kills for the sport, out of fear, to feel alive. Rick, though, shoots Sophia with a careful aim. She falls. The End.

For a show that has been such a mixed bag, "Pretty Much Dead Already" gave us some good pay-offs. Sophia's becoming a zombie felt reasonable, if only because Hershel wanted to save her too and couldn't bear to break what had happened to her. He almost certainly would have when he and Rick brought in the zombies they "caught." But this episode calls into question the nature of humanity more than most of these episodes have. Despite appearing only briefly, and to be shot down, the walkers seem to represent a lesser class, or at least, simply the result of our grasp on order suddenly removed. Are we that far away from them, really? Is Shane? Those are the questions that I hope the series will answer after the hiatus. And I hope to feel like reviewing the show then too. As long as it doesn't drag like it can.
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Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs - Alone In This Together

With beautifully heartfelt, sometimes growling vocal intonation and brisk, guitar and piano work, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs, with their newest release Alone In This Together, provide a collection of songs that speak to every person's failed relationships, every person's unfulfilled dreams and every person's fears of the future. Their folk, alt-country, rock mix that features splashing percussion and pristine melodious harmonies, has a very radio friendly quality without sacrificing the purity of emotion attached to each individual line of lyrical poetry. While they do have a somewhat late-'90s/early-'00s Lilith Fair quality at times, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs also infuses a strong and evident love of the blues. It's a sturdy album about situations we all know well, and one that never drifts too far into the sad-sack or pathetic. Star Anna, lead singer, rhythm guitarist and leader of the group, a vocalist from Ellensburg, WA., has such a powerful, enjoyable voice that she carries (and could carry) just about any song, even if it were trite. Luckily, the growls and lush arrangements around her on Alone In This Together never require such carrying. Instead, they simply benefit. And that, ultimately, benefits the listener.

The title track "Alone In This Together" is a powerful, sad, and wistful track that gives an exemplary taste of the rest of the album. Check out the video below for the FULL EFFECT. But even beyond that song, which will sure see some radio time over the next months, the album has some great highlights. "Time" and "Wolves In Disguise" serve as testaments to different sides of the romantic/life coin, touching both on sadness and on a sort of strong, vengeful desire to battle back deceptions. "Just Leave Me There" has all the sad-mixed-with-a-middle-finger anyone could ask for. Despite a slower pace, it's decisive and aggressive lyrically. And some of the best tracks finish the album, so as you wander the wilds of the internet to sample before you buy, make sure to check out "Don't Go Yet." You'll be pleased when you do, especially as Star Anna's voice and style reveal themselves more and more to have hints of Fiona Apple and Cat Power. Check out a few of the tracks below the video, and then hit up the band's website to pick up a copy. It's talented artists like these, who fly somehow under the radar, who deserve our love the most.

Star Anna And The Laughing Dogs 05 Time by Local 638 Records
Star Anna And The Laughing Dogs 07 Wolves In Disguise by Local 638 Records
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She & Him - A Very She & Him Christmas

You already know all the songs. You already have positive, negative, or otherwise associations with the songs. The real wildcard when it comes to She & Him's A Very She & Him Christmas is weather or not you like Zooey Deschanel. And not just Zooey Deschanel as an actress or person, but her voice, the syrupy dulcet tones that are both precious and breathy, and if you like the "idea" of Zooey Deschanel making a Christmas album. I don't bring M. Ward into this because he's just not divisive. Also, he brings another round of strong, but subtle guitar garnishment and occasional backing vocals to this newest She & Him entry. It's not that he's a non-factor, but he's the unsung hero of the band. He keeps them moving and he provides the sonic decoration in the form of their pseudo-'50s echo-y guitar, but he's just not the face. But, anti-Zooey-ites, assuming you exist, there is nothing here to complain about. Her vocals are calm, and perfectly suited to these standard classics. And if anything, she avoids any vocal histrionics of any kind. This may be an indie-rock album, but it's charmingly traditional (excepting some echo, and vocal overlay effects) to the extent that you could sit by the fire, burn a Yule log, drink some Wassail, and hope that the Chim-in-ney Sweep isn't in Santa's way. In short, it's beautiful.

Deschanel excels particularly on "Christmas Wish" where her occasional, charming, geographically-confusing drawl is perfect. But songs like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is another treat too. M. Ward does some interesting stuff on "Sleigh Ride," frolicking up and the neck of the guitar and providing additional vocals. And then "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" has some style too, but She & Him don't do anything crazy with it, save for some more solid guitar riffs from M. Ward. "Blue Christmas" is one they knock out of the park, but that's just as easily because of the quality of the song too. And their rendition of "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys is wonderful, though not too far from the original. The bottom line when it comes to A Very She & Him Christmas is whether you like She & Him AND you like Christmas songs. Those are the components in question. If you like both, then you will be pleased by this heartwarming, not-too-challenging set of songs. If not, then you're just well off with classical versions of the songs. For me, it's a great, peaceful, sometimes semi-jaunty mix of great holiday tunes. "The Christmas Song" as the album's closer, nearly got me choked up, but it's a beautiful song that cannot be denied.

Give the album a listen below. Let it soundtrack a snowy night (like this one, here in Denver) and then decide whether you need it or not. It could be an integral part of your holiday collection. If you have a holiday collection. No matter what, if it doesn't warm your heart, well, go get your Grinch card now, because it's probably two sizes too small.

And on an unrelated note: R.I.P. Napster. You were a cute way to get viruses and lawsuits filed against you in college, but you did open up the internet, and potentially strike the knock-out blow that started the death of the Old Music Industry.

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