Thursday, May 1, 2008

Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days

Folk rock based singer/songwriter Samuel Beam has released another musical gem. Following his low-fidelity 2002 debut, Our Endless Numbered Days is what broke Iron and Wine out of their underground indie fan base. With drastically improved audio quality, Sam Beam is able to clearly and successfully portray the beauty of his harmonic abilities. Think Simon and Garfunkle and the Decemberists’ acoustical child. The recording is dominated by his soft, whisper-like singing tone. Every subtlety of his singing can be clearly heard, as it is brought into the forefront: the pucker of his lips opening and closing, a swallow, a deep breath, etc. Every bit of it adds together to create a handsome concoction of rolling folk. Beam’s sister, Sara, accompanies him on some tracks, adding gorgeous harmonies to support his brother’s incredibly powerful, yet subtle voice. The lyrics are incredibly poetic, containing beautiful similes and metaphors such as “Papa died while my / Girl Lady Edith was born / Both heads fell / Like a crack in the door”.

But equally as important is what is occurring in the backdrop. Beam’s guitar lines and chord structures perfectly convey what Beam is singing about. For instance, in Sunset Soon Forgotten, the guitar line really portrays a sense of reflection. The line is uncommonly timed, and is not fully resolved until the end. “Down and down / once again” is stressed by a slide which slowly drops off.

Altogether, Iron & Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days is an utterly calm, reflective album. It is very quiet and subtle, but almost very busy at the same time. The poetic, literary lyrics are incredibly dense, while the guitar generally artfully accompanies the gorgeous voicings. Overall, the album could not get any more elegantly articulate.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

They Might Be Giants - Then/Now

Here it is: the ultimate collection of the most original, raw, and catchy They Might Be Giant's songs... The double disc contains both of the songwriting combo's two first albums: They Might Be Giants and Lincoln.

Lets begin with the self titled side... the length is nearly doubled, with 17 extra tracks. Originally released amidst the madness of the 80s, classic drum 80s drum machine beats are more than common. A lot of "cheesy" 80's material here! Despite the typical era stereotype, the band manages to cut through with their signature tone. John Linnell's accordion sits steady in the mix, covered by John Flansburgh's quirky guitar riffs. Of the two records, this side certainly has the more catchy lyrics! If I've listened to any portion of this album during my week, I will find one of these songs stuck in my head for hours on end.

The second side contains more eclectic recordings... they are much more experimental and artsy than the pop-driven first side. A lot more of the instrumentation is created electronically, and they dabble their feet into many different styles... "Lie Still, Little Bottle" has a jazzy groove, "The World's Address" has a latin-like groove, etc.

Between the two discs, the extra tracks contain excepts from the Miscellaneous T b-side record, and the 1985 demo tapes... a majority of these are incredibly experimental, and extremely innovative. This bonus material is really only necessary for the hardcore fans, as they don't yield very much musical substance. They dabble in a lot of synth and drum machine driven rock, and experiment in the possibility of electronic replacements for acoustic instruments. This double disc set will give you both the most accessible and entertaining They Might Be Giants, as well as the more eclectic and experimental. It will appeal to both the snobby artist and everyday, basic listener.

Earth - The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull

Godfather of Doom metal, Dylan Carson, has composed yet another stunningly beautiful arrangement. The title of the record describes the album better than any other words possibly can. Carson's guitar emits light rays which slowly seep down the side of the rhythmic backbone set by the pulsating drumming. The guitar travels as slowly, like dripping honey, all through the album, weaving together the piano and drums. As a finishing textual touch, Grammy award-winning jazz guitarist Bill Frisell paints in small details above all the other harmonic layering. At first listen, the melodies stick like honey to the listener's skull. They are toyed with, altered, and modified until finally repeated and resolved towards the end of each track. Due to Earth's minimalistic approach. any subtle difference in the repeating melody is immediately noticed by the listener. This approach is how Earth seems to paint those memorable landscapes they are famous for displaying in their music. Some say it sounds like a deserted ghost town, and others say it is the sound of relaxation. Personally, the album conveys the beauty of a sunrise.

I suggest buying the physical album. I downloaded a copy off iTunes originally, and was appalled by the low-complexity, 128 kbps version. I went out and bought a copy at a local FYE. The packaging was gorgeous. It came in an outer shell, encased by a smooth, shiny black casing. The leaflet was made out of the same, smooth material and contained great photos of the band. I imported my CD into iTunes at 320 kbps, and can finally listen to an untouched, gorgeous copy.

Check out Earth on tour now, and you could catch them with Kayo Dot, Zaïmph (Marcia Bassett of Double Leopards), or Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter.
04/25/2008 Bottom Lounge - Chicago, IL
04/26/2008 Wexner Center for the Arts - Columbus, OH w/Sword Heaven
04/27/2008 The Dame - Lexington, KY
04/28/2008 Springwater - Nashville, TN
04/29/2008 Bottletree - Birmingham, AL w/Fur Elise, Liz Durrett
04/30/2008 The Earl - Atlanta, GA w/Fur Elise, Liz Durrett
05/01/2008 Calendonia - Athens, GA w/Fur Elise, Liz Durrett
05/02/2008 Rocket Club - Asheville, NC
05/03/2008 Downtown Events Center - Raleigh, NC
05/04/2008 Rock and Roll Hotel - Washington, DC w/Kayo Dot
05/05/2008 Johnny Brenda¹s - Philadelphia, PA w/Kayo Dot
05/06/2008 Knitting Factory - New York, NY w/Kayo Dot