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8 New Holiday Releases That Don't Suck

Posted by Billy Gil, December 10, 2014 05:04pm | Post a Comment

holiday releases that don't suck

Last year I made a list of 10 holiday albums that don’t suck. Well there’s a whole batch of new ones out now, so listen up!

Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols

mark kozelek sings christmas carols lpIndie rock firebrand Mark Kozelek, who released one of the best albums of 2014 with his Sun Kil Moon release Benji, makes a perfect fit for these churchy holiday tunes, with his cozy, crackling voice and gentle acoustic fingerpicking. The song choices are obvious, yet Kozelek imbues them with such spare beauty that it’s impossible not to be touched by classics like “Away in a Manger.”

 

Seth MacFarlaneHoliday for Swing!

seth macfarlane holiday for swing lpWhat do you know? “Family Guy” and “American Dad” creator Seth MacFarlane ain’t a bad crooner. Actually I guess we all already knew that, since he sings regularly on “Family Guy” and released an album already, 2011’s Music Is Better Than Words, but it’s still remarkable to hear him play it straight, rein in the sarcasm and keep it classy—you keep waiting for him to drop an F-bomb or toilet joke, but he doesn’t. He works with a 52-piece orchestra here, singing only a couple of well-known classics like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and picking a few lesser-known tunes from the ’50s and ’60s.Best are his duets with Norah Jones (“Little Jack Frost Get Lost”) and Sara Bareilles (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”).

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10 More Essential Records from 2014

Posted by Billy Gil, December 8, 2014 06:20pm | Post a Comment

Last week, I posted my top 50 albums of the year. Cause 50 just ain’t enough, here are another 10 essential records from 2014:

Fear of Men Loom

fear of men loom lpFear of Men imagine a world where The Cranberries stayed good, The Sundays really got their due and Belly didn’t flame out. Led by singer/guitarist Jessica Weiss, the band calls to mind alternative/dream pop bands of yesteryear, and Weiss’ vocals call to mind the ethereality of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser crossed with the heartiness of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan. The band’s muscular indie-rock can move in graceful lockstep (“Tephra”) or set a pretty, yet never sappy backdrop over which Weiss can breathily intone, as on the lovely “Seer.” On the album’s most thrilling moments, Weiss will stretch her voice into territory that goes beyond the expected, singing into a lo-fi mic on the gorgeous “Descent” or looping into dizzying layers on standout “Waterfall.” One of the most promising debuts of the year.

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PST's 50 Best Albums of 2014

Posted by Billy Gil, December 5, 2014 02:48pm | Post a Comment

50 Best Albums of 2014

This is how it always works: You think, how am I going to find 50 albums I really liked this year? Then by the end of compiling these things, you’re leaving off records you really liked and realizing that this year didn’t suck so badly after all! Here are the 50 albums I honestly felt were the most well-made, original or enjoyable this year. Check out Aaron Detroit’s list, too, for even more good shit from 2014.

 

1. Sun Kil MoonBenji

sun kil moon benji lpAmid the wrongheaded War on Drugs bashing and indulgent songwriting/self-mythologizing that came with it, it could be easy to forget the brilliance of Benji. But Mark Kozelek’s later-career renaissance reaches its apex on Benji. Whereas songs in his ’90s project Red House Painters were often autobiographical, if morose and romantic, if, to call Benji “confessional” would be an understatement. Not only is it a classic example oversharing in the social media age, it’s just a new classic period, the best thing he’s done since RHP’s heyday. Two songs directly address Kozelek’s love for his aging parents as he himself hits middle age (“I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad” are far from ironic, though they cover ground beyond what their titles suggest). “Dogs” covers Kozelek’s history with women in sometimes excruciating detail, from his first kiss at 5 to getting bathed by two women. Part of what makes Benji so masterful is how Kozelek blends rich physical details, with references to Panera Bread and Pink Floyd records, along with impressionistic accounts, such as his atmospheric telling of what caught his attention in a Led Zeppelin film (“I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same”) and what that says about him as a person. It can be a lot to take in at once—“Micheline” at first feels like a diary dump, though it ends on a touching note about his grandmother—but most of the time, the details are funny or poignant or both, coming through clearly with little more than Kozelek’s wavering, creaking voice and reverbed acoustic guitar. “Ben’s My Friend,” which ends the album with its catchiest song (and curiosity value, due to its titular subject being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie), is a sterling reminder of how many little things add up to the sum of our lives, making a pretty refrain out of “blue crab cakes,” throwing in some horns and flamenco guitar for good measure and tying the album up nicely with a reflective bow. Kozelek may be a cranky old man, but his lifetime of experiences made for enrapturing listening on Benji, which simply has the best songwriting of any music release this year.

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Album Picks: Andy Stott, Sleaford Mods

Posted by Billy Gil, November 25, 2014 09:41am | Post a Comment

Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers (LP, CD)

andy stott faith in strangers lpThough techno/dub producer Andy Stott’s latest release was most certainly made using computers, he’s channeling something otherwordly here. Noirish opener “Time Away” evokes deeds unseen in the middle of the night with its long, foggy tones. Alison Skidmore, Stott’s former piano teacher, lends airy, disembodied vocals for Stott to manipulate and mangle amid squirting synth noise on “Violence,” though some of her seductive intonations give Stott a welcome personality to work with. “Science and Industry” calls to mind Joy Division in its merciless bleakness and clanging beatwork, while “No Surrender” pushes beautiful synth runs into the red, beats bleeding over into one another. Though Stott has the ability to move and sometimes overwhelm you with sound, it’s the silences and sense of space in songs like the title track that make them stay with you, even as “Faith in Strangers” ends up as one of Stott’s most engaging, optimistic compositions. Faith in Strangers isn’t quite as cohesive as his last album, Luxury Problems, but its tracks also feel a lot more like individual songs, rather than parts of one large piece. The source of the creeping menace present in Stott’s music may elude you after finishing Faith in Strangers, but it’s entirely effective in creating a sense of place before unsettling you. Faith in Strangers feels alluringly just out of reach, keeping you delving into its dark passages. Just remember to come up for breath. 

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Weekly Roundup: Sonny & the Sunsets, Jessica Pratt, Tobias Jesso Jr., Colleen Green, L.A. Witch, Susan

Posted by Billy Gil, November 21, 2014 10:11am | Post a Comment

Sonny & the Sunsets – “Cheap Extensions” video

sonny & the sunsets Sonny & the Sunsets have a new album on the way, and they already have an awesome, animated new video for the track “Cheap Extensions.” Follow the tail of a girl and her mysterious extensions over the Sunsets’ hypnotic groove. Talent Night at the Ashram was mostly recorded by Smith at home on his tape machine with the help of friends like Shayde Sartin (The Fresh & Onlys), Garret Goddard (King Tuff), Kelley Stoltz, Rusty Miller and Ian McBrayer. It’s due Feb. 17 on Polyvinyl. Read my interview with Sonny Smith back when they released their terrific last album, Antenna to the Afterworld.

 

Jessica Pratt – “Back, Baby”

jessica prattI missed this new Jessica Pratt song while I was out of town—my bad! Everyone should be aware that it exists, and that the former Amoebite is releasing her second album soon—On Your Own Love Again is due on Drag City Jan. 27. On the first track she’s released from it, Pratt’s elfin voice sings a pensive breakup tune amid loping, seaside acoustic guitar. Absolutely stunning.

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