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The Year in Music, So Far: Best Albums of 2010

With July half over, it’s time to look back over what has already been an incredible year in terms of new releases. I foresee a hard task ahead for myself in December…

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim   – Here Lies Love

I was drawn to this album by the amazing and diverse list of contributors (Florence Welch, Steve Earle, Cyndi Lauper, Kate Pierson, Sharon Jones and Allison Moorer, to name a few) and was held rapt by the stories they told about the life of Imelda Marcos and the disco-infused beats and melodies that swirled around them. A fascinating project and an incredible collection of music, this is currently my favorite album of the year.

Yeasayer – Odd Blood

I liked their debut, but this album really catapulted Yeasayer onto a new level. A delightful blizzard of beeps and blips swirls around a strong crop of songs. And I won’t lie and say that “Ambling Alp” didn’t guide me through a few personally frustrating moments: “Now, the world can be an unfair place at times / But your lows will have their complement of highs … You must stick up for yourself, son / Never mind what anybody else done.”

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

From the moment I first heard the driving tour de force that is “Little Lion Man” on WERS, I was sold. The edgy amalgam of Americana-meets-UK folk rock is a galloping, emotional headrush. Their songs pulse with life and urgency and won’t be denied. This album feels essential, in part because the members of the band play and sing as if their lives depended on it.

The National – High Violet

Is it boring to say that The National have created yet another masterpiece, and that there is little one can offer in the way of critique for their fifth full-length album? Matt Berninger continues to confound and mesmerize, and he and his bandmates continue to expertly weave their layers of lush and compelling songcraft. No, something this captivating can’t be boring.

New Pornographers – Together

This album took a while to grow on me, as I wrote about previously, since I was blinded by my love for “Challengers.” But, like I said, this may be the fullest realization of the band to date. Neko Case really steps out and shines (not that we didn’t already know she was a gem), Dan Bejar is at his most accessible and A.C. Newman continues to steer his pop ship in enlightening directions.

Stars – The Five Ghosts

I first heard this album performed live in its entirety at a concert, so I may be biased, but this is a strong addition to the Stars discography. “We Don’t Want Your Body” is a fun, dance-y track, and I find that there is a lot on this record to groove to. At the same time, appropriate to the title, there are some more grief-stricken moments, as well. That range, of course, is par for the course with Stars.

Hot Chip – One Life Stand

LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (tie)

I’m glad I have another few months to chew on this one for the proper year-end roundup. Both of these albums are dance parties in a box, with solid stand-out tracks like Hot Chip’s “I Feel Better” and LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean.” I have a feeling Hot Chip will win out in the end, but right now, I’m too busy dancing to pick one or the other.

Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

This is a bit fuzzier than I normally go for, but the riffs are tight, the melodies are catchy and as summer winds on, I find myself turning to this album more and more. Must be something about the easy shimmer and faint throwback vibe these guys convey. Roll your windows down for this one.

The Kissaway Trail – Sleep Mountain

One of my favorite albums last year was Wild Light’s “Adult Nights,” and I categorize this band in a similar vein. This is just a fun, varied listen, swooping from broad, epic brushstrokes to muted pockets of falsetto from one moment to the next. Echoes of Grandaddy and the Arcade Fire pop up throughout this lush work. It’s an engrossing listen.

Tracey Thorn – Love and its Opposite

My friend Tim was raving about this album by the lead woman from Everything But the Girl, so I had to check it out. After listening through once streaming online, I had to buy it at the next available opportunity. Her voice is captivating, and these powerful songs are full of elegance and verve. This is a dark horse entry into the top 10 of 2010 so far.

Other high-ranking releases: Magnetic Fields, “Realism”; Ted Leo & Pharmacists, “The Brutalist Bricks”; Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, “Up From Below”; Local Native, “Gorilla Manor”; Laura Veirs, “July Flame”

Disappointments: Bird and the Bee, “Interpreting the Masters, vol. 1″; Broken Bells, “Broken Bells”; Rogue Wave, “Permalight”; Midlake, “The Courage of Others”; The Hold Steady, “Heaven is Whenever”

Surprises so far: Peter Wolf, “Midnight Souvenirs”; John Hiatt, “The Open Road”; Magic Man, “Real Life Color”

What am I missing? I am sure I missed a few of your favorites.

Come back next week to see my favorite songs of the year so far!

Take Five

Second Thoughts

I always rue my hasty decisions.

Back in the day (“the day” being college), I loved Josh Rouse. I drank up the singer-songwriter-y glory of his first two albums, “Dressed Up Like Nebraska” and “Home.” I still remember seeing him live at the Middle East Upstairs — was that my first solo rock show? — and him complimenting my old R.E.M. Tourfilm shirt. Then, he relocated to Barcelona, and the heavy Spanish influences slipping into his music didn’t appeal as much to me. So I slipped off the Josh Rouse radar, and actually ended up selling a few of his more recent albums.

Then yesterday, while driving back from Connecticut, I heard a recent song of his on WERS, “I Will Live on Islands.” And I really, really enjoyed it. I Am Fuel, You Are Friends has some interesting thoughts on Rouse (plus some more MP3s), obviously exhibiting more patience and worldiness than myself on the matter.

Spinner has a free MP3 of the song, so check it out. And watch this La Blogotheque video of Rouse in his adopted environs:

Around the Web

This weekend, I lost my Foursquare mayorship of Newbury Comics. On the other hand, I earned Foursquare mayorship of Planet Records.

I know what you’re thinking. “Groan. Foursquare. Stop talking about Foursquare! Who cares that you’re at the grocery store and you got a badge for it? Not me!”

I won’t go on about web-ly things (that’s for my other blog), but I will say that everyone freaking out about the uselessness of Foursquare needs to calm down. All it is, for me, is a casual gaming overlay for my everyday life. It’s not going to make or break anything, but for an average person, it can be a bit of fun. And for businesses, there is definitely a potential — if well executed — to use it to take advantage of consumer loyalty.

So, whither record stores, the notoriously dying breed? When I got the notification that I lost my mayorship of Newbury Comics, I was genuinely disappointed. In fact, I made a point of visiting Newbury Comics just to check in and begin the process of reclaiming my mayorship. (And I ended up buying the Waterboys’ “This is the Sea,” since in my weird brain, that would justify the check-in. Plus, I wanted the album anyways.)

When I earned my mayorship of Planet Records, one of the last vanguard of standalone used CD/record shops, I was excited. Why? Because I felt more invested. Earning that meaningless, imaginary title upon stopping by to purchase Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy” tethered me more closely to the store, and will probably make me more likely to stop by and browse when I’m next in Harvard Square. Sure, you can say that mayorships and check-ins and what not aren’t real. But maybe they are.

CD stores, particularly used CD stores, face hefty competition from the likes of Amazon.com and iTunes, let alone regional chains like Newbury Comics. Is there a way stores like Planet Records could use something like Foursquare to stand out? After all, loyalty and community are often what is keeping places like Planet going, and services like Foursquare are built around those very principles. (This analysis by one consulting firm highlights using social media to capitalize on a sense of community as one tactic for used CD stores to regain lost ground.)

Foursquare, for all of its virtual goofiness, is grounded in real-life, brick-and-mortar transactions and events. And brick-and-mortar institutions like Planet Records are ones I would like to see stick around for a long time. Let’s see what happens when two worlds collide.

Second Thoughts, Part Two

I have to admit: I bristled a bit upon reading Frank Yang’s recent post about the New Pornographers, wherein he lauds their most recent album “Together” as a “rebound” following the “staid” and “disappointing” “Challengers.” For the record, I absolutely adored “Challengers,” in part because of its indulgence in thoughtfulness and reflection. I couldn’t help it. Those types of songs appeal to me deeply. It’s what makes songs like “The Bleeding Heart Show” and “These are the Fables” among my all-time favorite NP songs. But even Carl Newman admits that “Challengers” faced a backlash because it went so sharply in that direction.

But “Together,” as Yang explains, hearkens back to the jubilant, frenetic pop of “Electric Version.” It is arguably the fullest realization of the NPs to date, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that “Challengers,” which I adore, was likely a transitional aberration. And after some initial resistance, I am remembering that even “Challengers” was a grower on me, and I am embracing “Together” for what it is.

Relatedly, the New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder is coming out with a solo album this summer. Stereogum has the details and a free track.

Live Music

I can’t go due to a previous commitment, but I urge you (if you’re around Boston) to go to the debut show in the Mixtape: Boston’s Year in Rock series this Saturday at the Rosebud in Davis. The series kicks off with a fine year, 1993, and features The Luxury, The Rationales, St Helena and Exile in Somerville (members of Apple Betty, Kingsley Flood, Dark Martini & the Dirty Olives, The So-So’s) covering songs from that era. Go go go go go.

Finds of the Week

Take Five

In the News

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the bargain bin. For a dollar or two — plus a good chunk of time spent digging around — you can find a CD that will change your life. The extra work and savings can make the discovery all the more exciting. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, right?

In recent years, I’ve stumbled across the self-titled album by Owsley in more than one bargain bin. I remember discovering Will Owsley’s debut nearly a decade ago and just rolling in it, listening to it over and over again. I was in a huge power pop phase back then, and Owsley hit just the right spot.

Last Friday, Will Owsley died. Yesterday, he was laid to rest. He was 44.

You may not think much about it, but that album you see for a buck — perhaps even dozens of copies of it for a buck apiece — is a precious thing. It’s someone’s ultimate creative expression, attempting to articulate a depth of feeling in one jewel-cased statement.

Owsley’s two albums, his self-titled debut and his follow-up “The Hard Way,” were his statements, his treasures, and they are made even more precious by his sudden death. It makes me think about those copies of his album, leaning against one another idly in the bargain bin. I hope someone finds them and buys one, listens to it and realizes that they have something really valuable on their hands. I hope it changes their life.

I encourage you to read the touching tributes to Will Owsley by Merlin Mann and John Darnielle and Addicted to Vinyl. But also read Elisabeth’s, because she makes a really important point: “Take the opportunity to tell the artists you appreciate how much and why you appreciate them. Let each other know why you matter.”

It has been a tough year in the music world already. We’ve lost Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous, Alex Chilton and now Will Owsley, three of them by their own hand. This makes the gift they gave us, their music, all the more fragile and valuable. I bet we all wish we had the chance to tell them, as Elisabeth did to Will, that their music mattered to us. Really mattered.

I want to end this commentary with the gift of music, because I think that’s only fitting. First, you can go download the Japan-only sole release by The Semantics, Owsley’s early power pop project with Zak Starkey (Ringo’s son) and Millard Powers. Secondly, I’d like to offer up an Owsley cover that I must have scavenged from Napster back in the day, and I am really glad to still have in my possession.

Goodbye, Will Owsley. I hope you’ve found peace.

Owsley – Last Goodbye (Jeff Buckley cover)

New Releases

Yes, I got the New Pornographers and Hold Steady albums. And yes, they are great. I have no eloquence to shed on them just yet, as I am still drinking them in. But man, are they tasty.

Not exactly new releases, but new to me… the Marshall Crenshaw collection I ordered off of eBay arrived, and it is just as awesome as I’d hoped. I love Rhino collections for their great liner notes, where I learned a lot of Crenshaw’s life, career and evolution as a songwriter. I also got a Steve Earle collection from my YourMusic queue. I am infatuated with his contribution to David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love,” sure, but I long ago got hooked on “I Ain’t Never Satisfied” thanks, once again, to WERS. So I thought I’d dig deeper. I am very pleased with what I’ve heard to date.

Live Music

On Sunday, I decided to hit the Harvard Square Mayfair. I roamed around, catching snatches of the various musical performances and taking it the carnival-like atmosphere. When I came to the Church St. stage, though, I paused. The band playing sounded great, and while I didn’t recognize them, their song sounded familiar. Was it… yes, a cover of Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” which my brain has somehow picked up from the Top 40 ether. The crowd was totally eating it up, dancing and waving their arms.

The band, Darlingside, continued the set with their own songs, and the crowd’s enthusiasm carried over. How could it not? These guys, who brand themselves as a “string rock quartet,” were charming, talented, brandishing mandolins and an electric cellos and playing some catchy, tight songs. Maybe “Tik Tok” whipped them up, but songs like “Surround” (see below) kept the crowd frothing.

Around the Web

As promised, here is my Higher Ed Music Critics blog post compiling my favorite songs of 2010 so far. I used Lala to embed the tracks while I still could, since Apple is closing up the Lala shop. What do you think of my picks? Anything I’m missing?

Also, via Higher Ed Music Critics maestro Andrew Careaga, check out the Brett Domino Trio‘s nerdy Justin Timberlake medley, complete with kazoo and recorder:

Finds of the Week

The Futureheads‘ new album, “The Chaos,” isn’t due out in the US until next month, but it’s available for download now via Amie Street for about $5. Go snag it!

Also, download this free Merge sampler from Amazon MP3 while you can. Magic awaits you therein.

Take Five

Finds of the Week

  • WERS did it again. The other morning, I was sitting at my desk when a vaguely familiar tune began playing. It was crisp, delicious power pop, with an early ’80s sound. I quickly went to WERS.org and saw that the song was “Whenever You’re on my Mind” by Marshall Crenshaw. Before I left for work, I had ordered a two-disc, 30-song collection of his work from eBay.It never ceases to amaze me. Certain songs, even if you’ve only heard them once before, can leave such a profound influence that, even upon hearing them years later, they are raised to the surface and freshly recalled as if the album has been in heavy rotation for years. Or maybe those songs simply contain elements so universal and essential that they sound familiar, like a root language. Either way, when I make those discoveries (or rediscoveries), it’s always a treat.
  • I’ve always been a fan of bargain bins. I love the thrill of possibly unearthing a gem for a pittance. I was lucky enough to do this on Saturday, when I found two Del Amitri albums — “Change Everything” and “Twisted” — for $1 each at Planet Records. I also found a copy of the Mike Viola/Candy Butchers‘ EP “Live at La Bonbonniere,” which I already own but am hoping to offer to a fan who doesn’t have it in their collection. (Any takers?)

New Releases

I couldn’t muster love for the Bird and the Bee‘s Hall & Oates tribute album, and I didn’t know why. It just sounded same-y and uninspired. All of Hall & Oates kitschy, quirky glory had been whitewashed with a muted, hipsterrific veneer. Then, Matt Dyson (@dirkler on Twitter) made me realize why I felt that way. Because it’s true!

When you have The Bird and The Bee take Hall & Oates and treat them as elder statesmen for a tongue-in-cheek society that wants to be taken seriously, what ends up happening is similar to when you watch a bad movie that is in fact much too bad: you watch and giggle for about a half hour, then suddenly get bored with being ironic about it and just want to be entertained.

Second Thoughts

The other evening, I was walking home from work when Roxy Music‘s “More Than This” came on my iPod. I was nearly stopped in my tracks by the all-consuming need to, at that moment, watch the movie “Lost in Translation.” So what did I do? Shortly after I got home, I popped it in, of course. What choice did I have?

I’ve always been a huge fan of that movie — it’s probably in my top 10 of all time. Not just any movie can hold me emotionally rapt even when the viewings have likely entered the double-digits. One of the most compelling things about “Lost in Translation” is the music. Each song so profoundly aligns with the emotion of the scene which it accompanies. The scene featuring “More Than This” — when Bill Murray’s Bob Harris sings it in the karaoke lounge, obviously directing it toward Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte — is taut with longing, and that song represents exactly what both of them are feeling at that moment. No wonder simply hearing that song on my iPod instantly connected me to the movie and tapped my affection for it.

Music has always been an emotional interest for me. I invest a lot in a song — maybe too much — but songs help me understand the world and my own weird life. That said, when I make a mix CD for somebody, it’s rarely just a random collection of recent songs, or genre songs. It’s an emotional journey across the entire arc of a series of events or feelings, whether it’s graduation or moving or finding true love or losing true love. Essentially, it’s storytelling. I’m just using the words and music of others to craft the narrative — as much for myself as the recipient.

The other day, I was preparing to head out to celebrate a friend’s moving to Boston from DC to be with his fiancee. With just a short amount of time before we needed to go, I remembered that I had wanted to make him a mix CD. Somehow, I quickly pulled together a pretty decent mix that reflects a lot of the themes at play — starting a new life in Boston, finally being someplace he considers home, being with his true love, his faith and some other relevant topics.

After I’m done making a mix, I like to listen through it from the perspective of the recipient. I like to consider the reasons I picked a song, then wonder how the recipient might react to that song selection. Do they get what I was trying to say, or not?

I guess it doesn’t matter. I just hope he enjoys listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.

RIYL…

Of all my Amie Street grabs recently, I love The Kissaway Trail‘s “Sleep Mountain” the most. This Danish band has an unpretentious grandeur and a full and lovely sound. They remind me of one of my favorite Norwegian bands, Poor Rich Ones. I really can’t recommend them enough if you want something earnest, fresh, powerful and musically solid.

Looking Ahead

It’s been a great couple of weeks for advance streams of highly anticipated albums. Upcoming albums by the New Pornographers (May 4),  The Hold Steady (May 4) and The National (May 11) have all been available for preview from fine media establishments such as NPR and the New York Times (which also did a really cool profile of the band). Early returns are all positive, and I will be at Newbury Comics with my debit card on the appointed Tuesdays, ready to purchase.

Also, I’m working on a compilation of my favorite songs of the year so far for the Higher Ed Music Critics blog. So stay tuned for a link to that.

Take Five

Finds of the Week

  • Last night, I spent some quality time with iTunes. I seem to have a lot of difficulty keeping my iPod synced to my iTunes, and I am always having to take stuff of the iPod to make room for new music. Well, I’d neglected this task for a while, so I decided to make an evening of it, popping open a Woodchuck pear cider, turning on the Sox and getting to work. The fun part about this task, however, is newly discovering stuff I downloaded or bought weeks ago and either never listened to properly or never listened to at all. Such as…
    • The latest gem churned up by the blog surf is Galapaghost, a uke-wielding, upstate New York-dwelling one man band named Casey Chandler. Find him on MySpace or read what Music for Kids Who Can’t Read Good had to say about him.
    • The Swedesplease blog has long been a favorite of mine, as befitting my fixation on Swedish pop. I also have a fixation on bears. So imagine my delight when a track by a band called Bear Pilot pops up on that blog, and it’s labeled “the best pop song of the year.” We’ll see if that holds up or not, but either way, “The Bravest Year” is definitely a keeper. Here is an older post with Bear Pilot tracks that I had missed, as well.
    • I would say that this song is possibly the best pop song of the year, but apparently I am a year too late. I just discovered Hey Marseilles, by virtue of the fact that their album “To Trunks and Travels” is being re-released on June 29. But a quick spin of my Google Reader reveals that people like debcha were onto their lush pop way before me (probably because they’re from Seattle and she was there, but hey). Anyways, you can download “Rio” for free from their website, and I strongly urge you to do so. Right now. It’s OK, I know you’ll come back here when you’re done.

Live Music

I know I said last week that I was going to be hitting Record Store Day, seeing the New Collisions/Morning Benders and having a grand ol’ time. Well, Saturday turned out to be an epic fail kind of a day, and I didn’t step foot inside a Newbury Comics until 3:30PM, by which time most if not all of the limited edition 7″s and CDs were gone and the New Collisions/Morning Benders had long since broken down their gear. I still grabbed some fun promo discs and, accidentally, saw Mary Gauthier‘s live set at the Harvard Sq. Newbury Comics.

I don’t generally gravitate toward her brand of haunting folk, but I did appreciate seeing her live. She has a gift for narrative in song, performing with her heart on her sleeve and grit in her teeth. There wasn’t as huge a crowd assembled for her set as I’m sure there was for the Morning Benders, but I took great pleasure in seeing these two older couples — late 50s, Cambridge, ex-hippie types — who you could tell were probably on her mailing list and made the trek to Newbury just to see her play a free half-hour set. It was an unexpectedly fun time.

So, while I didn’t have the Record Store Day experience I’d intended to have, I did make it to the Independent on Tuesday night for the New Pornographers listening party, co-hosted by Brad Searles. Since I wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t stay long, but I did hang out long enough to hear the new album, pick up a limited edition mix CD crafted by Carl Newman himself (as well as a fun new poster) and make a new friend. There were other giveaways, included posters, 7″s and tickets to the June concert (plus, for the Twitter-inclined, a hashtag-driven contest to win the entire New Pornographers catalog on vinyl). So I would consider that an hour well spent. And even though I had to filter it through the din of a chatty, busy bar, I could tell that “Together” is a special album. May 4 can’t come soon enough. (Also coming out May 4: the new Hold Steady album, which you can stream in its entirety via NPR.org.)

RIYL…

I am absolutely in love with Auto-Tune the News. The Gregory Brothers take unintentionally hilarious political clips from network/broadcast news, C-SPAN and elsewhere, applying a healthy dose of Auto-Tune and their own songwriting to create warped, wonderful musical medleys on current events. This one is my favorite:

And the good news? You can download the Auto-Tune the News songs from Amie Street. Sure, it’s not the same as watching the videos, but if you’ve watched them as often as I have, they’ll be playing in your head as you listen. So, if you like politics, pop culture and parody, you’ll love this.

Bonus? The Gregory Brothers are really talented, both vocally and musically. When they’re not auto-tuning the news, they are in a band they describe as “Country & Soul, Folk & Roll.” Have a listen on MySpace. They’re quite good.

New Releases

I follow Amie Street on Twitter, and the other day I saw that they had a deal for 50% off music credit. They were also plugging the new releases by Local Natives and Surfer Blood. So I put two and two together, grabbed some discounted credits and applied them toward those albums. I also, since it was still pretty darned cheap, snagged the new Kissaway Trail album.

At Record Store Day, the only thing I bought was Nada Surf‘s new covers album, “If I Had a Hifi,” but I am still colossally backed up on my music listening. So I don’t have a whole lot to report on these albums. But I will.

Second Thoughts

The other night, I found myself downloading another Animal Collective song. “Summertime Clothes.” Goddamnit.

Take Five

Finds of the Week

  • All week, I’ve been enamored with the David Byrne/Fatboy Slim project “Here Lies Love.” Enamored may not be a strong enough word. Maybe a bit obsessed. The story is compelling, the songs are well crafted and the sheer quality of the talent involved in the project is staggering. Byrne does a great job of capturing the flavor of the 1970s-80s club anthems that Marcos reveled in, especially in the title track sung by Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine), and he never sacrifices narrative. In fact, the whole thing hinges on narrative, which may be which I am so captivated by the project. Usually, I’m not a big liner notes person unless the lyrics are involved, but in this case, they are a must-read. You can appreciate the album without the historical baclground, but that’s like listening to it in mono.My favorite song (of the moment) may be Steve Earle’s contribution, “A Perfect Hand,” which is kind of cheesy but I think that’s why I love it so much. It’s also just a great pop song. “It’s a winning combination / if a lady understands / that the king and the queen of hearts / could be a perfect hand.”
  • I admit it. I hadn’t paid much attention to Jakob Dylan since the 1990s heyday of the Wallflowers, despite my abiding appreciation for “Bringing Down the Horse.” When I saw that his new album, “Women and Country,” featured the vocal talents of Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, I was mildly intrigued. But it took Dave pointing out their NPR Tiny Desk concert for me to understand what I was missing. Now, “Women and Country” is very much on my list.
  • I snagged Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” for $7 used at Newbury Comics, and it did not disappoint. I think I’ve sated my DS urges for the time being, but it’s probably just a matter of time before I start digging into Mark Knopfler’s solo catalog. So it goes.

Live Music

Last Friday, as promised, I caught Freelance Whales’ live in-store at Newbury Comics. I got there a hair before 5PM and was able to snag a spot right up front. It turned out that Newbury was having some problems with their PA, so the band ended up playing acoustic. They were unfazed by the technical difficulties and proceeded to deliver a fun half-hour set. “Weathervanes” is a great album, full of friendly pop and delightful instrumentation. Sure, they are cute and guileless, but also quite talented. A fun way to kick off the weekend early.

Being the nerd that I am, I shot some grainy video of “Generator^First Floor” with my Blackberry. Check out the lead singer Judah Dadone’s remarkable resemblance to Mark Ruffalo in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

New Releases

I learned from KEXP that Cloud Cult is releasing a new EP, “Running With Wolves,” on (fittingly) Earth Day. Lucky for me, it’s available for download right now. Four songs for $2.99 is not a bad deal at all, especially when the EP includes their awesome cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” long only available via one of KEXP’s live in studio compilations.

In the News

I’ve spoken a lot about the amazing music I’ve discovered through WERS. Well, this week is one of their biannual pledge weeks. If you support awesome music, pledge some cash to WERS by Apr. 18. You can also tune in and hear some great live performances, to boot.

Looking Ahead

On Saturday, I’ll be heading back to Newbury Comics for Record Store Day. In addition to hopefully snagging some fun promos, I am also looking forward to seeing the New Collisions and the Morning Benders perform live. (Find out if there is a Record Store Day event near you!) Also, at the Independent in Somerville next Tuesday, Brad from Bradley’s Almanac will be hosting a listening party for the upcoming New Pornographers release, “Together.”

Speaking of Cloud Cult, theyapparently have a new full-length, “Light Chasers,” coming out Aug. 17. On top of the new Futureheads album I just found out about (“The Chaos,” coming out June 1, download the track “Struck Dumb” here), this music year keeps getting better and better.

Take Five

I missed Take Five last week because I was in England, but I’m back! Here are my thoughts on all things music this week:

Finds of the Week

  • Yesterday morning, WERS bewitched me again. They played a live version of Dire Straits‘ “Expresso Love,” perhaps the first Dire Straits song I’ve heard outside of their big hits. And I fell in love. Before I went to work, I ordered their album “Making Movies” and placed a couple others on my wishlist. It was one of those moments where everything clicked and I wondered why I hadn’t pursued the Dire Straits back catalog earlier.
  • Boston-based record label Grinding Tapes, which specializes in limited edition and handmade pressings of “socially relevant music in both analog and digital formats,” is adding a new twist to the ol’ promotional compilation. They’re combining the distribution of their compilations with a mix tape/CD swap. The idea is genius. Send ‘em three mix CDs (could be three distinct mixes or three versions of the same mix) and $7 for shipping ($5 if you want a less pretty version of the promo disc), and this summer you’ll receive three random mix CDs plus the promo disc. They will begin accepting submissions on Apr. 16, the same day they open a two-night showcase at the Armory in Somerville.
  • I was delighted to see, on April Fool’s Day, that MBV’s Ryan Catbird shared the video to Nelson‘s “Love and Affection”. True confession: I really liked this song when it first came out. And… I still kinda do. No joke.
  • The New Pornographers song “Crash Years,” from their forthcoming album “Together,” is available via iTunes. As good as “Your Hands (Together)” was, this song is an even more promising glimpse at the new disc. May 4 can’t come soon enough.
  • Music for Ants conveniently bundled new songs by the National, the Hold Steady and LCD Soundsystem in one tidy blog post. Enjoy.

Live Music

On my first day in London, I was jet lagged beyond belief. After having lunch with a friend of my mom’s at the National Portrait Gallery, I retreated across the street to St. Martin-in-the-Fields church to wait out the rain and maybe doze a little in the pews. The church regularly hosts concerts, and I was lucky to encounter a free, open rehearsal for that evening’s concert by London Concertante, a chamber music ensemble. Now, I’m not well-versed in classical music, nor am I a great appreciator of it, but I have to say, that was a fine way to spend a rainy London afternoon. I was impressed by how lush and powerful their arrangements were. Here’s a not-so-great photo of the rehearsal.

RIYL…

My next day in England, I went to Greenwich. I spent some time in a coffee shop, reading the local free lifestyle mag Short List. While reading, I came across a blurb for the band Local Natives, described as “an urban Fleet Foxes.” When I got back in the states, I downloaded the recommended track “Airplanes,” and Short List did not lie. The LA-based band offers catchy grandeur wreathed in harmonies and wonder. Read more about Local Natives from Brooklyn Vegan.

New Releases

Newbury Comics is selling the new, Steven Page-less Barenaked Ladies album for $7.99 this week, but given how steadily the group has gone downhill — and especially with the departure of Page — I was hesitant to throw my eight bucks at it blindly. Luckily, AOL Music is really good about offering free full-album streams of new releases. So I listened to “All in Good Time,” and.. I’ll be spending my $7.99 elsewhere. It’s serviceable, and the band takes the opportunity of Page’s exit to shine a greater spotlight on the talents of Kevin Hearn and Jim Creeggan. But given the high bar the band has set for themselves over the years, it falls way short. I hope they continue to find success, though. Barenaked Ladies is one of my favorite all-time bands, responsible for some of my most important musical moments.

In other news, last week I picked up the Weakerthans‘ new live album and the new Ted Leo, both of which were delightful.

Second Thoughts

Despite the warnings from Dave, I succumbed to AmazonMP3′s $5 offer for the new She & Him. And… yeah, I should have known better. I actually really liked “Vol. 1″ when it came out, but it did not age well. “Vol. 2″ is more of the same. Nothing horrible, but nothing new or great, either. Relatedly, Dave pulled one of the better April Fool’s pranks I saw yesterday, though you’d have to know him (and his unrelenting loathing for all things Zooey Deschanel) to get it.