Wounded Messenger’s Top 12 Albums and Concerts of 2012

If I replace a top “ten” albums or concerts of the year list with a number corresponding to the year, by 2030 I won’t even have to decide anymore.

It’s dangerous and a bit cheesy, just like most popular music. But I will give in to the urge to not have to chop two more albums off this list and roll with my top 12 albums of 2012, in alphabetical order.

Ben Folds FiveThe Sound of the Life of the Mind
Choir of Young BelieversRhine Gold
Father John MistyFear Fun
Hiss Golden MessengerPoor Moon
Maps and AtlasesBeware and Be Grateful
Matthew E. WhiteBig Inner
The Mountain GoatsTranscendental Youth
Patterson HoodHeat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance
Punch BrothersWho’s Feeling Young Now?
Sharon Van EttenTramp
Tame ImpalaLonerism

What’s that you say? Serve myself? OK, here are 5 honorable mentions, AKA albums 13 through 17….

First Aid KitThe Lion’s Roar
Jason LytleDept. of Dissappearance
Jimmy Herring BandSubject to Change Without Notice
Titus AndronicusLocal Business
WoodsBend Beyond

If you follow the Twitter, you know I saw a ton of shows in 2012. Here are my 12 favorites, in alphabetical order.

The Grandmothers of Invention – Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC
The Hold Steady – Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC
Journey/Pat Benetar/Loverboy – Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC
Matthew E. White – Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh, NC
Puscifer – Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN
Roger Waters – PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN
Superjam – Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN
Toon & The Real Laww – Pour House Music Hall, Raleigh, NC
Warren Haynes Presents The Christmas Jam – Asheville, NC
White Denim/Maps and Atlases/Tiny Victories – The Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NC
Victor Wooten Band/Jimmy Herring Band – Carolina Theater, Durham, NC

Look for live tweets from the 24th Warren Haynes Christmas Jam this weekend, and a review too. Happy Holidays!

Update: New Album Review and Two New Concert Reviews, Plus Photos

I’ve been stupid busy lately with shows. Thankfully I have a couple of weeks off until more great music rolls our way.

Here’s what I’ve been up to over the last few weeks:

Concert Review – White Denim, Maps and Atlases, Tiny Victories at Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NC

Album Review – The Infamous Stringdusters, Silver Sky

Concert Review – Jimmy Herring Band & Victor Wooten Band, Carolina Theater, Durham, NC

Enjoy these shots from the shows!

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Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore – Dear Companion Album Review at Glide Magazine

My review of the Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore album Dear Companion is now up at Glide Magazine. The album features My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James as contributor and producer, and the proceeds from the sale of the album go to help combat the devastating practice of mountaintop removal. Read the review here and buy the album here.

Festival Update: Camp Bisco, Bear Creek, and More

We’ve got our eyes on a couple of new additions to our festival watch list – Camp Bisco 9 and Bear Creek Music Festival. Camp Bisco 9 is shaping up to be one of the most successful events of the year, and it’s still more than 5 months away. The event, which takes place July 15-17, 2010, in Mariaville, NY, sold out of the first batch of presale tickets and opened up a whole new presale period. The lineup for this one will undoubtedly be amazing and unpredictable, so check here and the festival website for updates.

The fine folks behind the Bear Creek Music Festival, held every year at Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, FL, have taken a unique approach to their 2010 event. Tickets are already on sale and the lineup has already been announced for the festival, with is still 9 months away. I suppose their philosophy is sound – the longer tickets are on sale and the lineup circulating, the more buzz and press there will be. I must say, a $99 early bird ticket is a hell of a deal for the jamgasm of a lineup – Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Garaj Mahal, Lettuce, Soulive, George Porter Jr, Toubab Krewe, Zach Deputy, Will Bernard, and “artists-at-large” Fred Wesley, Skerik, Mike Dillon, The Shady Horns, and Kofi Burbridge are just a sampling of the monster funk lineup.

Bonnaroo rumors and confirmations continue to fly, with Wale announcing his plans to be on the farm and Zac Brown Band confirming their inclusion as well. As of right now, it looks like the speculators will be right on with their predictions of Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon, Pavement, and others.

We’re looking for anything we can find about Lollapalooza, High Sierra, All Good, Mile High, Austin City Limits, and other events, and we’ll be sure to post as soon as we hear anything!

Album Review: Vampire Weekend – Contra

It’s a cliche that often holds true – a stunning debut album foretells a slight letdown for a band’s next release. Well, don’t expect a letdown from this sophomore known as Contra. All of a sudden, Vampire Weekend’s short career seems incredibly promising, because Contra is equally as engaging and addictive as their first album. Thankfully, it is also very, very different. The band have not allowed their ubiquitous debut to influence their new musical path, and those who grew tired of the band’s overexposure would do well to give this album a dedicated listen.

Their peppy, preppy pop sound is still intact but they haven’t limited themselves to re-hashing the same formula of gently African-influenced indie rock. Instead, they’ve opened up the whole of their audio toy box, creating gems like “White Sky,” which simultaneously channels Paul Simon and Hot Chip. “Taxi Cab” takes the listener on a melancholy ride through mesmerizing piano figures, elegant melodic interludes, and sparse electronica. Perhaps the most ambitious track, “Run,” embraces the ears with lush, limitless sounds, from synthesized horns to pinging Postal Service-style electropop and dominant drumming reminiscent of u2’s Larry Mullen Jr.

“Holiday” is perhaps most reminiscent of their trademark sound, a straightforward creation with inconsequential lyrics and bouncy rock rhythms. “California English” also bears the unmistakable pulse of Africa-meets-NYC listeners have come to love, but this time there’s a string section and increased electronic manipulation. The exhausting “Cousins” puts the entire band’s abilities to the test, as manic, cascading guitars dart around a frantic beat and unflappable bass work.

For most of this album’s audience, gripes will be minimal. The general uselessness of the lyrics can be irritating despite the appeal of Ezra Koenig’s mellow vocals, and “Giving Up the Gun” doesn’t fit in as well as the rest of the album. Also, the final track, “I Think Ur A Contra,” isn’t going to garner many repeat plays. Still, Contra is just about all we could hope for from Vampire Weekend. Under intense critical scrutiny and palpable fan pressure, they have delivered a mature, forward-looking, and wholly exciting release.

Rating: 8.1 out of 10

Album Review: Mike Doughty – Sad Man Happy Man

Sad Man Happy Man is a perfectly fitting title for a Mike Doughty album. Anyone who reads the guy’s blog or follows his career knows how alternately volatile and friendly he can be, and his latest album might be the best representation of that divide since his first solo effort, Skittish. This album is more sparse and intimate than his last release, the shimmering pop effort Golden Delicious, and it’s no coincidence. Doughty has said that he consciously went back to sound that is not as fully produced and fleshed out for Sad Man Happy Man, since different cliques of his fans seem to like different things.

Apparently, some of those fans told Doughty that they liked Golden Delicious more than anything he ever did with Soul Coughing. Those people probably weren’t huge Soul Coughing fans to begin with. While Golden Delicious is Doughty’s finest effort since Soul Coughing disbanded, it hardly seems possible that, if given the choice, someone who genuinely loved Soul Coughing would prefer Doughty’s solo work. Anyway, we now have Sad Man Happy Man, an apparent attempt to sate the other groups of fans – the ones who like their Doughty with less sheen. The whole of the album is performed by Doughty, with just a little of Scrap Livingston’s cello here and there, giving the entire affair a personal, intimate vibe. It’s not on the same fearful, huddled tip as Skittish, but it’s close. Continue reading

Coachella Lineup is Out!

Coachella is both huge and spectacular this year, perhaps even more so than most years. The music lineup was announced today, and it features a slew of must-see acts, rare appearances, and old favorites. Get more info at their website. Personally, Porcupine Tree, Plastikman, Hot Chip, Them Crooked Vultures, Whitest Boy Alive, Jay-Z, Gorillaz, Pavement, and Thom Yorke would be worth my money!

Mike Doughty – New Album, Duo Tour

The first full week of October 2009 will be an exciting one for Mike Doughty and his fans, as the now-grizzled songwriter unveils his sixth “solo” release and embarks on a 31-date tour with band mate Andrew “Scrap” Livingston. The album, titled Sad Man Happy Man, will be released October 6, and the tour begins a couple of days later in Pittsburgh, PA.

The tour, another in a series of “Question Jar” tours that finds the eloquent Doughty fielding all manner of questions from his audience, features the duo format of Doughty on guitar and vocals along with Livingston on bass/cello.

Tour Dates:

  • 10/08 Club Cafe Pittsburgh, PA
  • 10/09 Club Cafe Pittsburgh, PA
  • 10/13 Beachland Ballroom Cleveland, OH
  • 10/14 The Ark Ann Arbor, MI
  • 10/15 Schubas Chicago, IL
  • 10/16 Schubas Chicago, IL
  • 10/17 Shank Hall Milwaukee, WI
  • 10/18 Blueberry Hill St. Louis, MO
  • 10/20 Zanzabar Louisville, KY
  • 10/21 3rd & Lindsley Nashville, TN
  • 10/22 Melting Point Athens, GA
  • 10/23 Eddie’s Attic Atlanta, GA
  • 10/24 Evening Muse Charlotte, NC
  • 10/25 Grey Eagle Asheville, NC
  • 10/27 Arts Center Carrboro, NC
  • 10/28 The Southern Charlottesville, VA
  • 10/29 The Birchmere Alexandria, VA
  • 10/30 Sellersville Theatre Sellersville, PA
  • 10/31 Le Poisson Rouge New York, NY
  • 11/12 Iron Horse Northampton, MA
  • 11/13 Regatta Bar Cambridge, MA
  • 11/14 Stone Church Newmarket, NH
  • 11/15 One Longfellow Square Portland, ME
  • 11/17 Higher Ground Lounge Burlington, VT
  • 11/18 Revolution Hall Albany, NY
  • 11/19 Westcott Theatre Syracuse, NY
  • 11/20 Castaways Ithaca, NY
  • 11/21 Town Ballroom Buffalo, NY
  • 11/22 Mountain Stage Charleston, WV
  • 11/24 Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center Harrisburg, PA
  • 11/25 Recher Theatre Towson, MD

Fans can already hear two songs from the album at Mike Doughty’s website: “You Should Be Doubly Gratified” and his cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

Album Review: SeepeopleS – Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2

During “What’s Missing,” the lush, schizophrenic track that opens Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2, SeepeopleS front man Will Bradford creepily announces, “what’s missing is old fashioned justice.” He’s on about something sinister and corrupt, but he could easily be talking about the puzzling path his band has traveled for the last 7 years. For the third time, SeepeopleS has released a stellar album.  If there was any justice, this criminally ignored band would garner at least a fraction of the attention paid to the inconsequential musical abominations that populate the sales charts.

Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2 (ACV2 for short) doesn’t necessarily expand or add to themes established in Volume 1, an overtly desperate record that was released in the midst of George W. Bush’s reign. Rather, ACV2 continues a creative and musical concept that Bradford has been nurturing for nearly a decade. The lyrical content is often gripping, even morbid by some standards, but altogether thoughtful and at times touching. The music is a stylistically manic collection of ethereal electronics, agitated guitar rock, atmospheric pop, and acoustic-based song craft. At times, all of these elements collide in a massive melodic bang, and that’s when SeepeopleS truly shines.

The band tries some new things and also revels in their trademark ideas, scoring their dense sonic foundation with Bradford’s diverse vocal styles. Noted Boston producer Will Holland, who has helped mastermind all of the band’s finest moments in the studio, is back with more digital sorcery, which falls right in with what Bradford’s been up to lately (namely the electronic project Freepeoples Frequency). The album also represents a transition in the makeup of the band, as charismatic keyboardists trade place. Former Perpetual Groove keyboardist Matt McDonald has joined the band, but the album still features contributions from longtime keyboardist Peter Keys.

The addition of McDonald ties right in with the electronic leanings and epic scope of the average SeepeopleS song. Still, it wouldn’t be a SeepeopleS album without a wide range of music to ingest, and ACV2 combines the best of the band’s many worlds. The aforementioned “What’s Missing” is a true headphone track full of dramatic strings, acoustic guitar mixed with teeming soundscapes, synthesized chaos, and foreboding vocals. “What Makes It Go” showcases their sense of trancey, dubby elements in an instrumental format, bringing to mind the intermittent ambient journeys and dubbed-out rock of 2004’s The Corn Syrup Conspiracy. These tracks line up in a row with the drastically different “Modern Times,” in which Bradford brandishes his solid grasp of eerie elements and sophisticated songwriting. A demented ragtime hue brings the pulsating pop tune alive as a wild sonic scene unfolds in the background.

Bradford experiments with higher-pitched vocals a few times, pairing them with reggae-tinged verses and a gently exploding chorus on “Used to Know” and a My Morning Jacket-like Prince impersonation on “Big Heart (Modern Love Song).” “Big Heart” is like nothing the band has attempted before, and it works. A soulful, slightly dysfunctional chunk of warmed-over groove sounds surprisingly good in Bradford and Holland’s hands, and it’s refreshing to hear a ‘peepS song that isn’t disproportionably weighted by political heft or cranial spelunking – just good ‘ol longing and loss. Plus it’s got a monstrous bass groove that’s quite representative of bassist Dan Ingenthron’s voluminous style.

Other emotional manifestos are shouted through a megaphone, as on the cannonball of a song called “The Most Famous One,” or richly executed, as seen in the contemplative “Face the Day.” Bradford looks inward as much as outward on ACV2, which is a departure of sorts. “These Games” is a song of severe resignation and turmoil resolved, with the familiar Bradford stamp of eloquent dread – “When I try to calculate the future of the human race, I wonder if any of us can win these games,” he says, before admitting that he “want(s) to play something else.” “Round 12” also reflects his exasperation with the trials of life, the titular boxing metaphor facilitating a narrative on the endless struggle of humans against their own emotions. “When you Can’t Stand” would have fit right in on The Corn Syrup Conspiracy with it’s urgent rhythm and alarmingly resonant vocals, and “I Got One Thing” has the strummy, intellectual pop vibe so prevalent on ACV1.

The band’s thematic and musical consistency – which is crystallized in the closing “Last Breath Reprise,” fully tying Volumes 1 and 2 together – doesn’t hold them back from breaking new ground. “Big Heart,” “What’s Missing,” “The Most Famous One,” and others map out plenty of new territory that’s sure to be exploited in the coming years. “The Most Famous One” is one of the most representative songs the band has ever recorded, capturing their raucous rock side, exhibiting their creativity in the vocal department with plenty of conceptual harmonies and construction, and jumping wildly between rhythmic and melodic styles, leaving the listener breathless in the process. To the initiated, the stunning sounds and production perfection found on Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2 is not a surprise. SeepeopleS has constructed another timely album that conveys the uneasy hope and lingering hostility of our world circa 2009.

Rating: 9.1 out of 10

This album can be downloaded for free at the band’s website.

News Fragments: Jay-Z Replaces Beastie Boys at All Points West, Bright Eyes Close Forever, California Left Standing For Phish Festival 8, New Built to Spill Album, Leonard Cohen Returns

In the wake of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s announcement that he has cancer, the band’s album and tour plans have been postponed indefinitely. Replacing the Beasties at the upcoming All Points West Festival will be NYC’s own Jay-Z, making his first ever U.S. festival appearance.

Conor Oberst (or as I like to call him, Conor Oh-Burst-Into-Tears) has announced that the entity known as Bright Eyes will release one more album before the moniker is retired. Seems to me it’s about time, and his new project is better anyway.

-Phish have been playing all kinds of geographical mind games with their fans over the last few weeks. Their website has featured a splash page map of the U.S. that announces a Phish festival from October 30 – November 1, but no location has been given. States have been removed from the map in a variety of creative ways, but things got really interesting on July 13th when California – assumed and nearly confirmed to be the location by most – disappeared from the map. A large portion of fans saw this as just another way for the band to monkey with the emotions of the masses, and they were right, since California reappeared on the map earlier today. It’s confirmed – Phish Festival 8 is happening in Indio, at Empire Polo Grounds, as was rumored all along. Tickets go on sale Monday July 27.

-Built to Spill have announced a new album, There is No Enemy, and some show dates. That’s always good.

After 15 years, the formidable Leonard Cohen is touring, and people in my area got a nice surprise when a date at the Durham Performing Arts Center was announced.