Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter in a Car

>> Featured Artist: Beirut

I'm going to be completely honest - after two songs, I get a little sick of the Beirut sound. I can't really make it through a listen of an entire Beirut album unless it's there to soundtrack my Sunday morning chores. I think it's his voice or those precious carnival-like arrangements. Something is just a little too much.
Still, each song taken on its own - out of its album context, I admit - really gets my musical senses going. His newest album The Flying Club Cup is chock full of these buggers, and my personal favorite right now is "The Penalty." (And not just because New Jersey is about to do away with one of its.)

>> Album Lookout:
A Wheel Within a Wheel
Southeast Engine - Released: October 16, 2007 Misra

Southeast Engine is a band that is near and dear to my life - and not just because they hail from Athens, Ohio. No the connections run even deeper. They headlined an Elliott Smith tribute show I organized, and their guitar player produced half of my band's first album. So it's hard for me to conceptualize that these guys are on their way to the toppermost of the poppermost. But it's almost as hard for me to think of a band that deserves this recognition more.
For the record, they're not quite there yet. But their trajectory is a very distinct ascent and I wouldn't be surprised if A Wheel Within a Wheel, which displays songwriter Adam Remnant's honest-everyman's lyrics in the context of musical urgency. It could be the weight of the subject matter - much of the album plays as a straightforward conversation about religion and Remnant's progression toward/away from the light. I'd like to say I've witnessed his songwriting mature over the years, but the truth is the material has never really been anything but. If anything, the songs on Wheel are fascinating in that it appears he mostly threw out the verse-chorus-verse formula for a much more progressive song structure, often leading to very short songs. It's clear that this album isn't intended to be taken individually; they're works in a whole.
But enough about Remnant; don't frontmen get enough attention? The guitar layering on this album and the intensity of Leo DeLuca's drumming make it a good listen with or without lyrical content (and I'm not really an instrumental guy). And though I decided it'd be tough to take one song and point to it as representative of what makes the album great, I'm going to do it anyway.
Take a listen to "We Have You Surrounded" and see why a Paste writer listed this album as the second best of the year.

>> Reverting to: Tonight

No reverting back to tonight. Instead, I'm going opine briefly on my latest obsession - Chicago Public Radio and its never-ending source of brilliant podcasts! Maybe it's just me, being trapped in a car a ton lately, but if you haven't subscribed to This American Life or Sound Opinions yet, you need to start doing so now. It's free. There's no excuse.
On that note, the guys over at Sound Opinions seem really down on the much-hyped Feist. Admittedly I'm not familiar with a whole bunch of her work. Sure, we all know the iTunes tune - "1234" - but is she really a corporate-sponsored force destined to send indie rock to its breathy demise? I don't know.
A little housekeeping: this concludes the Toaster's regular content for the year. The next three weeks will feature the year's awards - superlatives (next week), best albums (Xmas!) and the annual Top 100 songs of 2007 (Jan. 1).

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