Crooked Still

Like most people, I enjoy listening to various genres of music. Alternative, folk, indie, pop, rock, hip hop… If it’s pleasant to the ear and I consider the product to be completed with tact and care, I’ll almost always give it a chance. However, there are a few genres that I have trouble connecting with. Perhaps I simply haven’t given these areas of music enough attention to fully appreciate them. While some types of music continue to suffer from this lack of understanding (e.g. country and heavy metal), one in particular has crept its way into my heart through the vessel of an unbelievably talented group of musicians.

I suppose Crooked Still would most fittingly be labeled an alternative bluegrass band. Aoife O’Donovan provides the lead vocals, and I must say her voice is stunning. The band as a unit is one of the most technically proficient I have ever witnessed live. Each and every individual is ready to improvise a masterful solo on a moments notice, with the other members providing strong support. I think it’s so amazing that fiddler Brittany Haas, banjo player Gregory Liszt, or cellist Tristan Clarridge have the ability to take over a song and put the crowd into a frenzy.

Perhaps you are like me and aren’t sure if an alternative bluegrass band is for you? Put your doubts aside and look no further than Crooked Still!

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Camp by Childish Gambino

Alright, so the verdict is in, and Childish Gambino is officially the shit! After listening through his first commercial release Camp (November 15) a few times, I’m absolutely hooked. His talent is undeniable. As a rapper, there are few out there that can compete with his brand of clever lyricism (in my opinion, Gambino is nearly at Kanye’s level). When a hip hop album can sustain my attention solely through the magic of its words, I consider that a special record. ‘Camp’ definitely does that for me. Several of the songs on this album are Glover sharing his experiences from childhood, and the honesty is refreshing. The content definitely reminds me of Kanye West’s early work (à la ‘College Dropout’ or ‘Late Registration’), before his ego exploded.

The composition of the music and beats is wonderful. Songs were produced by Glover himself and Ludwig Gorannson, a Swedish composer. Some of the songs stick to club beats, whereas others use a variety of instruments such as (but not limited to) guitar, violin, piano, and xylophone. Gambino’s voice as an R&B singer is impressive. The fact that he can carry the verses as a rapper and the choruses as a singer is proof of his versatility.

Donald Glover is a triple threat. He can act, do stand-up, and put together a very solid hip-hop album. Two of the songs from my previous post on Childish Gambino are also off of ‘Camp.’ Enjoy!

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Childish Gambino

I have been familiar with Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) since the debut of Community, but I was not aware of his talent as a rapper, singer, and producer (beyond the goofy raps he delivers with Danny Pudi on the show). Considering the fact that I just started listening to Childish Gambino today, some might consider a post premature. I have already come across a number of tracks that I really enjoy, so I figure why not share and continue to research.

Childish Gambino holds an arsenal of weapons to slay beats, namely a strong lyrical sense (e.g. Kanye) and the ability to sing R&B (e.g. Drake). The beat on ‘Bonfire’ reminds me a bit of the production on Kanye’s ‘Power’ (tba: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), but Gambino’s raspy delivery is all his own. ‘Got This Money’ uses a variety of instruments and sounds, including a nice guitar riff, what sounds like a xylophone, and a dance-worthy electronic beat. Because I am just getting to know this artist, I would love to hear some more opinions about how you think he compares to other rappers.

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Goodbye Sky Harbor by Jimmy Eat World

I have been a fan of Jimmy Eat World since high school. They’re an awesome band that have paved the way for many alternative, emo, and punk artists. One of my favorite albums of all time is their self-titled record (more commonly remembered as the Bleed American album), which contains a slew of hits including ‘The Middle’ and ‘Sweetness.’ Lucky for me, I have been able to see J.E.W. in concert twice, the most recent time being at the Fillmore in San Francisco. They performed the Bleed American album in its entirety, and I was truly in heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever worked up more of a sweat at a concert…

The thing is, the album only runs around 47 minutes for 11 songs. The crowd pretty much expected a lengthy encore, and we were NOT disappointed. Their opener in the encore was a song I had never heard, but I was completely blown away. Goodbye Sky Harbor is the closing number from their ‘Clarity’ album. It features some really nice instrumentation and great buildups throughout the song. I must say that I was most impressed by the looping section that begins at around the three minute mark (and dominates the majority of the song). Lead singer Jim Adkins really shows off his vocal abilities and blends multiple layers of sound to create something spectacular.

The album version might be a bit excessive and ambitious for some, so I will include the condensed live version from the Fillmore show below.

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William Fitzsimmons

In 2010, I stumbled upon the remarkable William Fitzsimmons. This guy has what I consider to be the silkiest voice around, and understated talent to boot. Much of his material is emotional, clearly dredging up negative memories of failed marriages, the divorce of his parents, and a difficult home life growing up. Fitzsimmons was raised in a home with two blind parents and went on to become a therapist at a mental hospital.  His compassion, intelligence, and ability to communicate emotion shine through the beauty of his music.

I’d also like to make note of ‘Derivatives,’ an album where a number of his songs from a previous record have been remixed in an electronic fashion. ‘So This Is Goodbye’ was one of the best tracks I discovered last year (take a listen below).

Trying to select the perfect songs that demonstrate William Fitzsimmons’ genius is a daunting task. If you are unfamiliar with his work, do yourself a favor and check him out. I recommend that you watch the entire Deep Rock Drive show, which can be accessed on YouTube.

Oh, did I forget to mention his gargantuan, luxurious, epic, and god-like beard? My bad.

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Say Anything

Why do we listen to music?

Vague question, I know, but I believe the answer can reveal a lot about the genres and types of artists we end up listening to. Sometimes we want to hear something pleasant to the ears. Other times we need something to feel on a rhythmic level. Or just maybe we might be looking to find music that we can connect with on a personal level. Whether this be spiritual, emotional, or some other reason, music has the power to dig deep, right to the core of our being.

I love the sound of Say Anything. The band is real, gritty, and honest (sometimes maybe even a bit too honest–see ‘Every Man Has a Molly’ below). They have range in that their material can be presented in an acoustic set with lead singer Max Bemis, in a rock-and-roll show, or even a heavily-produced style that has been likened to the music of rapper Timbaland. However, all these reasons don’t begin to explain why I love and respect this band.

Lead singer Max Bemis has been open about his struggles with mental health, in particular his fight with bipolar depression. His state of mind influenced the tone of each album. Bemis admitted that he used drugs and alcohol to deal with his issues, but by no means romanticized these actions. His honesty was refreshing, and I could relate.  I have personally dealt with serious anxiety since I was a child. At several points in my life, I have experienced crippling panic attacks that really bring me down. Life can be hard, but Max Bemis has shown me that it is possible to overcome its obstacles.

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Take This to Your Grave by Fall Out Boy

For a long time, music has played a huge role in my life. Not that I possess the knowledge or know-how to dive into the specifics or technical aspects of the songs that I hear. I do, however, feel that I have a pretty good ear and can readily identify music of value or substance. I can clearly recall the first time I heard ‘Chicago Is So Two Years Ago’ by Fall Out Boy. I was playing with some friends at a local tennis court when I started listening to one of their mp3 players. Everything about the song immediately hit me: the melody, the strong punk rock instrumentation, and the vivid lyrics. I went home, researched the band, and ended up finding an album that I still consider to be my favorite of all time.

Have I found more talented artists or better constructed albums since? Without a doubt, I have. Be that as it may, this does not seem to change the fact that Take This to Your Grave can still stir something within me that very few (if any) albums can. Perhaps it will forever be associated with nostalgic days of happiness, when I was able to enjoy life as a teenager with little responsibility and an unbound passion for discovering new musical artists. Whatever the reason, this album will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Bon Iver

Initially, it was my intention to focus on a single Bon Iver song (Perth) from his relatively new self-titled album, but I’ve decided I simply can’t do that. He’s just too damn good. Bon Iver is a fresh and versatile artist, demonstrated in the contrasting styles of his two albums. If you are looking for a gloomy and powerful album driven by pure emotion, I urge you to check out “For Emma, Forever Ago.” Justin Vernon (mastermind of Bon Iver) composed the entire album in an isolated cabin within the Wisconsin wilderness, recovering from a break-up and mononucleosis. While his second album (“Bon Iver, Bon Iver”) is not quite so heart-wrenching, I consider it just as strong and one of my favorite albums of 2011.

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City and Colour

City and Colour is a side project of Dallas Green, lead singer of the former band Alexisonfire.  While City and Colour may have started as a way for Green to share his solo work with true Alexisonfire fans, it has received much acclaim and is currently undergoing a world tour (2011). With acoustic, folk, and indie influences, the work of City and Colour contains a wealth of impressive material.  Ranging from pure acoustic tracks to richer sounds featuring a full band, Green has created beautifully composed songs that listeners can really connect with on many levels.

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