Saturday, April 28, 2007

Laura Veirs is everything I like in a musician: unconventionally poetic, slightly quirky, and well-read without seeming pretentious. Year of Meteors was the soundtrack to the fall and winter following its release in 2005; the album saw me through a lot of emotional ups and downs, and soothed me in a way that I was both awed by and could relate to.

Her new album Saltbreakers, released in the beginning of this month, is just as good. Continuing her elemental theme, a lot of the songs on Saltbreakers are, obviously, nautical. The opening track, "Pink Light", opens with one of the best opening lines of any album I've ever heard: "Sorry I was cruel, I was protecting myself". The album continues in that vein, taking on relationships in beautiful, intense, and unique ways.

The last time I saw Laura, she was playing The Mercury Lounge here in NYC-- an overly small venue, I thought, given the relative success of Year of Meteors at the time. However, the venue, while full, didn't sell out (surprisingly). She put on a hell of a live show, sounding as good if not better than shes does on the album and hanging out selling her own merch before and after the show. She'll be back on 16 May, this time at the Gramercy Theatre, and I honestly can't wait.

Laura Veirs - Rialto (from Year of Meteors)
Laura Veirs - Pink Light (from Saltbreakers)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A friend of a friend of mine really dislikes musicians who sing in a way that you can hear their speaking accents; he doesn't, therefore, like Missy Higgins. In fact, 95% of people reading this, if they're over 21 and from Australia, probably also don't like Missy Higgins. It's not that she's untalented-- quite the opposite, actually. It's just that she's almost like Britney Spears over there-- her shows are filled with screaming teenage girls who want to be Missy Higgins, and they sing all of her songs really loudly and scramble for setlists when she leaves the stage. Here in the States, where her albums are put out by Warner Bros Records (which, while working a shitty field rep position, is where I first heard of/met Missy years ago), it's less crazy, but ultimately draws kind of the same crowd. Last June I decided to head to a show down at the Canal Room here in NYC, and was shocked how many sixteen year old girls were there screaming Missy's name and the lyrics to her songs like it was an N*Sync concert, desperate to get close to The Higgs. She put on a hell of a show and is truly an amazing performer-- which I knew before that night-- and I will always be up to seeing her live.

Anyhow, in a week's time, Missy's second record, On A Clear Night is finally ready to hit shelves, almost a whole three years after her debut album, The Sound of White was released-- a result of winning Triple J's Unearthed competition a few years prior. That album went 9x platinum, and Missy toured it relentlessly until it just couldn't be toured or played or promoted any more. And now, there's this.

Whereas TSOW was a pretty complete pop album, it still retained a somewhat organic feel to it-- a stark difference to OACN, with very few exceptions ("Forgive Me" being the only one to come to mind, currently). Hours must've been spent at the mixing station for this recording, with full instrumentation for nearly every track, and vocals that are polished to a pretty severe degree. This works just fine, generally speaking, but one of the things I've always loved about Missy is her incredible voice. With all the production on this album, most tracks just feel stifled, and Missy sounds like she's holding back the power of her vocal range and abilities, which is disappointing, to say the least. The lyrics, however, are more mature, and it is a strong recording overall, with songs that are well put-together and produced pretty flawlessly. I guess I just tend to get a little nostalgic for the old days.

I feel too guilty to really share any yet-to-be-released tracks, but a little something from the single never hurt anyone.

Missy Higgins - Steer
Missy Higgins - The Battle (Triple J Demo)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Because I'm a little bit slow, I only recently figured out that Amy Winehouse is playing a show at the newly opened Highline Ballroom here in NYC this May. However, because I only recently figured it out, my only hope of getting tickets is buying them for $150 a pop on craigslist, which I refuse to do. Looks like I'll have to settle for going into my local H&M and listening to "Rehab" blasted over the speakers, which is what happened when I was there last week. I literally hear the song in every "hip" store I go into. And to fully drive home the fact that Amy is beginning to break in the States, my downstairs neighbour blasts Back to Black constantly. On repeat.

Amy is being touted as "the new Lily Allen", though to be fair, Lily Allen is still the new Lily Allen over here, where Alright, Still... is the big prediction for "album of the summer". If you're one of the thousands of people constantly scouring music blogs, it was actually the album of last summer, but who's counting?

In any case, I fell in love with Amy Winehouse a while after Frank, her 2003 album full of smooth R&B and jazzy ballads, was released. Once Back to Black came out, it became clear that music had something special on its hands. Packed with Motown inspired tunes with contemporary subject matter (Nas and weed among them), the album is a brilliant collection, and I couldn't be happier that she's getting all the attention she recently has started to. The press has her pegged as a bit of a party girl, and Amy herself will admit that she likes to have a good time. She recently cancelled a string of UK gigs after falling down during a drunken night out and cracking a front tooth. Call me a sucker, but doesn't that kind of add to her awkward charm? Not to mention that incredible, soulful voice.

Amy Winehouse - Me & Mr. Jones
Amy Winehouse - Fuck Me Pumps

It's only a matter of time before Melbourne's The Basics hit it big. Already, the blogosphere is picking up on their fun, catchy tunes, and the band has a dedicated (if not relatively small, still) following back home in Australia. Not to mention their drummer/lead vocalist is none other than Wally De Backer, the one man band known as Gotye, who released one of the best albums of 2006, Like Drawing Blood. Much like Gotye, The Basics sing and play songs that recall an era gone by, with layered vocals and toe-tapping rhythms that stick in your head for days after hearing them.

The Basics are currently touring the east coast of Australia and their first full length LP, Stand Out/Fit In, will be released there nationally on 5 May. No tour or album release dates for the States yet, but keep your eyes and ears peeled. This is only the beginning for these guys.

The Basics - Just Hold On
The Basics - Second Best

And for good measure:
Gotye - Learnalilgivinanlovin

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chances are, you've either never heard of Sarah Blasko, or you're head over heels in love with her. I am obviously in the latter party, and haven't been able to turn off her latest album, What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have for months. It's quite a departure from The Overture and the Underscore, a synth-heavy, heavily produced record full of songs that were, perhaps purposely, a bit rough around the edges. What the Sea Wants is a more mature, if not more subdued, collection of songs, complete with lush orchestration and compositions that seem a little more solid and a lot more personal than the previous record. One thing that hasn't changed from her previous work is her incredible voice. Blasko has, arguably, one of the best voices in music right now, and she knows exactly how to use it, from the high falsetto that opens "Hammer" to the stark, beautiful vocals on "The Garden's End". There's not one song on the album that gets skipped-- even the "average" tracks are really, amazingly good.

I first heard Sarah roughly two years ago when her soothing pop single "Counting Sheep" played pretty much daily on the satellite radio station at my work. I liked the song enough, but it wasn't until a few months later that I connected the song to Blasko, after a friend sent a mix CD with Sarah's version of "Flame Trees", a Cold Chisel song that she recorded for the film Little Fish. Immediately, I fell in love. What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have only cemented this.

The album, which was released in her native Australia in October 2006, has yet to be released by her North American distributor, Low Altitude Records, but the company lists the release for this spring on its website. The video for the latest single, "Planet New Year", can be seen on YouTube (for the curious), and while you US folks wait for the album, here's a few tracks to hold you over.

Sarah Blasko - Planet New Year
Sarah Blasko - Always On This Line

It's been nearly three years since my last music blog. You may or may not remember the poorly written, slightly apropos Nit-Pick. If you don't, you're not missing much, but I have been feeling a bit nostalgic as of late for the days of adding my voice to the chorus on this band or that. That being said, hopefully we'll get going around here with some good music, and it'll keep going for a while.