Moroccan Role: October 2006

Moroccan Role

A Totally Kiler Music/MP3 Blog.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Califone - Roots & Crowns

In this era of ever-decreasing attention spans and what's the next-next-big-thing mentality of many indie music fans (sadly, I am sometimes in this camp), it is a sign of a truly special album that compels one to go back and discover the entirety of the relevant band's back catalog. Such was the case upon hearing Califone's new album Roots & Crowns. Admittedly, I was pretty much a Califone newbie prior to my listening to this album, but I have since acquired both Heron King Blues and Quicksand/Cradlesnakes. My only question is how this band managed to fly under my radar for so long-- I'd heard a few songs here and there ("2 Sisters Drunk On Each Other", "Don't Let Me Die Nervous", and "Mean Little Seed"), but for some reason or another, I'd never given them a remotely fair shake.

Roots & Crowns has not received the hype or blog love it deserves. While bloggers drooled all over Grizzly Bear's Yellow House, I've encountered scantly a mention of this album, which is strange because I cannot help but think fans of that album would actually enjoy Roots & Crowns even more. For me, Yellow House is a strong album pervaded by a pleasant atmospherics and solid production, but the songwriting seems sometimes secondary to the overall sonic feel. Don't get me wrong, I think "On a Neck, On a Spit" is hell of a track and I'm still giving the album some spins...but, nothing on that record excites me the way this new Califone record does.

This album couldn't have came along at a better time for me-- as I was suffering through a pretty significant drought of exciting new music and this was almost exactly the kind of record I wanted to hear. Roots & Crowns is abstract and rewards multiple spins, but is also incredibly enjoyable right out of the box. It has plenty of experimental components but any avant-garde tendencies never obscure the actual songs, sounds both incredibly fresh yet deeply rooted in rustic Americana elements, and, perhaps most importantly, has the indescribable and elusive flow that is requisite of a great album.

Considering she is one of my favorite rock critics, it comes as no surprise that Amanda Petrusich's review for Pitchfork was insightful and incredibly well-written and I do not see how I could improve on her concluding paragraph: "Califone have always been stupidly underappreciated, and the further we stumble into the 21st century, the more this music starts to feel both familiar and necessary: Roots and Crowns is bluesy and soulful without reverting to revivalist schtick, and experimental without relying on blind cut-and-pasting. It is old and new, dirty and clean, alienating and accessible, sweet and ugly, organic and industrial, doting and vicious. It is one of the most quintessentially American records imaginable."

At the risk of sounding like a broken record lately, this album has entered the short-list for my favorite of the year within about 5 complete listens. This record evokes exactly the kind of feeling that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. A feeling of genuine excitement and joy upon hearing a silly little piece of music. A feeling that compels me to share this music with anyone who'll read/listen. A feeling, as instanced by the lack of post recently, that has been exceedingly rare as of late. For that feeling-- thank you, Califone.

MP3: Califone - "The Orchids" (link via Pitchfork Media)
MP3: Califone - "Burned by the Christians"
MP3: Califone - "Spider House" (link via Cokemachineglow)
MP3: Califone - "3 Legged Animals" (link via Cokemachineglow)

Buy the album here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

October 3rd was a big day for album releases (Hold Steady, Killers, Beck) and in an effort to catch-up a little, it is high-time I posted something on my favorite album to be released that day and one of my favorite albums of 2006. Having been in heavy rotation for well over a month, I have no reservation in placing this album among the highest tier albums released this year.

The Crane Wife is the Decemberists major label debut and is yet another strong effort from Colin Meloy's troupe. This album continues the tradition of the band topping itself with every release and considering that Picaresque was one of my Top 10 albums of 2005, this was/is no easy task. The Decemberists really have their work cut out for themselves next time around, as The Crane Wife is a truly impressive work.

The album opens perfectly with "The Crane Wife 3" and doesn't look back. The pacing and track sequencing is nearly flawless and there is a musical versatility present that helps the band fully realize strengths only hinted at on previous albums. The multi-part, 12+ minute prog epic "The Island" which is divided into three parts ("Come and See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Hear the Drowning") builds slowly, yet purposefully and hits it climax when Meloy unleashes a "La-aaahhh" falsetto, which is unlike anything else we've heard from him to this point and one of the album's finest moments. Other highlights include "O, Valencia!", one of their best straight-forward pop songs to date, "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" a strong folk-rock duet with singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, and "Summersong" a bittersweet ode to the end of (you guessed it) the summer.

The "Crane Wife" series is divided into 3 parts and comprised of 2 songs (with parts 1 & 2 grouped together). The aforementioned "The Crane Wife 3" is great tune and a perfect selection to open the album, but still slightly pales in comparison to first part in this series. "The Crane Wife 1" begins as a finger-picked folk ballad with a great vocal melody and slowly crescendos into the track's soaring chorus, which is one of the best and most memorable on the album. I happen to agree with Derek from Good Weather for Airstrikes in that part 1 is much stronger than part 2 and the album could have probably benefited from separating these songs into individual tracks.

"Sons And Daughters" closes the album on a high note and completes what can only be described as an "impressively realized song cycle". Colin Meloy's superb songwriting (highlighted by hyper-literate lyrics and the usual cast of rogues, thieves, and star-crossed lovers) are the focal point of much of the record, but it may be the fact that rest of the band are able to spread their wings a bit that makes The Crane Wife their best album yet.

MP3: The Decemberists - "The Crane Wife 3"
MP3: The Decemberists - "Summersong"

Buy the album here.

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

It's taken me a bit of time to get around to post about this album (or on anything else for that matter), but better late than never I suppose. When writing about a much-publicized album an entire week after its release, a music blogger runs the risk of being viewed as incredibly behind the curve and as a complete hack, but alas, I still plan to post on the Decemberists' new album as well.

The album has been heralded by virtually every publication that has reviewed it and my personal favorite line written about the album was this one from All Music: "This is a smoking little record. Its focus is small, its reach is large; it's a winner." Right on. If you've yet to hear it, just give in and invest 40 minutes in this album. One complete spin and you'll be on-board with the rest of us. Did it merit the months of hype and incredibly enthusiastic 9.4 rating it received from Pitchfork? Probably not. However, it is a concise, fun, and rocking effort; one that really shouldn't be scrutinized on any deep that should just be enjoyed without over-thinking it.

Released the same day as the Killers' much-maligned sophomore album Sam's Town, some comparisons were made between the two albums. First thing's first, the bands sound nothing alike-- but, they do share a strong Springsteen influence on their new albums. Where, as P-fork's Rob Mitchum correctly pointed out, the Killers' Boss aping all-too-often resulted in cheesy cringe-producing Meat Loaf-type faux grandeur, the Hold Steady seem much more genuine when channeling Bruce and crafting tales of common people struggling in a nearly poetic fashion. (See also, Pitchfork's spot-on review of Sam's Town)

Boys and Girls in America is not as conceptual or large in scope as its predecessor, Separation Sunday, but it is more immediately accessible and a stronger overall record. My only real complaint about the album: I still kinda cringe every time I hear the female singer on the first chorus of "Chillout Tent"; it's pretty awful. As always, frontman Craig Finn's vocal style (more speak, less sing) will still rub some the wrong way, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any indie rock fan that couldn't find something they enjoy here.

MP3: The Hold Steady - "Chips Ahoy!"
MP3: The Hold Steady - "You Can Make Him Like You"

Listen to the entire album here.
Buy the album here.