We finished mastering for our record several months ago, which means I've had a bit of time free from obsessively listening to rough mixes and agonizing over fader shifts and horn arrangements to actually pop my head up out of the sand and start listening to music like a fan again. These are a few of the records that have been putting a little extra bounce in my step lately.
Jonsi, Go: Jonsi is an alien. He and his fellow "Icelandic" cohorts in Sigur Ros landed on our planet roughly ten years ago and, ever since, have been crafting the kind of lush, other-worldly music that is probably played in outer space while stars are being born or something. Having been here for over a decade though, Jonsi has learned some of our Earthling ways. He's picked up a couple of our languages and even learned the pop song structure, as made newly evident on his recent solo album, "Go". Now, I've always loved Sigur Ros. They know how to craft sonic textures better than anyone else in the galaxy. But I just don't have the attention span for 60 minutes of ethereal contemplation with no pop payoff. Jonsi's solo album combines all the things I loved about Sigur Ros with all the things I wish they would adopt. Great job Jonsi, I hope you make a few more of these records before reporting back to the mothership that we are a parasitic race and must be annihilated.
Jason Collette, Idols of Exile: I'm totally mystified and jealous of this whole Toronto scene. What the fuck, it seems like EVERYBODY up there is hipper than hip, makes super awesome records and used to be in Broken Social Scene. I totally wish I was a part of this whole thing, but alas, the closest I've come is almost getting punched in the face by Kevin Drew at Eddie Rickenbacker's a couple years ago. This past winter while I was doing the dishes, my girlfriend (who would dump my ass for Jason Collette in a heartbeat) put the song "We All Lose One Another" on and I was instantly hooked. It's just one of those tasty little country-pop songs that I'll listen to on repeat. Jason's got a new record out, but frankly I haven't gotten over "Idols" enough to give it a fair shake.
Rogue Wave, Permalight: These guys have been San Francisco indie-rock stalwarts for the better part of the last decade. I first saw them opening up for the Shins in Chicago about a week before moving back out to California and have been a fan ever since. From the lo-fi bedroom fuzz of "Out of the Shadow" to the epic sprawl of "Asleep at Heaven's Gate", I've followed most all of their musical twists and turns, and have enjoyed every one. Their latest release, "Permalight" sports the new addition of programmed tracks and some of their catchiest hooks yet. Harumph, Rogue Wave...long may you ride.
Metric, Fantasies: Yet another impossibly cool Toronto band, this record holds the distinction of being my favorite album of 2009. Every element of this "Fantasies" is stellar, from Emily Haines intangible voice to the acerbic lyrics covered in honey-sweet melody. Any band that manages to squeeze the perennial question facing all musicians "Who would you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?" into a killer chorus without missing a beat gets my vote.
Taylor Swift, Fearless: I was a bit of a late-comer to the Taylor Swift bandwagon, which was already overflowing with screaming, hormonal tweens. And it might be questionable that a grown man be as fervently into a country-pop starlet as I am, but holy cow, Taylor Swift is the BEE'S KNEES!!! The songs on "Fearless" are some of the best crafted pop songs I've heard in recent memory. From the second verse melodic shifts and tasteful modulations to her epic, "catchier than the flu" choruses, these songs pull out all the stops in a way that sounds like effortless payoff. The skill of crafting a song that goes exactly where your ear wants it to go without sounding trite is deceptively difficult and something that most songwriters never master. The fact that, at 18 or 19, Taylor had a hand in writing all of these tunes makes my head want to explode. Sure, the lyrics have a "ripped from a high-school girl's diary" quality to them, but they're charming in a way that makes me nostalgic for the days when my two favorite things weren't naps and listening to "Marketplace" with Kai Ryssdal. To all you dismissive cred-sters out there, I challenge you to put some headphones on, turn the volume up to at least a 7, and try to get through all of "You Belong with Me" or "Love Story" without those little hairs on your arm standing up at some point...you won't. These songs are objectively great. Taylor Swift gives me hope for the institution of pop stardom.