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McRiprock’s 20 Albums You Don’t Want to Miss II (albums eight through thirteen)

This is a Top Twenty list of my (and Dud’s) favorite albums of late 2008-2009 that shouldn’t be missed—Austinites and beyond. You don’t like them? I don’t give a shit. I’m just giving you some suggestions. Why the change in format? Well, CD submissions have been slow, so send your music in, put a stamp on it, address it to us and watch your review get posted on AD, bitches. Simple, really. So to fill the time, here’s some albums that were and were not reviewed that should definitely be on your “to buy” or at least “to listen” or maybe even if you’re lucky “to go see” list. They are all badass and in no particular order. This is the second installment list. Two down, one to go. Look for last week’s post for the first seven on the Top Twenty list. Sound good? Fuck yeah it does.

8. Grizzly BearsVeckatimest: Garnering lots of attention with the release of this album in May, the Grizzly Bears have taken off, and for good reason. Their album is near perfect. Press attention has been all over the Bears, with appearances on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and an additional European tour date where they join the London Symphony Orchestra (arrangements by Nico Muhly) for a show at the Barbican, which is good news because the show at Koko in London is already sold out. Their SXSW debut received great acclaim and was packed to the gills with the acoustics being absolutely perfect and the performance jaw dropping.  In 2006, they released Yellow House that was a slow and steady ride with bounding elegance and charm.  They’ve had a hectic touring schedule since, performing with Radiohead, TV On The Radio and Feist, as well as, several performances during the five-night tribute to Paul Simon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and co-headlining a show with the L.A. Philharmonic. In addition, they released a 10-song EP, Friend, of re-recorded and re-worked songs including collaborations and covers. So, these guys have been quite busy.

About one year ago, singer and songwriter, Ed Droste and drummer Christopher Bear, bassist Chris Taylor and sing/songwriter/guitarist Daniel Rossen (Department of Eagles) released In Ear Park, last fall and began passing demos around working together creatively in different pairs and settings. With Chris Taylor behind them as producer/engineer, they began the recording process for this album, which would unfold over six months in three very distinct locations—which is felt on the record, each space filling different interactions, inspirations and tracks. Much of the groundwork of the album was done at the Glen-Tonche house in upstate NY where the surrealism of the estate made things seem magical. Breaking briefly to tour with Radiohead in August, the band reconvened in a home on Cape Cod where they solidified the compositions they had previously begun. Finally, they came home to a church in NYC to fine-tune and complete the album, which is named after a tiny, uninhibited island on Cape Cod that the band visited and was inspired by (particularly digging it’s Native American name). The band brought Gareth Jones (Interpol, Liars) over from the UK for a final mixing session with Taylor and mastering by Greg Calbi.

The clarity of sound and vision of vocals shared by all members are sharp and complex, arrangements are tight and the production is a ride making the lyrics more affecting. Having opening the creative dialogue at such an early stage this is their most collaboratively composed album to date and it shows. Lyrics swell, Bear’s authority behind the drums is awe-inspiring and the album feels confident, mature and very focused, but most importantly dynamic. Tracks like “Dory,” a gracefully psychedelic and ever –evolving work, and “Ready, Able” a snythy oeuvre and one of four songs that boast string arrangements by composer Nicho Muhly, to “Foreground” a vocal-driven send off and one of two songs that feature choral arrangements by Muhly to more resounding pop-ish tracks like “Two Weeks” an airy doo wop featuring backing vocals from Beach House’s Victoria LeGrand to finally the melodic ear-splitting pop masterpiece “While You Wait For the Others,” makes the album reaches it’s highest highs and lowest lows with an diverse collection of songs that celebrates the strength of each member while still devouring the strength of the whole.

9. Black KeysAttack and Release: Based out of Akron, Ohio, the Black Keys is well recognized for their gritty rock and roll and their hermetic approach to recording where they hunker down with rudimentary equipment in an vacant factory or stagnant basement to create their crisp, gritty soulful rock. Guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerback and drummer Patrick Carnery admit that for this album they were in for a change of scenery and some collaboration. So when they had the opportunity to work with Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton who has also worked with Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz, The Grey Album), they, for the first time, left their familiar territory, all the while staying within state lines. Approached to write songs for the album Danger Mouse was developing with R&B legend Turner, the project would never be completed as Turner passed away unexpectedly. So, as the pair were composing and sending tracks out to Danger Mouse they realized they were instinctively laying the groundwork for a new album of their own. Patrick says, “I think Dan and I were intrigued to work with somebody as a producer because we both realized we couldn’t teach ourselves anything more, and it was best to start learning from other people…after doing four albums in the basement we were ready to go somewhere else.” So, they went to a studio outside of Cleveland called Suma which is one of the only studios in the world where they still cut their own vinyl. Patrick explains, “The place is covered with dust, it smells like a moldy cabin, and looks like a haunted house, it was fitting for our first time of going into a real studio.” Dan confesses, “A big part of the sound of this record is the studio and having someone like Paul, who is an old pro, recording us and helping us get the right sound… Danger Mouse has a real ear for melody and arrangement and that was a big part of this record, his making suggestions about the arrangements.”

Their minimalist approach to rock is so ferocious and deceptively melodic that it will get into your head without you even realizing it using simplistically sincere hooks and riffs.  Perhaps getting them out of their box allowed them to be more experimental on this album, as Dan explains, “We’d never let it all go before like we did for this one, where anything was game.” The album has a gritty clarity and is spacious which accentuates the soulfulness in Dan’s weathered vocals in arrangements that go back and forth between melancholies and swagger. Using a range that is subtle, but necessary, like the organ, piano and synthesizer and ghostly choir arrangements throughout the album, it makes for very impressive arrangements.  Guitarist Marc Ribot and Pat’s uncle, the multi-instrumental Ralph Carnery-both vets of Tom Waits’ band, sat in for a few days of uninterrupted jamming and Jessica Lea Mayfield (an eighteen-year-old bluegrass/country singer who is definitely noteworthy and worth checking out) sings alongside Dan on the final cut, “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be.” Pat concludes, “I’m more pleased with the sound of this record than any we’ve ever made,” Pat concludes. “Rather than mask things in, like, a low-fi fog, we can make things sound big and fucked up at the same time.” Touché. This album fucking rocks.

10. Ricky Stein & the .44–Crazy Days–Ricky Stein is a young gun with an old Austin musical soul. With a powerful voice that’s large and fearless Stein is at his best on this album. Self described as Americana music, Stein goes way beyond that to put out a blazing debut album that is more of a blues sound with his heart on his sleeve, than just pure straight-up standard Americana music. Playing in venues like Hole in the Wall, Momos, Atones, and the Saxon Pub solo and oftentimes with the full piece four member band behind him they’ve been spreading their music amongst crowds that are wowed by this 25-year-old’s performance. On stage, it’s as if he’s in a passionate musical trance that fits him perfectly. Plugging the hole between a sound of Townes Van Zandt and Dough Sahm, Stein brings his own style to his songwriting and sound. Opening for Austin big hitters like Chris Brecht, Mario Matteoli, the Dead Flowers, Slowtrain and others, he hold his own and often temps the crowd with his sound way beyond those that come after him on stage. Influenced by bands such as Wilco, My Morning Jacket and the White Stripes are evident, but subtlety seen in his music. Stein is powerful as a solo act, but is complimented nicely on the album with the .44. Co-produced by Matt Hubbard he gives the album momentum and color including one of the best tracks, “We’re Gonna Make it” which brings in the go-go organ. Several originals sound like covers including the screaming and powerful bluesy “Shreveport Blues,” but he also channels a little Jerry Garcia on tracks like “I Don’t Mind. The title track showcases Stein’s ability to be thoughtful and vulnerable in his singer-songwriter side. “Don’t Leave Me Hangin’ On” is a whirlwind ride with a punching rhythm section. “Strange Sense of Humor” opens with Hubbard on harmonica, a nice touch, and moves into a nice swinging rhythm. There is a sense of freshness to Stein’s album that rocks all the way through and takes you on a rhythm and blues ride that also rolls in some serious rock and roll. His endless energy and forthrightness on stage comes through just as powerfully on this album as it does in a live performance that is a tough endeavor, especially when you consider this young songwriter/singer’s age.

11. Dan AuerbachKeep it Hid: I love this album. I mean–I truly adore it. Every track. Dan Auerbach, from the Black Keys who pushes bands like Jessica Lea Mayfield and a few others puts out a flawless solo debut album with songs that are simplistic and subtle, but all the while catchy and continuously gritty. He gets the opportunity on this album to give the listener some true sincerity through quiet and beautiful tracks, but still rocks other tracks that help keep the album afloat. He never loses his trademark grittiness throughout the album, but in some tracks it’s toned down where the melody and the music take over both acoustically and plugged in. It’s a diverse arrangement for a first album, but it works well and the arrangements are near perfection. It feels more like a songwriters album with traces of Neil Young and Tom Waits sitting in. The tone of the songs are dark, but still rousing and although Auerbach can sound classic, he doesn’t pull any punches making this album feel overly retro or psychedelic.

12. T Bird and the Breaks: Learn About It— Get funkdified because this albums is all about soul, rhythm and blues and it’ll shake you down to your core until it breaks ya into pieces. T Bird and the Breaks has had all sorts of press push and for good reason. They play an amazing show and put together a great album full of pushing soul and punching funk. There’s a big horn-fueled sound against a rock rhythm that hurts you with a punch to the gut and makes you want more all the while bringing in a blues guitar and a gritty growling influenced singing. It’s charming, it’s delightful, it won’t make you stop moving. It delivers what they say it will and more. Tracks like “Blackberry Brandy,” “Juice,” and “Take Time” stand out strong, although the rest of the album doesn’t even dare to disappoint. The album has garnered attention from being named Editor’s Pick at CDBaby.com to a sell out show at their Preview Show on December 12th at the historic Victory Grill. In less than a year, the band had headlined at five of Austin’s best music venues, took second place as the Best New Band at the 2008 Austin Music Awards and was a finalist and second highest voted at ACL’s 2008 online battle of the bands.

13.WilcoSelf-Titled: Does Wilco ever put out a bad album? I mean, really. Every single song they produce is worth listening to. Their seventh studio release (Wilco) doesn’t let you down. Expecting Wilco to go in a more experimental direction, this album will surprise you. High points include “Bull Black Nova,” a downright chilling powerhouse song that is sung from the perspective of a murderer leaving the scene of a crime in his car. It is definitely pure Wilco and would be a mainstay of any of their live shows. Other highlights include “You Never Know” where Tweedy takes on the rock n’ roll wise man singing about “every generation thinks it’s the end of the world,” etc. The album also features a duet with Fiest; the first female singer for Wilco and it’s a pleasant ride. Although some may argue that this album clearly doesn’t match the previous six recordings that Wilco has put out in the past, it’s just a different direction, and as Wilco does, they surprise you with every turn. “Wilco” the title track, sounds like something that could have been on a vinyl 45 back in the 1960’s with Tweedy and Wilco reaching out to fans offering a “sonic shoulder to cry on” when times get tough. Always tongue in check, but sincere at the same time it’s definitely a highlight and quite possibly the new anthem for Wilco fans.

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