Tag Archives: Bon Iver

Top 5 Albums of 2016

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A lot of things informed my list this year – I turned 30 (shriek!), then got laid off from my job, then got another job, then my relationship of over 2 years ended, then I moved to a new city, got a new apartment, then Trump was elected as our next President, oh and then all those musicians everyone loved died. And that’s just my shit, sooooooo…

Yeah, 2016 man. It’s why my list is only five albums this year. It’s not that there weren’t many, many more great albums released this year. It’s that I’m tired. I’m over it. Check please. In strange times I’ve relied more heavily this year on old emo favorites – Aimee Mann, Elliott Smith. Sufjan is never turned off. The National’s Trouble Will Find Me finally found me three years after its release when I didn’t even know I needed it most.

But these five albums also had a tremendous effect on me. They’re the five that I’ve kept coming back to over and over again throughout the year. They’ve kept me going, made me cry, made me laugh, made me get beyond excited to hear one of their tracks in the cloob, helped me be more introspective than I think I’ve ever been. Maybe some of these have done that to you too?

So here’s what’s ‘currently murking’ me. I’ve been a mess – thanks for putting up with me this year.

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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I was at work hiding in my cube with headphones on and the livestream of Yeezy Season 3 up and running. The Kardashians made their entrance, which was chic but also not chic, and then the crowd at Madison Square Garden cheered even louder as Kanye finally stepped up and played the first track off of his new album, “Ultralight Beam.” And then we all died.

Hope you’re feeling better Ye, stop meeting with Trump.

Favorite track: “Ultralight Beam” / “Highlights”

4. Beyoncé – Lemonade

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I was sitting at home on the couch looking at Instagram when an image from Beyoncé’s account depicting her in a fur hanging out the side of a car casually slid across me screen with a link to the music video for “Formation,” which was literally released that minute. Then the Super Bowl happened the next day and, despite my thinking that not enough time had passed since her surprise self-titled, we all got that taste of Lemonade we were so, sooooo thirsty for. And I mean everyone got that taste, whether they liked it or not. So necessary this year.

Favorite track: “Sorry”

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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It was the worst week of 2016 for me. Although the clues from Radiohead helped a little. I was glued to Radiohead’s Reddit thread along with all the other nerds, keeping myself occupied.

Then the video for “Daydreaming” was released and I could barely get through the day.

Then it was Mother’s Day. Then A Moon Shaped Pool was released. It was gorgeous. It was Radiohead’s breakup album. How perfect.

Favorite track: “Present Tense”

2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

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I had been feeling exceedingly worse about my decision not to attend this year’s Eaux Claires Festival as it became “duh” that Bon Iver would be premiering their new album in full on Friday.

The last time I saw Justin Vernon live was in September 2013 for a Volcano Choir show at The Metro in Chicago. I was convinced that band was his new point of focus – interviews Justin gave before kind of led you to believe that the Bon Iver project was dead dead dead.

Well it wasn’t. It’s not. Holy hell. It’s entirely possible for me to cry during every single song on this album – I’ve tried it.

It’s almost enough to get me to move back to the Twin Cities – to be closer to family and friends, of course, but also closer to the music scene and culture and the people that made and continue to make this kind of music happen.

Favorite track: Sorry it just really has to be taken as a whole.

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde 

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“Listen, stop trying to be somebody else. Don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself and know that that’s good enough. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to be like someone else. Don’t try to act like someone else, be yourself. Be secure with yourself. Rely and trust upon your own decisions. On your own beliefs.”

– Mom

Favorite track: “Self Control”

 

 

 

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Top 25 Albums of 2011

Ok 2011, you were kind of a weird, but good year for music.  Honestly, this has been one of the hardest “Top 25” lists I have ever made, because, besides my pick for the number one album, a lot of the rest was pretty much up in the air for me.

One note: PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake is nowhere to be found on my list.  Sorry for partying, but it still just hasn’t clicked with me.

Also, lots and lots of good hip-hop came out this year.  Which is fun, but also, as a big fan of hip-hop, might make my list seem very “commercial.”  Not really sorry for this one, it just is what it is.

And so…..judge away:

25. Panda Bear – Tomboy

 

 

 

 

 

I mean, it’s mostly all about “Last Night At the Jetty,” but it’s also about the overall lush, woozy sound drenched in layers upon layers of reverb  heard throughout the album that makes Noah Lennox’s Tomboy a notable listen in 2011.

24. Cults – Cults

 

 

 

 

 

Cults threw their hat in the whole retro-pop ring and came out on top with their first try.  Although I was skeptical at first, debut single “Go Outside” was the perfectly breezy song of the summer.  Seeing them live at the 7th Street Entry sealed the deal, and “Walk At Night” is one of my favorite songs of the year.

23. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

 

 

 

 

 

There’s really not much more to say about this one than what I already wrote in my review of the pop star’s second album, and even though it’s getting kinda old kinda fast, there’s no denying that this was one of the best pop albums to come out this year.

22. Beyoncé – 4

 

 

 

 

 

Ughhhhhhh Beyoncé, how you murk me so.  Even though I would have preferred an album filled with songs like “Countdown,” we instead got more of a mood album, a Beyoncé tone poem, if you will.  You can almost hear the tears in “I Care,” feel the swagoo in “Party,” and bonus track “Dance For You” definitely makes me want to swirl.  A fine body of work.

21. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

 

 

 

 

 

Another example where a live show catapulted an album into being something special…no but really, as a debut, The Year of Hibernation is a remarkable achievement for the young Mr. Powers.

20. TV On the Radio – Nine Types of Light

 

 

 

 

 

Bucking the trend, I actually didn’t much enjoy this band’s appearance at First Ave.  I honestly think it was just because I was in a sour mood, however music usually can lift me out of that, and that just didn’t happen at the show.  But as an album, Nine Types of Light continues a winning streak for TV On the Radio.

19. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

 

 

 

 

 

I mean…Britney hasn’t been this exciting since Blackout.  Love her, hate her, say what you will about her, but Femme Fatale is simply a fun, expertly crafted, perfect pop album, and that’s all it needs to be.  It’s also fun when Britney gets dirty and swears (“You can be my fuck tonight” on “How I Roll”) and references past hits (“Hit me one more time” on “Inside Out”).  Let’s just face it, growing up with Britney as the soundtrack to everything from 8th grade “mixers” to high school proms and now drunken, messy nights out in your 20s has been a gift everyone can (and should) appreciate.

18. Feist – Metals

 

 

 

 

 

Metals is a really pretty album.  Nothing too groundbreaking happening here, but for craft, this album gets an A.  “Graveyard” and “The Circle Married the Line” sound both thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time, which could describe this album as a whole….yes?  Maybe?  Yeah.

17. James Blake – James Blake

 

 

 

 

 

Dubstep ughhhhhhhh.  It’s a great album though.  Also, I saw him in the Entry and you probably didn’t.

16. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah yeah, “Midnight City” is like, the song of the year.  Listening to this album in one sitting is quite the experience.  And, they hit their live show out of the park at First Ave.

15. CANT – Dreams Come True

 

 

 

 

 

I was pretty skeptical about the solo effort from Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, especially since lead single “Answer” really didn’t do much for me.  Well, wow, this album is pretty fucking great, proving Taylor can hold his own as an artist.  Also, none of you went to the show at the Entry.  Shame on you.

14. Terius Nash – 1977

 

 

 

 

 

Terius Nash aka The-Dream.  That’s pretty much all you need to know.  The best part is that this breakup album is mostly about Christina Milian.  Super fun.  Also, 1977 is a contender for giving us some of the best one-liners in rap history: “You used to be anti-internet, but now you constantly blogging and shit,” “Another day with you is just another fucking day,” “That get up in the mornin’ and put it on me, she so horny,” “Let me sing you my drunk song,” “Blowin’ bottles of dat drank,” “Ever seen a n@&*a buy a house from the toilet?”  I could go on, but I wont.  You should just listen.

13. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

 

 

 

 

 

Not too much to say about this one either, other than Laura Marling’s voice is, you know, one of those voices.  It just hits you right in the gut.  And she’s only 21.  Although not as immediate as I Speak Because I Can, there are plenty of highlights throughout A Creature I Don’t Know, including “I Was Just a Card,” “Salinas,” and “Sophia.”

12. Wilco – The Whole Love

 

 

 

 

 

WILCO IS BACK!!!  Right, they didn’t really go anywhere, but honestly, this is the best thing since A Ghost is Born, and a lot of people didn’t even like that album.  So then this is the best thing since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  Which is saying a lot.  Also, their first of two recent shows at The State Theatre was one of my favorite concerts of the year, maybe even ever.

11. The Roots – Undun

 

 

 

 

 

If you know me, it’s kind of a given that if an album includes Sufjan Stevens in the credits, I’m going to take notice.  And while Sufjan’s “Redford” is the base for the last suite of songs, the rest of this concept album is all The Roots, and it’s fantastic.  Definitely the most heartfelt hip-hop found on this list.

10. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Mercy might be Annie Clarke’s masterstroke.  “Cruel” is one of the best songs of the year.  The title track is my personal favorite from the album.  All in all, Strange Mercy is classic St. Vincent but more focused and sonically profound.  Amazing stuff.  I also got to sit on the stage for her show at The Walker.

9. The Antlers – Burst Apart

 

 

 

 

 

The Antlers’ Hospice was a masterpiece, even if it left you completely wrecked after each listen.  Talk about a downer!  Things haven’t changed much with Burst Apart, but everyone was waiting to see if Peter Silberman and crew would be able to produce something as meaningful that didn’t have the story arc of Hospice.  I’d say The Antlers have succeeded – Burst Apart still tells a story, but this time it’s about moving through the murky waters of heartbreak and loneliness, fun stuff like that!  Who knew depression could sound so lovely?

8. Real Estate – Days

 

 

 

 

 

The surf-infused sounds of melancholy is the best way I can describe Days.  What’s up with me and loving sad-ish music so much?  Anyways, Days is a lovely gem of an album.  And really it’s not all that sad.  Seriously, don’t let that scare you away from listening to it!

7. Beirut – The Rip Tide

 

 

 

 

 

Zach Condon’s most accessible work still maintains that European quirkiness that defines Beirut’s sound.  Condon’s voice has also never sounded better, song’s like “Goshen” a showcase for his deep, swoon-worthy vocals.  All those horns pull at your heartstrings too.

6. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

 

 

 

 

 

It’s an odd year for me when Radiohead put out an album and it’s not automatically number one on my list.  Yup, I’d say you either loved or hated The King of Limbs.  Maybe it even pissed you off.  Clearly, I fall in the love camp, while also recognizing that better music came out this year.  Honestly though, why is everyone so mad that the album (consisting of JUST EIGHT SONGS?!?!?! ) is under 40 minutes long? There’s a lot packed into those 40 minutes.  “Bloom” is like an awakening, “Lotus Flower” is another one of the best songs of the year, “Codex” murks you and “Give Up the Ghost” is unlike anything heard from the band.  Yeah, it’s not an instant classic like In Rainbows, but this record holds up very nicely when not compared to Radiohead.  Think about it.  Bye.

5. Kanye West & Jay-Z – Watch the Throne

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah yeah, I know I wasn’t head-over-heels for this when it first came out.  But my, how Watch the Throne has grown on me, just like I guessed it would.  Again with this one, pretty much everything that could be said about this album already has been said.  Along with 1977, Watch the Throne also ranks high with classic one-liners that have quickly made their way into me and my friends’ everyday vernacular.  I’d type out some examples but I’d have to use too many $*#@)($#@s.

4. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday

 

 

 

 

 

Completely out of nowhere and I am so completely happy that both of these mixtapes (with a third on the way) happened this year.  Really, there’s not a single track on both of Abel Tesfaye’s (ok let’s just stick with calling him The Weeknd) outings thus far that I would skip over.  They just make you feel so many feeelingssssssssss.  And I think that’s a good thing, especially in this genre.

3. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

 

 

 

 

 

I actually re-listened to Helplessness Blues last night as a refresher.  Originally it was a few slots lower on my list, but my notions were confirmed that, yeah, this is definitely one of the top three albums of the year.  The title track kills me every time.  The harmonies almost make you want to vomit because they sound so perfect.  It’s almost an overload of beauty.  Did I really just say that?  Yeah.  Cuz it is.  Helplessness Blues is almost an overload of beauty.

2. Drake – Take Care

 

 

 

 

 

Are you for real?  Really though, Drake killed it this year.  I really can’t talk about it.  I also really can’t talk about that album cover.

1.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

 

 

 

 

 

Why must Justin Vernon do this to me?  Crying in my car, crying at work, crying in my apartment, crying at the freaking concert.  This album is actually mind blowing.  It’s almost like everyone wanted it to suck because it would not be fair for our very own Justin Vernon to keep on succeeding and producing music that is again and again this transcendent.  But guess what??? He made 2011’s album of the year.

So, that’s it!  Below, in no particular order, are some of the albums that didn’t make the cut, even though I really, really wanted them to.  Going up to 50 albums would have actually killed me.

Akron/Family – S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

My Morning Jacket – Circuital

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong

 

 

 

 

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Bon Iver @ The Orpheum 09.06.11

With a total of nine musicians on stage utilizing a cornucopia of instruments, including two drum kits to really give things a punch, Bon Iver’s first show of a two night run at the Orpheum was anything but a hushed night of pretty, melancholy tunes.

Things started out quiet enough as the first notes from “Perth” drifted over the audience and Justin Vernon and his tremendous band appeared on the stage.  And then, as the LED towers on stage grew brighter and the marching beat from the drums built its crescendo, the full effect of band was made clear as everything just exploded and Vernon sang the lyrics, “Still alive who you love.”  It was clear we weren’t in a cabin in the woods anymore.

For an album that is more about a sense of place and feelings those places evoke, the live renditions of the songs from Bon Iver, Bon Iver heard last night certainly drove all of those notions home.  The bass was bigger, the strings sweeter and the brass section wailed louder than could ever be made apparent in the recorded versions, as “Perth” naturally lead into “Minnesota, WI,” just as it does on the album.  “Holocene” followed, its sweeping beauty sounding even greater as the audience sat in respectful silence.

Vernon seemed almost as stunned as the rest of us, perhaps a little awestruck by the out-of-control love from the audience and musing over the fact that he once was an audience member watching John Prine in the same theater.  Vernon got lots of shouts by acknowledging the UW Eau Claire connections before playing “Towers,” which ended the run of songs solely from the second Bon Iver LP.  Vernon then joked that they were going to play “an old one!” as “Creature Fear” came to life, once again bolstered by the added depth from the band, which also benefitted “Blood Bank.”

The only moment Vernon was alone on stage was for “re: Stacks.”  As one dude yelled out “Thank you for writing this song!” in a sincerely heartfelt way, Vernon sat bathed in light and, amazingly, the sold out crowd was absolutely silent, clinging onto every note.  It was nothing short of brilliant.

Mike Lewis’ talents were showcased during a jamming version of “Beth/Rest,” and “For Emma” turned into a celebration of the evening as it closed out the main set before the band came back for an encore filled with favorites from For Emma, Forever Ago.  “Skinny Love” got the most shouts before the evening ended with “The Wolves (Act I and II),” which had Vernon encouraging everyone to start howling at the end.  As the crowd flooded into the aisles, the entire band gathered around each other, singing their hearts out as everyone shouted along at the end to close out the night.  I haven’t heard a crowd cheer louder for a show since the freaking Justified/Stripped tour for another Justin (Timberlake).

Indeed, Bon Iver has emerged from the woods complete with lights and smoke and a nine-piece band.  But that doesn’t mean the soul isn’t still there; it’s just been amplified by 10,000 and it’s all for the better.

I’m trying to find a ticket for tonight….

“For Emma” as heard last night at The Orpheum below:

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Bon Iver – Calgary

I may not know exactly what’s going on here, but it’s something special.

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Volcano Choir @ The Cedar 03.25.11

Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, aka Kanye West’s favorite Midwest auto-tuned crooner, graced Minneapolis with his presence in the form of Volcano Choir, a band that combines members of Collections of Colonies of Bees with Vernon tackling lead vocals.

Unmap, released in 2009, is Volcano Choir’s only album.  While not as accessible as Vernon’s other work as Bon Iver, the experimental nature of the music, combined with Vernon’s signature falsetto, made for a very interesting and at times emotional listen, something that would be challenging to reproduce in a live setting.

Live setting be damned, Vernon and crew decided to do two live shows in the U.S. after a one-off performance in Japan last year.  And boy, did they do a number on Unmap.

After quietly walking on stage a little after midnight, Volcano Choir opened the show with the slow burning and mostly electronic “Dote,” a perfect opener that sounds like the electronic equivalent of slowly waking up under the sea, the synthesized keys fluttering around like bubbles as sun rays reach the bottom of the ocean.  No but like really, that’s how it sounds.  And it’s even more impressive live, as the gentile sounds gave way to “Seeplymouth.”  With Vernon’s auto-tuned vocals brought to the front in the mix than blending in like they did on the album, the meandering “Seeplymouth” was suddenly immediate sounding.

With audience members Martin Dosh and Mike Lewis cheering them on, Volcano Choir ripped into “Island, IS,” the most song-centric cut from Unmap. Clipping along at a faster pace when compared to the album version, it sounded exciting and uplifting, capturing everyone’s attention that had packed into The Cedar.

“Island, IS,” Live @ The Cedar

“Husks and Shells,” as well as “And Gather,” provided the soundtrack for the more contemplative, quieter moments of the show, yet each sounded lovely in their own right, Vernon singing his soul out with eyes closed, playing with his own voice and the effects layered upon it.

And then, a surprise – Vernon introduced a new song.  Titled “Blue Ni Ni,” the song is more in the spirit of “Island, IS,” but packs a deeper emotional punch.  With spiraling guitar riffs and a galloping beat, “Blue Ni Ni” ends with one of those power choruses where everything builds to a point and then comes crashing down again, Vernon’s vocals ripping out everyone’s heart.  If this is what Volcano Choir are up to lately, we are very lucky.

“Blue Ni Ni,” Live @ The Cedar

The show ended with the spiritual “Youlogy” before the band returned to the stage to perform the now famous “Still,” a song that makes an appearance in the form of “Woods” on Bon Iver’s Blood Bank EP and would eventually go on to serve as the backbone of Kanye’s “Lost In The World.”  And although I was secretly hoping that at any moment the beat would drop and Kanye would come roaring on stage to support his boy, the song in its Volcano Choir form was transfixing.

Making the jump from a meticulously engineered album to performing content live is one that many bands try to make and sadly more than often fail.  Yet on Friday night, not only did Volcano Choir prove that it’s possible, they one-upped themselves and gave the audience something better than the album, wrapped in the memory of being present for perhaps a once in a lifetime show.

Let’s hope we get to experience this again.

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The National with The Antlers @ First Avenue 8.06.10

It’s 8:30pm on 1st Avenue downtown Minneapolis and Bryce Dessner comes from around the corner, walks by my friend and me while looking rather intently at the both of us, then heads into the back door of First Avenue.

I took the fleeting but rather exciting brush with one of the Dessner brothers as a sign that my evening with The Antlers and The National was shaping up to be a good one.  Once inside the club, moments passed before the projector screen lifted and The Antlers took to the stage adorned with white lilies that made the following set of music from their devastating album Hospice seem that much more poignant.

Not sure of how The Antlers would translate their rather quiet, contemplative music to a live setting, I was taken by surprise at the energy and added electronic tones added to their body of music that made me think they would have a larger audience if this is the way they recorded Hospice in the first place.  Lead singer Peter Silberman’s vocals were spot on and core shaking, at times resembling those of Jeff Buckley (yeah, I went there).  Opener “Kettering” came with an extended intro that sounded like stable mates with the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Time.”  The Antlers ended their set with an anathematic version of “Wake,” and if this louder, more powerful and electronic-tinged sound is the direction the band is taking on new music, we are all in for a treat when they drop their next LP.

Then it was time for The National to do their thing.  Like magic, the sold out crowd actually quieted down and stopped talking as the first licks of “Runaway” from the band’s latest, High Violet, opened the show.  Although most of The National’s music could be described as sort of mellow, Matt Berninger and his crew consisting of nearly a dozen people on stage, complete with a gorgeous horn section and violinist, kicked things into gear with songs like “Abel” and “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” from Alligator, with Berninger literally screaming the latter’s chorus “I’m so sorry for everything” into the mic.  Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) joined the group on stage, replacing Sufjan Stevens’ backing vocals heard on the album version of “Afraid of Everone” with his own haunting oos and ahs to a pleasing effect.

The energy was also sustained from Berninger’s antics on stage, pounding his fists together and dancing around during musical breaks in the songs.  The Dessner brother’s were both as precise as ever with their guitar work, and the horns added that extra oomph that supplied that extra something that horns always seem to do.

Although heavy on songs from High Violet, the setlist went all over the band’s catalogue, especially for the epic 5-song encore, which included songs “90-Mile Water Wall” from 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, and finally closing with “About Today” from the Cherry Tree EP.

After a sustained 3 hours of deeply emotional, exciting and draining music, I’d say the evening exceeded my expectations.  But with First Ave filled with so many talented artists as it was on Friday, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

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