Link to the Web: Band of Horses

Shut up.  I don’t want to hear about it.  I am completely aware of how long it has been.  Just deal with it.


A few years ago, I projected Grizzly Bear as the next band with the power to reach dizzying OK Computer-type heights.  To be honest, there wasn’t another band that struck me as having that kind of potential.

Now, I would like to apologize to Band of Horses, and pick my jaw up off the ground.

Please hurry up and go to their website:

The Past

Okay, now that you’re there, let’s talk.  Band of Horses is most noteworthy for their heartbreaking indie classic single “The Funeral.”  I viewed it as powerful enough to be the 13th best song of the past decade.  The rest of their first album was filled with similar excellence, landing it at number 27 on my Best of Decade list.

Their follow-up release was arguably better in cohesion and construction.  However, Cease to Begin just didn’t have the punch offered by their debut album.  The album didn’t really seem a sophomore slump; instead it sounded like a band finding a groove.  Well, grooves be damned.

Infinite Arms and the wait for May 18

All three songs that are currently available for hearing on Band of Horses’ website are unexpected, massive and exceptionally crafted.  Let’s start with the weakest of the bunch, “Factory.”  This tune is the most similar to the rest of the band’s catalogue, offering a slightly twangy feel with a relaxed rhythm.  But the orchestration is very surprising, giving a majestic and optimistic tone.  The grand scale fits the band with surprising success, and it’s a very inviting song.

But it doesn’t even start to explain how awesome this album might be.  Enter the insane duo of songs: “Laredo” and “Compliments.”  These are perhaps the greatest songs written in Band of Horses’ career.  Yes, that includes “The Funeral.”

“Laredo” first.  The opening guitar keys you in right away, sounding like a ringtone, pulling you toward song.  Then the whole thing opens up as the drums, bass and voice all start up.  Now we hear a song of personal pain, lost love and self-reflection.  Some of the lyrics are a bit tough to decipher, but the clear sections are obvious, and the inflection even more so.  The musical skill and talent displayed here is extraordinary, far beyond anything the band had previously done.

This leads to the crown jewel of the pre-album material, “Compliments.”  This one is seen in video form, and it’s haunting.  Bouncing guitars and a pulsing keyboard are refreshing and totally unexpected.  Vocal delivery and harmony make this sound unlike any other Horses song, leaving me in total disbelief.  By the end of the song, I can’t help but be moved by the vocals even as I am stunned by the whole package.

Quite simply, May 18 will be awesome, and I really look forward to hearing the rest of Infinite Arms as either more is released or the whole album comes out.  This may be a contender for best of the year…

Housekeeping: 2009 and Decade Pages

Hey everyone! Thanks again for reading my blog. The next update for the Decade Albums list is upcoming, but I have some housekeeping to attend to:

Check out the new link up top on the blog, labeled “The Best of 2009.” This is a quick link to my lists for the year.  You can then find links to the original articles in that page.  Just like last year’s stuff (The Best of 2008), check it out for an overview of my opinions.

Coming soon will be a link for the Decade Lists. I haven’t had time to put that one together yet, but it will be up top as well, so keep your eyes open for that link and another housekeeping post.

Thanks again for reading, and feel free to comment over all my posts.  It’s exciting to see such traffic lately, and I hope you’re enjoying this blog.  It’s fun to write about music, and I hope you find my reading somewhat interesting.

Web Commentary: Bing vs. Google

Sometimes I feel the need to step away from the music and look at the world around me.  Don’t worry: I’ve got a thing about Animal Collective coming up soon.  But today, the most interesting search engine war that really shouldn’t exist.

For those in the know, Microsoft recently launched a new search engine called “Bing.”  The name is a bit silly, but is easy enough to remember.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Microsoft has tried this sort of entry into the search engine market.  They’ve had MSN for years, and recently tried out their Live Search technology.  Neither of these have made any meaningful impact.  And that’s because of Google.

Omnipresent on the web, Google continues to be a powerhouse, offering many great free services that actually counter Microsoft’s own operating system features.

So I find it strange to tell you that Microsoft has recently won a major battle in the Search Engine War.  That victory would be D-Day.  Now, Bing did not storm the beaches of Google, but they did present a more realistic image on June 6 of this year:

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Link to the Web: Amazon logo.svg

I’m sure if you have the ability to access the internet and you’re reading this blog, Amazon is nothing new to you.  In fact, I’d bet that most internet users have witnessed and used Amazon countless times.

But this is a (generally) music blog, not a shopping network.  How is Amazon relevant to songs and albums?

The obvious answer lies in Amazon’s stunning music store.  Here, almost every musical wish can be granted.  Thousands and thousands of albums are at your fingertips.  Being a support of albums, I find this a very refreshing way of getting to new CDs.  I certainly enjoy the concept of record stores, but they don’t always have what you want.  Amazon gives you the goods (I like physical copies of things) without so much uncertainty.

However, a more interesting musical source lies in Amazon’s MP3 Downloads store.  Here you can find a comparable substitute to Apple’s iTunes store.  The main difference here is the song format: it’s all MP3.  That’s a big deal!  No DRM nonsense, no format problems for Windows users… all with a library that (essentially) offers the same selections.

Combine musical freedom with an assortment of deals (Amazon always offers seasonal, monthly, weekly, even daily deals – just look for them) and you’ve got a real winner.

Amazon is everybody’s record store that they don’t even think about.  Perhaps with a better examination, it can be your favorite record store, physical or otherwise.

Link to the Web: Viva La Mainstream

So Essential Listening isn’t just stuck to this lovely website anymore.  Every day, I read all sorts of music sites and blogs, looking for interesting music that I haven’t listened to.

Today, I’m featured on one of my new favorite blogs, Viva La Mainstream.  I’ve got a little write-up about Pixies, and what I deem to be their best album: Surfer Rosa.

What makes Viva La Mainstream such a great blog?  It’s the relentless pursuit of content.  Unlike many (including me), TJ (Viva’s author) is always updating.  Perhaps the best feature is the most obvious one: Album A Day.  Each day, TJ updates the site with yet another album.  There’s no theme, no overarching cause – just constant discussion of music.

This kind of devotion to site is really inspiring as a reader and a writer.  I’m glad to see that he’s updating daily (gives me more to look at), but it’s also like a challenge.  I consider: perhaps I should be updating more often.

Readers, I encourage you to stop by Viva La Mainstream and keep supporting TJ’s effort.  It’s partially because I ran into his work that I’ve been so much more willing to update over the past few weeks.

Link to the Web: Pitchfork Media

It’s so simple to just suggest that you go off and do a Google search for a given band. I’m sure you’ll find a MySpace page or some video on YouTube. But Link to the Web will take a look at some music sites that are around that could take you beyond just a single band. Here, I’ll try and point to places that have helped to shape some of my musical tastes – for better or for worse.

In the realm of indie rock, there is this idea of a “scene.” If you stoop to some level of generalized popularity, this may indicate your work toward “selling out.” While for a band, this new level of exposure indicates new profits, you risk losing some of your fan base over an (apparently) new set of ideals.

Sadly, sites like Pitchfork Media only help to perpetuate this indie standard. Yet, I’ve gone so far as to mention this site. What quality does it posses to even merit this appearance?

To be honest, Pitchfork seems very conceited. Each review reads like an act in self-indulgence, an attempt to prove individual superiority over the reader. In particular, the review for Radiohead’s Kid A stands out as an offender. Author Brent DiCrescenzo (no longer with Pitchfork) says:

“The experience and emotions tied to listening to Kid A are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax.”

The absolute oozing of self-righteousness is disgusting here. While this represents the height of such pretentious writing, other articles are still offensive, bringing a feeling of disgust to the reader. (As a side note, I try not to end up so pretentious, and I keep the Kid A review as a benchmark for such content.)

But the text of the reviews is not the only noteworthy element of the selection offered by Pitchfork. With such an elitist ideology, relatively unknown bands are sought out; the idea is to be ahead of the curve. Luckily for the reader, this means that new discoveries are easy to find on the site. Such bands as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and artists like Sufjan Stevens have greatly benefited from exposure on the site. Indeed, the influence of Pitchfork is very powerful, so much that you’re even being touched as you sit right now; they are worth mentioning if only to discuss their hyping powers.

So with this pretentious writing and a quest to find new talent, Pitchfork might seem like a very closed-minded place where only certain types of artists succeed. While this is occasionally true (my disagreements include scores for Sky Blue Sky and Accelerate), the site generally has excellent taste in music. Bands like Radiohead and Portishead receive their often appropriate rewards, but even those that may be critically panned (like U2) are given worthy scores when they create great music (like The Joshua Tree).

Certainly indie powerhouses are revered at Pitchfork (Sonic Youth and Pixies especially), but even popular music is given worthy consideration. Kylie Minogue are Justin Timberlake are among those recognized for having excellent singles in a review of the first half of this decade.

Realistically, Pitchfork Media should not be the only source of opinion you follow. Their reviews are often tedious and create a sense of author-importance when it is the music that should be examined. However, by offering access to new music and suggesting various obscure bands, the site becomes a great place for discovery. By using Pitchfork as a resource, it’s possible to discover the depth in music that you’ve been missing – even if you have to slosh through some heavy-handed discourse.