Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Album Review: Michael Jackson - Michael (3.5/5)

Michael is the first posthumous release from Michael Jackson--the first of many if we're to believe the claims that Jackson amassed an archive of unreleased material before his death last year. To say this release has been controversial is an understatement. Some viewed this as a way to honor his legacy, to finish and release the songs he wanted his fans to hear. Others take another view--that Michael wouldn't have been happy with these songs unless he'd finished them himself. Further, some conspiracy-minded folks claim it is isn't even him singing on the tracks.

I'm willing to believe it's him singing. Certainly sounds like him to me. But I think the other criticism of the project is an important one. Jackson was notoriously perfectionist about his albums, working long hours to get each song exactly the way he wanted it. Without such finishing on these tracks, I can't help but wonder whether he would think they live up to his own standards.

As such, Michael feels more like the work of a group producers--albeit talented ones--with Michael relegated as guest singer. It also doesn't feel like an album, with the tracks cobbled together from various recording sessions from the last few years. Some, I suspect, are even older. Two of the songs produced by Teddy Riley, for example, "Monster" and "Breaking News," sound like Dangerous outtakes, sounding like updates of the new jack swing sound Riley produced for Jackson in 1991. Riley had subsequently produced tracks for Jackson on Invincible, and they didn't sound like this. "Monster" is pretty decent, but "Breaking News" treads many of the same tired cliches about fame and media exposure that Jackson has explored before. The best Riley-produced cut is "Hollywood Tonight," a groovy, upbeat song with funky guitar, a rollicking horns and synths melody and even some Jackson beat-boxing.

The album is heavy on ballads, a little too heavy in my opinion. "Hold My Hand" with Akon is decent enough, although it obviously tries (and fails) to be the next "Man in the Mirror," with its soaring melody and choir vocals. My favorite ballad is "(I Like) The Way You Love Me," which has an old school Motown feel to its sweet melody. The key changes at the end are fun too, as Jackson takes his voice higher and higher. An earlier version of this appeared on his 2004 compilation, The Ultimate Collection. "Keep Your Head Up" explores another Jackson cliche--the environmental song--while "Best of Joy" is fairly forgettable mid-tempo stuff.

Lenny Kravitz shows up to guest on and produce "(I Can't Make It) Another Day," which is a typical dark Jackson rocker in the vein of "Dirty Diana" or "Give It to Me." The album closes well with the upbeat "Behind the Mask" and tender ballad "Much Too Soon," both of which originated during Jackson's late '70s/early '80s creative peak. "Behind the Mask" is confident and fun, while "Much Too Soon" generates some genuine emotion missing from the other slow songs.

There's a lot to like here. Most of the songs are pretty good, and overall, it's better than his last album, Invincible. But it just doesn't feel like an album, which nags at me while I listen to it. Also, I suspect these songs are the best of the unreleased material, so I'm concerned subsequent similar releases will just go down from here. Surely, that's not the musical legacy Jackson would have liked to have left.

Best: Hollywood Tonight, Behind the Mask, (I Like) The Way You Love Me, Much Too Soon, Hold My Hand

Personal Chart, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, January 1, 2011

1. Firework - Katy Perry

The first chart of the new year finds Katy Perry sitting pretty at #1 for a third week with "Firework," giving the single a week up from her last #1, "Teenage Dream," which spent 2 weeks at the top. I saw the video for this song this morning and it's wild, with Perry turning her breasts into a portable Fourth of July. That's quite a talent--no sexual overtones there. The song is this week's airplay gainer.

2. Grenade - Bruno Mars

Competition in the top 5 remains tight, with all 5 songs bulleted this week. All but Bruno Mars' "Grenade" have had a turn at the top spot, although I bet he gets his chance soon, as the song climbs another notch to #2.

9. 6 Foot 7 Foot - Lil Wayne feat. Cory Gunz

Lil Wayne just put out an album 3 months ago, but you won't find this new single on it. Apparently its from the forthcoming Tha Carter IV. The single debuts at #9 this week,

39. Hold My Hand - Michael Jackson feat. Akon

Michael Jackson scores his first US top 40 hit in over 9 years. His last couple were in 2001, when "You Rock My World" hit #10 and "Butterflies" hit #14.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

UK Singles Chart, December 25, 2010

1. When We Collide - Matt Cardle

The X Factor asserts itself all over the chart this week. Most notably, season 7 winner Matt Cardle claims the Christmas #1, the fifth X Factor victor to do so following Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and Leon Jackson. Last year, an internet campaign to thwart The X Factor was successful in keeping Joe McElderry's "The Climb" from #1 for a week, making last year's Christmas #1 the rather unorthodox "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine. Although there was such campaigns this year, they weren't nearly as sucessful, and Cardle claims the top spot with 439,000 copies sold. Although that sounds impressive, it's actually less than what Joe McElderry sold to be Christmas #2 last year, and it's just a bit short of the 453,000 copies sold of the Helping Haiti charity single, "Everybody Hurts," for its first week at #1. That makes this year's Christmas #1 the first since 2004 to not be the biggest selling #1 week of the year (although 2004's Christmas #1, Band Aid 20's "Do They Know It's Christmas," did have the year's biggest #1 week, it was just a few weeks prior to Christmas when the single was first released).

2. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)

The two-part X Factor featured quite a few guest performers, some of which benefited from the exposure on the chart. It's possible this song would have been #2 anyway though, had Rihanna not performed it on the Saturday show, since "What's My Name" has been on an upward climb the last few weeks, moving 18-10-8-4-2. It's the Barbadian singer's 8th #2 hit.

3. Surfin' Bird - Trashmen

Here then is the result of the anti-X Factor campaign. Trashmen are a surf rock band from Minneapolis and are apparently still touring. "Trashmen" was their only major single, a #4 hit in the US in 1963. It's an odd choice for trying to take on The X Factor and it wasn't nearly as successful as the Rage Against the Machine campaign last year, selling less than a fourth of what Cardle did to be #1.

6. The Flood - Take That

Benefiting from their Sunday performance on X Factor, Take That climb back into the top 10, up 9 spots this week. Progress continues to dominate the albums chart, where it spends its 5th consecutive week at #1. The album has sold 1.4 million copies, about 400,000 copies more than Michael Buble and Lady Gaga who are #2 and #3 respectively.

8. Many of Horror (When We Collide) - Biffy Clyro

Most of the X Factor victory singles have been remakes, but I don't recall them resulting in a resurgence of popularity for the original, at least not this extent. "Many of Horror" peaked at #20 when it was released earlier this year, but with the Matt Cardle version at #1, the band's original makes its first appearance in the top 10. I suspect this was part of another plot to dislodge X Factor from having #1, but again, it wasn't quite enough.

10. Hold My Hand - Michael Jackson feat. Akon

After a disappointing start at #11 last week, at least this single can now claim to be a top 10 hit, as it climbs one spot this week.

21. 4'33" - Cage Against the Machine

This has to be about the stupidest "song" ever to appear on the chart. Not only is this a song that consists of absolutely nothing, it is a remake of a song that was originally absolutely nothing. I understand the point of the song. I've read what the original artist said about how there's really no such thing as silence, since there is always ambient noise, and that he wanted to show that is music too. He might think that's the most brilliant revelation ever, but anyone with a set of ears has drawn this conclusion from the dawn of time. I think the revelation is that anyone would be so gullible as to actually buy it.

31. Unfaithful - Rihanna

Rihanna enjoys five entries in the chart this week. Her current hit at #2, her last hit at #7, her guest appearance on David Guetta's single at #15, and her guest appearance on Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" still on the chart at #39. This is her most unexpected appearance, her #2 hit from the summer of 2006 making a reappearance since she sang the song as a duet with Matt Cardle on the X Factor Saturday episode.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Best Albums of 2010

It's that special time of the year when all the music critics, publications and bloggers (like me) unleash their lists of the best of 2010. As usual, I'll be doing albums, movies and TV and, if I get around to it, books. I reviewed about 60 albums this year, a new record, and enough to make a top 40 list of the best (links below will take you to my original reviews). Despite that, there were albums I wanted to review but never got around to do it, like the latest from the New Pornographers and Spoon, electronic albums like Caribou, Gold Panda and How to Dress Well and the solo debut from Glee's Mark Salling. So many albums, so little time it seems. Without further adieu, I present you...

The 40 Best Albums of 2010

1. The National - High Violet No album stirred me as much with its beauty and breadth as this fifth album from the Brooklyn-based indie band, The National. A new discovery for me, it led me into their catalog, which is riddled with other worthy albums. I'm always on the hunt for the perfect rock album, and this comes quite close, melding the best of what I've liked in albums from band like The Editors and Interpol Best: Sorrow.

2. Take That - Progress Take That took an impressive step forward on their sixth album, the first to reunite Robbie Williams with the other four in 15 years. Much credit goes to producer Stuart Price, who had a hand in no less than five of my favorite albums this year, including three in the top 10. This bold, upbeat, brooding set was his best output yet. Best: The Flood.

3. Scissor Sisters - Night Work Also a Stuart Price production, Night Work sent one of the most eccentric pop groups back to the dance floor, with a no-ballads disco and '80s romp that pulled no punches when it came to being dirty, sexy, and cool. After a slight step down with their second album, Ta-Dah, in 2006, this was as good if not better than their landmark 2004 debut. Best: Any Which Way.

4. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs The Canadian collective produced their best work yet, a lengthy, sprawling concept album that provided a sort of perfect musical excess to mirror its suburban theme. I was a reluctant convert to Arcade Fire's charm, but by the time The Suburbs came out, there was no question of my loyalty. Best: Ready to Start.

5. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy After the dark electronica of 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye West's fifth album returned to more familiar hip-hop territory, but did so with confidence, style and guest stars as varied from Nicki Minaj to Bon Iver. The results were his most ambitious and accomplished album yet. Best: Lost in the World.

6. Broken Bells DJ/producer Danger Mouse has previously teamed up successfully with Cee Lo Green (Gnarls Barkley) and Damon Albarn (producing for Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad and the Queen), but his best collaboration yet was this team-up with The Shins' lead singer James Mercer. Together, they made this surprising and atmospheric record that balances their respective strengths while also being something new. Best: The Ghost Inside.

7. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid Janelle Monáe was the year's most surprising newcomer, giving us the most bizarre concept album I've ever heard of--a sprawling science fiction opus of Afro-futurism about a woman from the future who gets sent back in time as an android to liberate a civilization (something like that, anyway). The music itself is just as ambitious, combining nearly every genre of sound from the last 40 years from pop to hip-hop to prog rock. Best: Tightrope.

8. Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns This is the most surprising album in my top 10. I've never been a Linkin Park fan, although I've enjoyed many of their songs. But I found their fourth album to be a rather enjoyable rock epic of sonic grandeur and political underpinnings. Best: When They Come for Me.

9. Robyn - Body Talk After revitalizing her career in 2007 with the single "With Every Heartbeat," Swedish pop singer Robyn took a few years before returning with this remarkable set of dance pop, revealing as many hooks as it does vulnerabilities. In a smart marketing twist, Robyn unfurled the album over the course of the year, releasing first an EP in the spring and a second EP in the summer before the album came out in the fall. Best: Indestructible. See also Body Talk Part 1 and Body Talk Part 2.

10. Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue's fifth album for Parlophone was a step up from her slightly disappointing last couple of releases. It's still no Fever or Light Years, but its glittery electro/dance pop sound delivers quite a few great moments. Best: All the Lovers.

11. Rumer - Seasons of My Soul. Mining the late '60s pop sound has become somewhat of a sport in British pop music, but Paksitani-British newcomer Rumer gets credit for doing it with such effortless style, drawing quick comparisons to Karen Carpenter and Dusty Springfield with her evocative, hushed vocals. Best: Slow.

12. John Grant - Queen of Denmark John Grant's first solo outing holds back little when it comes to baring his soul through his music, touching on his troubled childhood, addiction, suicide and unrequited love. Yet he also finds time to sing about outer space and Sigourney Weaver, making it one of few albums that can deliver both laughter and tears. Best: Marz.

13. Vampire Weekend - Contra The quintessential hipster band edged a bit closer to the mainstream with their successful second album, continuing to mine their worldly rock sound for upbeat tunes. Best: Run.

14. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang Although a punk band at heart, The Gaslight Anthem took a full-blown Bruce Springsteen approach to this album, giving us a confident blast of everyman Americana. Best: The Queen of Lower Chelsea.

15. Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday One of the year's most anticipated debuts was that of hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj, whose first album is a winning combination of hip-hop, R&B and pop, drawing on '80s samples, sleek production and Minaj's creative spirit, often in the form of engaging alter egos. Best: Roman's Revenge.

16. Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea Corinne Bailey Rae's 2006 debut gave us the big hit "Put Your Records On," but was largely dismissed as MOR easy listening. This second album, although similar, is more robust musically, owing in part to the singer's recent heartbreak over the death of her husband. Best: I'd Do It All Again.

17. Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks British hip-hop artist Plan B turned soul singer on this retro-sounding concept album that tells the tale of a manly wrongly convicted of a crime. Best: She Said.

18. Bruno Mars - Doo Wops & Hooligans Bruno Mars was one of the year's biggest breakouts. As a producer and performer he's got plenty of talent on both sides of the recording studio's glass. I have a feeling this solid pop debut will continue generating hit singles well into 2011. Best: Just the Way You Are.

19. Taylor Swift - Speak Now Twenty-year-old Taylor Swift has had an amazing run the last two years, becoming the biggest thing in country music with her second album, Fearless, which early this year won the Album of the Year Grammy Award. Her hit streak continues with her third album, exploring more mature themes and leaving audiences guessing as she tackles the emotions behind the tabloid stories of her love life. Best: Back to December.

20. Black Keys - Brothers With The White Stripes on an apparent hiatus, the spot for alternative blues-rock band of choice was winningly filled by Black Keys this year with their sixth album, Brothers, which takes a more conventional yet not less engaging approach to the genre. Best: Tighten Up.

21. Sade - Soldier of Love It seems that Sade has decided to take 9-year breaks between albums, which is rather long, but probably worth it, if they continue to produce soulful, sensuous music of such caliber. Best: Babyfather.

22. Carole King & James Taylor - Live at the Troubadour I listened to this album because I expected it would be nominated by the Grammy folks for Album of the Year, but instead, the album received no nominations in any category. It's their loss though, for I found this nostalgic throwback of King and Taylor singing many of their best-loved songs live to be a nostalgic time warp of an album, even better if you were a fan of them in their heyday. Best: You've Got a Friend.

23. Duffy - Endlessly So far, this album is failing to take root, which is a shame. Yes, it's no Rockferry, but that doesn't mean it isn't quite good, with quite a few strong pop tracks like blustery "Well, Well, Well," which features a brassy backing from The Roots and the "Papa Don't Preach" ode, "Keeping MyBaby." Best: Keeping My Baby.

24. Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown Their 2008 album, Only By the Night, vaulted the American alternative rock group from being a little-known band with a modest British following to one of the world's best-selling musical acts. Big shoes to fill then for this follow-up album, which mostly adheres to the sound established by that previous landmark album. Best: Pyro.

25. Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History By 2010, the music industry had become saturated by bands plunging themselves whole-heartedly into the mid-'80s new wave sound, many with antique synthesizers in tow. Despite the glut, I had hopes that Two Door Cinema Club would manage to break out big with this debut, a tight set of melodic pop songs. Best: I Can Talk.

26. Goldfrapp - Head First Speaking of the '80s, Goldfrapp have always drawn on that decade's electronic sounds for their music, but on Head First, they made their first true '80s record. Its uptempo sound made up for the slight misstep of their folksy fourth album. Best: Believer.

27. Rihanna - Loud Rihanna's last album, Rated R, was a surprisingly artistic album, full of darkness and rage, as well as pop hooks. Loud is more familiar--mostly just uptempo dance pop, although it does see the singer return to her Caribbean roots moreso than her last few records. Best: Only Girl (in the World).

28. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest On Halcyon Digest, the Altanta-based indie rockers known as Deerhunter make dreamy, layered music that's like sifting through distant memories. An engaging listen that connected well music critics, putting them on many of the year's "best of" lists. Best: Desire Lines.

29. Hurts - Happiness. Hurts, which placed fourth on the BBC Sounds of 2010 poll, is another welcome synth pop duo, although not as clearly '80s-sounding as many of their peers. Their debut, excelled at delivering dreamy, moody pop with richly layered melodies of strings, drums, percussion, and of course, synthesizers. Best: Sunday.

30. Foals - Total Life Forever This Oxford-based group's debut was mostly pretty mellow rock, although at times quirky and playful. It's centerpiece was the brilliant "Spanish Sahara," a moody, 7-minute epic that built to a frenetic musical climax. Best: Spanish Sahara.

31. Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can British folk music isn't normally my thing, but I rather liked this second album from Laura Marling, which alternates effectively between mellower, reflective songs and more muscular, uptempo ones. She garnered quite a few accolades along the way. Best: Devil's Spoke.

32. Chromeo - Business Casual Chromeo is another group that exists solely because of the '80s bandwagon. Business Casual doesn't sound like it's sampling '80s sounds, it just is '80s sounds. A pretty decent imitation at that. Best: Don't Turn the Lights On.

33. The Roots - How I Got Over Whether they are backing up Jimmy Fallon, playing to the National Mall in front of John Stewart, collaborating with John Legend or just making music by themselves, hip-hop act The Roots demonstrated this year that when it comes to grounded, soulful, political hip-hop, they are the kings. Best: Walk Alone.

34. The Wanted Boybands are hot again in Britain as Take That (although really a "man" band now) is as hot as ever, while a new generation, led by JLS, continues to send up top 10 hits. This band emerged in the summer with #1 single "All Time Low." Their album followed, and like that single, was surprisingly good. Best: Let's Get Ugly

35. Keane - Night Train There was a time I was really in love with this band, but sadly their star has faded the last few years. I'm hopeful they will make another great album though, as this EP showed they are still willing to experiment with new sounds while continuing to craft great pop music. Best: Stop for a Minute.

36. Robert Plant - Band of Joy. Led Zeppelin's frontman follows up his amazing 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss with this collaboration with a group fo musicians named after Plant's pre-Zep band, Band of Joy. The results are surprisingly folksy, but quite rocking. Best: House of Cards

37. Sleigh Bells - Treats This spring debut generated quite a bit of buzz for the New York-based duo. Listening to the album's rapid-fire beats and heavily distorted guitars was like being assaulted sonically, although masochistically so, since the music it fronted was pretty great. Best: Tell 'Em.

38. I Am Kloot - Sky at Night The British folk scene was dominated this year by Laura Marling (above) and her friends Mumford & Sons, but other bands were there too, like than Mancunian group whose sound straddles folk and rock with this warm, acoustic set. Best: Proof.

39. Brandon Flowers - Flamingo Brandon Flowers' solo outing isn't quite as good as his work with his band The Killers, but when it works, it is glorious pop music, and I admire his efforts to produce a Vegas-themed concept album. Best: Only the Young.

40. Glee Cast - Glee: The Music. Rather than list just one album, I consider Glee to be a body of work that continues to send up creative twists on Broadway and popular songs. Best: Teenage Dream (feat. Darren Criss). See also Vol. 3-Showstoppers, Journey to Regionals, The Power of Madonna, A Very Glee Christmas (not reviewed, Vol. 4).

Also Reviewed, but Not Recommended

Alphabeat - The Beat Is...
Danger Mouse & Sparkle Horse - Dark Night of the Soul
Delphic - Acolyte
Eminem - Recovery
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Ellie Goulding - Lights
Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer
Michael Jackson - Michael (will be done within the next week)
Lady Antebellum - Need You Now
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Joe McElderry - Wide Awake
Midlake - The Courage of Others
MGMT - Congratulations
Ne-Yo - Libra Scale
Scouting for Girls - Everybody Wants to Be on TV
Villagers - Becoming a Jackal
Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Worst of the Year

1. Christina Aguilera - Bionic. I listened to this album on MySpace and decided it wasn't worth my effort to review and write up, let alone purchase. It represents what I like least about some pop albums. At 18 tracks, it's wayyy too long and proves my point that more isn't better, as I'm hard pressed to find any songs here that are really great. With too many producers, Aguilera just gets lost in the mix. After the decent Stripped and the intriguingly experimental Back to Basics, this was a serious disappointment.

2. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream. I was shocked, shocked, shocked to learn this was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. It's probably the least deserving album to nab the honor that I can think of. Yes, "California Gurls" and "Teenage Dream" are awesome pop songs, but two great songs do not an album make. Much of the rest is banal, trite and dull.

3. Interpol. This bleak fourth album from Interpol lacks the interesting melodies from their first album that wooed me last year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Album Review: John Grant - Queen of Denmark (4.5/5)

I was going to include this album in the article I wrote this week about releases from earlier this year, but since it's so good, I decided it deserved its own review. I'd never heard of John Grant until a couple weeks ago when his solo debut, Queen of Denmark, topped Mojo's list of the best albums of the year and also made Q Magazine's top 10.

In interviews, Grant has talked about how personal this album is, delving into the dark corners of his youth and early adulthood to weave songs of gorgeous sadness touching on topics like the difficulty of growing up gay in a homophobic environment and falling in love and having it not work out. In this vein, the album delivers its riches songs. "TC and Honeybear" is a folksy sweet love story, but punches with forceful longing near the end when it appears the title characters will be separated. There's no such will on "Where Dreams Go to Die," where unrequited love leads to resignation or, in the case of the gently tuneful "It's Easier," self delusion as a form of emotional armor. "Caramel" is the only love song that seems to end happily; the respite is brief, for it's followed by "Leopard and Lamb," another lovely downer.

The album isn't purely about heartbreak though, and Grant shows he has a sense of humor too. He titles a song about being an outsider after one of my favorite actresses, "Sigourney Weaver," drawing on her famed turn as Ellen Ripley, always on the run from the aliens. He also name-checks Winona Ryder and "that other guy" from her vampire film, presumably Keanu Reeves, as an opportunity to make fun of their accents in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Quirky "Chicken Bones" has prickly lyrics, but its anger is tempered by its jaunty tune and off-kilter metaphors ("I'm about to explode just like a Wonder Bread bomb"). The persnickety track would be at home on a Scissor Sisters album if its tempo was a little faster. It's followed by another lively piano-backed track, "Silver Platter Club," where he takes a swipe at privileged class who get everything handed to them. His sharpest daggers come out on "Jesus Hates F****ts," during which he rails against all sorts of things that piss him off.

Musically, the arrangements evoke early '70s pop with lots of piano, guitar and string coming together to form strong, nostalgic melodies. Credit for that goes to Midlake, the Texan folk-rock group that is the backing band for this album. They provide an emotional heart to all the songs, even when Grant is singing about seemingly ridiculous things, like extra-terrestrials on "Outer Space," which features era-appropriate synthesizers. Their sense of melody is put to best use on "Marz," my favorite track. The song uses a tune of cinematic scope to pine for the lost innocence of childhood through the metaphor of a candy store Grant frequented as a little boy.

Queen of Denmark is a promising solo turn from an artist taking a new direction after the breakup of his band, The Czars. Importantly, Grant has a great voice--deep and expressive, it just draws you in. He's also willing to be deeply personal in his lyrics. Judging from what he's revealed here, he's got quite a few more stories to share. Whether they continue to have this dark edge or be a little happier, I'm hopeful they will be just as beautiful.

Best: Marz, Sigourney Weaver, TC and Honeybear, Outer Space, Where Dreams Go to Die, It's Easier

Further Listening

Midlake - The Courage of Others (3/5)

Midlake, the backing band for John Grant's Queen of Denmark, is a band in their own right, having released several albums in the last few years. The Courage of Others is their third such outing, an album of lovely melancholy, although not as interesting lyrically as Grant's album. Their acoustic sound and harmonized vocals come together best on "Rulers, Ruling All Things," a definite highlight of the quieter material, growing a bit more robust for its choruses. I also like "Bring Down," which features female vocalist Stephanie Dosen, and while its hardly a love duet (it's rather funereal in its gloom), it's another particularly lovely song. "Small Mountain" gets a bit punchier with its prominent bass line, "Children of the Grounds" has a little more tempo and "The Horn" includes electric guitar, one of the few plugged in instruments. But essentially, the album is folk music for the granola-loving set on a cloudy, rainy day. "Core of Nature" discusses walking through the woods and all sorts of natural metaphors, as if it wasn't clear that was what they were going for here. Best: Rulers Ruling All Things, Bring Down

Friday, December 17, 2010