Friday, November 28, 2008

The Vox Acerbus Best Music of 2008

I don't post often, but when I do, I come bearing gifts. After much listening, soul searching, and sleepless nights, the Vox Acerbus Best Music of 2008 is finally finished.

First, a quick rehash of the rules for the new readers.

All of the music below is in my collection. I don't Google it and crank out some half-ass amalgamation of somebody else's favorites. You get inside *my* head - that alone is worth the price of admission.

Lyrics are key, except of course in the case of an instrumental track that made the cut for 2008 - a Vox Acerbus first. (OK, not technically an instrumental, but the voice is offering melodic support rather than words, per se.) The music can be great, but if the lyrics are stupid, I can't in good conscience pass it along to you. Each song below has a lyric that for some unexplained reason caught my ear and made it worthy of consideration.

I don't release the list until I'm certain of it. And this year, it took over a month to get it right. I lost track of how many times I changed it, and I would wager that a over 1/3 of the list was not included in the original version.

And finally, after I make the picks, I write a few liner notes to tell you *why* the song was included. Part of that is because I think it's as important as the music, but most if it is because I am a huge dork and I live under the illusion that you care what I think.

Also, new for 2008 - the order of the songs. Since 2003, I have presented the list in chronological order from earliest release to latest. This year, I let iTunes do it. I shuffled the playlist, and this is the result. Done.

And so, without further interruption, I present the Vox Acerbus Best of 2008.

1. "Sanvean" by Sarah Brightman, from Symphony

The first "instrumental" ever included on a Vox Acerbus best of collection, Brightman's version of Lisa Gerrard's (formerly of Dead Can Dance) "Sanvean (I Am Your Shadow)" replaces Gerard's lower vocal registers with soaring purity. It feels like a long descent.

2. "And Then We Fell" by Brian Vander Ark, from Brian Vander Ark

"and all the while gravity is pulling us straight into Hell"

"And Then We Fell" was tested in front of audiences as the show opener starting in early 2007, and you can hear the progression from some of the bootleg versions that are out there. Brian Vander Ark is one of the most prolific songwriters of our time. His songs go beyond the formulaic offerings of today's pop music; they tell a story. He's a modern day troubadour, the kind who went the way of the typewriter and the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, who continues to earn the praise and admiration of his fans one song at a time.

3. "Los Angeles" by Peter Bradley Adams, from Leavetaking

"And you held us in your city lights when our eyes had lost the stars"

Adams is 1/2 of the former folk-pop duo eastmountainsouth, who disbanded after just one terrific self-titled album in 2003. This is his second solo effort, and while Leavetaking is a stellar album, it's the absolutely stunning song here that will stop you cold. For lack of a more colorful description, this song is gorgeous.

4. "Coney Island" by Good Old War, from Only Way to Be Alone

"Reminisce why I still hate it here"

I think Good Old War is what Nickel Creek would have sounded like if they recorded in the 1960's. This is a rare Vox Acerbus pick - a song with a driving tempo - but it is still sad and forlorn. Who says melancholy can't be conveyed with a tasty groove?

5. "The One I Love" by Greg Laswell, from Three Flights From Alto Nido

"I'll bring your words along with me, maybe one day they will mean something"

A time honored tale of the grass always being greener on the other side. Sometimes people act in a manner where there is no logical explanation for doing so, and we've all done it. Laswell brings a unique piano presence to a guitar dominated genre.

6. "Sarah" by Ray LaMontagne, from Gossip in the Grain

"Eyes closed tight, throwing punch after punch at the world"

LaMontagne's third album is less restrained and more adventurous than his previous work, which really says something, because he remains as distant and stoic as ever. People knock him for being so tormented and brooding, but what they don't realize that's where the brilliance comes from. Let the man be miserable, because it works. He already cut the set list short this past October in Detroit (I know because I have it) - you want him to stop touring and making records altogether? Shut up already.

7. "Coming In Too Low" by Steve Reynolds, from The Carnival Papers

"who is the person I have become?"

Reynolds is a Canadian artist who brings a modern touch to the normal "trials and tribulations of life" stuff of folk music. This song starts in a low drone and is driven by the low toms instead of the snare drum before building into a heavily layered and epic ending.

8. "A Thread Cut With A Carving Knife" by Stars, from Sad Robots EP

"close your eyes until tomorrow, it could bring joy it could bring sorrow, but it will come sure as light"

The Canadian duo returns with a song about "the next day", a lesson that no matter what course of action we choose (like the 3 sample verses here: continuing a loveless relationship, comtemplating suicide, and drinking to forget), the sun will come up tomorrow. The tone ranges between hope and hopelessness and is layered like an onion with synth waves and distortion.

9. "Crack The Shutter" by Snow Patrol, from A Hundred Million Suns

"It's been minutes, it's been days, it's been all I will remember"

This is really nothing more than a simple love song. A lot of people are calling it this album's version of "Chasing Cars", but that's an oversimplification. This song more than stands on its own merits. Slick pop production, yes, but worthy all the same.

10. "Maybe Be Alright" by William Fitzsimmons, from The Sparrow and the Crow

"I was just a stupid kid"

The beard alone gets this guy in. His songs are full of pain and regret, which we love here at Vox Acerbus. Truth is, anyone of the songs on this album could have made this collection, so it should be no surprise that two of them did.

11. "The World is Outside" by Hem
". . . all the ways to feel the world forgot you . . ."

No cover art for this one. This was released via Hem's website last spring, and is likely just a skeleton demo of a song that might appear on the next record sometime in 2009. That's how unbelievably talented this band is.

12. "Alicia Ross" by Kathleen Edwards, from Asking for Flowers

"Was your darkest day as dark as this one?"

I am a huge fan of Edwards, ever since I heard "Sweet Little Duck" from the Failer album back in 2003. I love the story offered between the opening lyric ("I am a girl with a forgettable face) and the closing line ("Now I'm a girl who's face they'll never forget"), but the subject material is the saddest imaginable. It's a paradox that a song about a young girl's murder could sound so beautiful.

13. "Beautiful Lie" by Yoav, from Charmed & Strange

"Fade away like frozen photographs"

It's unbelievable that every sound in this song was made by a single acoustic guitar. Sure, it's overdubbed and looped, but it's still pretty damn impressive. We need to embrace world music artists like him.

14. "Washington Square" by Counting Crows, from Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings

"And time is a number that rests on a wall"

Admittedly, before this record, I was not a big Counting Crows fan, but there is something so sparse and desolate within this pretty song, I had to include it. As you know, paradoxes rule at Vox Acerbus.

15. "Ships" by Tyler Ramsey, from A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea

"Cause by now I've seen too many of us seamlessly upon the sea,
whose sails are clinging desperately to ships that once were worthy."

This entire album is amazing, but the lyric above is the reason I picked this song from the rest - those words are powerful stuff.

16. "Your New Twin-Sized Bed" by Death Cab for Cutie, from Narrow Stairs

"It's like you're in some kind of hurry to say goodbye"

This was a difficult choice, because this album had so many standouts, but in the end, the contant synth drone that starts in the second verse and continues throughout the rest of the song was the deciding factor because it adds such a sonic stability and depth to an otherwise light track.

17. "Lullaby" by Priscilla Ahn, from A Good Day

"This old library has thirty books and one dictionary"

This is a song about a desire to leave a small town behind for bigger and better things. My favorite feature of this song is the raw texture of the string arrangement. Ahn also sang with William Fitzsimmons on a couple of tracks on his The Sparrow & The Crow album, from which 2 songs made this year's list.

18. "If You Would Come Back Home" by William Fitzsimmons, from The Sparrow & The Crow

"Call the surgeon . . . mend the pieces"

Another song of heartache and despair. I feel bad for the guy that he had to go through whatever it was that brought so much pain, but the songs are so stunning and brilliant, I'm glad he did. Sorry, William - that sucks, man.

19. "Gossip in the Grain" by Ray LaMontagne, from Gossip in the Grain

"The beggar that holds is tongue . . . dines on none but air alone"

This song has a ethereal element much like his songs "Be Here Now" and "Empty" from the Till the Sun Turns Black album of 2006. His sorrowful voice and the haunting intro of flute and glockenspiel make for a powerful combination.

I'm out-

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of June 17, 2008

Music is constant, even if my writing isn't, and though I wasn't able to blog over the last few weeks, I was able to listen, and as always, you - the reader - are the beneficiary.

Big news! The bitchin' Saturn ION 3 is now reloaded with XM Radio. I told myself back in May of 2007 that I couldn't justify the expense. Then I told myself that I was a complete tool, and things got pretty heated until my sensible self just up and bitch slapped my frugal self with a stinging backhand. You should have seen it. It was textbook technique, employing the obliques and turning with my torso to generate power, and the next thing I know, I was telling myself "I got knocked the #@&* out!".

So, allow me to pontificate with these:

1. Viva la Vida – Coldplay (2008)

Teaming up with Brian Eno, Coldplay is back with their fourth album, and I think it’s just swell. “Life in Technicolor” is a great opener – I like the idea of starting a record with an instrumental track. Other favorites include “Viva la Vida”, which generated substantial anticipation through the iTunes teaser spots, and the album’s closer, “Death and All His Friends”.

On a related note, I still hate the song “Yellow” from the Parachutes album. I can’t fathom how such a crappy song could come from an otherwise pretty cool band. I mean, every band has a few misses in their discography, but rarely are they so far off the pace.

2. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie (2008)

This album is tremendous. The opener, “Bixby Canyon Bridge”, starts calmly and builds pressure and explodes into noise and chaos before settling back into serenity. “I Will Possess Your Heart” is a sublimely creepy account of a distant infatuation turned obsession: “you reject my advances and desperate pleas; I won’t let you let me down so easily”. Damn – call the cops!

“Pity and Fear” must be listened to at ridiculous decibel levels. The distortion stops so abruptly that I went back and checked iTunes to make sure I had the whole song.

And finally, “Your New Twin Sized Bed” is my new Death Cab favorite, and is the first song to be guaranteed a spot on the Vox Acerbus Best of 2008.

3. The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow (2008)

The return of XM makes an immediate impact with the discovery of this band. I was scanning stations and chanced upon XM 45 as they were playing the magnificent track “One Day Like This”, punctuated by a blend of sweeping and staccato string arrangements. Other favorites include “Mirrorball” and “Grounds for Divorce”, where the album title is taken from the lyric “Mondays are for drinking to the seldom seen kid”. They also have one of the coolest websites out there. Check it out here and make sure your volume is up at the intro screen – you can play piano by scrolling over the different letters! Their extensive discography will certainly warrant further listening.

4. Gavin DeGraw – Gavin DeGraw (2008)

I was hooked on Gavin DeGraw the night I saw him open for Barenaked Ladies back in 2004. I had no idea who he was before then, but he put on one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. The single “In Love with a Girl” picks up right where the material from Chariot left off. Other favorites include “Next to Me (Wait A Minute Sister”, “Untamed”, “We Belong Together” and “Cheated on Me” (I love a song that I can relate to on such a personal level).

So what if it took him 5 years to release another album? I love it, even if he does look like a dead ringer for Mike Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High on the album cover.

5. Gattaca – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1997)

Michael Nyman’s score is gorgeous. This is a film where the score holds critical importance; the surrealism and depth of the movie could not have been attained without this music behind it. Try this one on your iPod some time when you retire for the evening – a dark room with no distractions would take this up a notch, methinks.

I’m out-

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of May 6, 2008

You thought you had heard the last of my incessant musical ramblings, yes?

To be honest, I thought I might have written the last of said musical ramblings. Lots of bitter happenings in the world of Vox Acerbus lately - a real estate deal gone sour, work travel for 3 of the last 5 weeks, and another real estate deal to replace the aforementioned sour one. Rodney Dangerfield said it best in Ladybugs:

"Two-story house. Yeah - before you buy it they give you one story, after you move in you get another story."
But I digress.

Through it all, I've managed to stay abreast of some very cool new stuff, as well as finally getting around to giving some earlier procured tunes their due credence. A few thousand miles in a van affords you that kind of opportunity.

1. You Have No Idea What You're Getting Yourself Into - Does It Offend You, Yeah? (2008)

This album goes against EVERYTHING that I like, and yet I can't stop listening. Electro-punk, funk-rock - whatever you want to call it - it ain't the soothing acoustic melancholy I usually immerse myself in. My favorites are "Battle Royale" and "Being Bad Feels Pretty Good", which would be quite at home on The Killers' Hot Fuss album. A paradox of the aural variety.

2. Who You Are - Cary Brothers (2007)

I was initially drawn into this record for the worthy cover of The Thompson Twins' classic "If You Were Here", but the dark and lonely miles of the western Michigan Upper Peninsula revealed the greatness of the rest of the album. "Ride" is simply stunning, and "Precious Lie" is epic sadness. And "The Glass Parade" features just the type of lyric that Vox Acerbus appreciates: "Just a voice inside your head, whispering that all the hope is dead, all the time you had to prove that no one really loves you". That, boys and girls, is why we listen to the words.

3. The Slip – Nine Inch Nails (2008)

The Slip is the second full length album released through the Nine Inch Nails website, and as a thank you to his loyal fans for years of support, Trent Reznor is offering it free of charge. Just click here, fill out the information, and you’ll get an e-mail with a link to the download site, where the files are available in many digital formats. You can also register and become eligible for presale tickets for the upcoming North American tour.

The album continues the raw machine-gun energy of 2007’s Year Zero, but for those (like myself) who revel in NIN’s darkened soundscapes, “Corona Radiata” and “The Four of Us are Dying” fit the bill.

4. Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie (2005)

In anticipation of next week’s release of Narrow Stairs, I thought it prudent to revisit my favorite Death Cab album to date. Favorites include “Title & Registration” and its clever opening verse (“the glove compartment is inaccurately named, and everybody knows it, so I’m proposing a swift orderly change, because behind its door, there’s nothing to keep my fingers warm”) and the epic title track, which is one of those songs meant to be listened to at full volume. The record also contains one of my favorite songs of love desolation, “Tiny Vessels”, where Ben Gibbard sings “It was vile, and it was cheap, and you are beautiful, but you don’t mean a thing to me.”

5. Nonsuch – XTC (1992)

I am among the very few who wonder why people laud Skylarking so much more, because to me, Nonsuch is a better album. In fact, I would also rank Apple Venus Vol. 1 ahead of Skylarking as well. Blasphemy? Not to me, and it’s my blog. There it is.

XTC are some of the best lyricists ever. “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” is probably the most recognizable track, but the real gems here are “My Bird Performs” (“the cage is open but she has no desire to fly”), “The Disappointed” (“seems your ring upon my finger signifies that I’ve become the spokesman of . . . the disappointed”), and “Then She Appeared” (“and the moon which formally shone on the marbled midnight mile suddenly just packed its bags, now shines from her bright smile”).

It’s good to be home.

I’m out-

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of April 1, 2008

It’s time for the biweekly submission of my weekly feature. Believe it, boys and girls; it’s just below this paragraph. I used letters and words and everything.

Looking back at my New Year’s Resolutions, posting regularly isn’t the only goal where I have failed miserably. That head of steam was quickly doused, wasn’t it? I guess there’s still time, but the fact remains that I wasted a full ¼ of the year. The only April Fool here is the author.

There has been enough great stuff released already this year to assure that the Vox Acerbus Best of 2008 will be a multi-volume offering. So, if nothing else, at least you have that going for you.

Did anyone notice that The B-52's released a new album last week? No? Neither did I.

1. Accelerate – R.E.M. (2008)

R.E.M.’s valiant return – a boisterous, angry album with great lyrics such as “if the storm doesn’t kill me, the government will”. I can now forgive them for the Reveal debacle. I may adopt “Living Well is the Best Revenge” as one of my personal theme songs. Welcome back.

2. “I Will Possess Your Heart” – Death Cab for Cutie (2008)

This is the first single from the forthcoming release Narrow Stairs slated for May 13. Clocking in at an epic 8+ minutes, the musical tone is set well before Ben Gibbard’s vocals begin halfway into the song. If this single is any indication, then another brilliant Death Cab for Cutie album is upon us.

3. “In Love With A Girl” – Gavin De Graw (2008)

This is the first single from the forthcoming self-titled second album from Gavin De Graw, which has been pushed back to a May 6 release. He retains and expands the pop sensibilities of 2003’s Chariot album, which by my account (and who else’s account really matters?) was a great record. He also puts on a very high energy show, so I hope his tour passes near my neighborhood.

4. Winterpills – Winterpills (2005)

A recent e-mail from a friend reminded me of this band, which unfortunately, for some unknown and inexplicable reason, had been relegated to iPod obscurity. My favorite song is “Portrait”, where they eschew the typical elegant and hollow professions of undying love and devotion for the simple phrase “I can’t pose for this portrait without you”, and the all too true "there's honey in the chemicals".

5. Synchronicity – The Police (1983)

Raise your hand if you can believe this landmark album was released 25 years ago. Yes – you are old like me. The album yielded timeless classics like “Every Breath You Take”, “King of Pain”, and “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. A lot of people fault Sting for being pretentious, but they’re just pissed that he wrote a lyric about Scylla and Charybdis and they didn’t know what it meant. Ignorance, while rampant, is no defense. Sting has knowledge, and you are a dumbass. Deal with it.

I'm out-

Friday, March 21, 2008

William Fitzsimmons - Music Video

Check out the first video from William Fitzsimmons - the gorgeous song "It's Not True" from the Goodnight album.

If you haven't checked out his music yet, you are denying yourself indescribable aural pleasure.

I'm out-

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The All Day Shuffle Experiment

Inspired by a recent post by fellow Spunkybean writer on her blog, The Queen of Useless Knowledge, I decided to see what kind of a playlist an entire workday of iPod shuffle would generate. How triumphant (or embarassing) would it be?

This is risky business. I work for the government in a rather sterile work environment, and frankly, some of my music isn't appropriate in that setting. Ludacris on long road trip = good. Ludacris in your cubicle = bad. Lady Luck frowned on me, and I was sent scrambling to the volume knob with the 3rd song of the day.

I also have 5 or 6 Yanni albums. And 2 John Tesh albums. This alone constitutes a valid reason for a beat down. And since Yanni popped up at #33, I fully deserve to get my ass kicked.

So, out of 15,843 songs, below are the 88 songs my Ipod deemed worthy between 8 and 5 today. I would love to comment on them all, but I really don't have that kind of ambition. Maybe later I'll add some statistical analysis or something, but for now, res ipsa loquitur - the list speaks for itself.

1. Rise Up With Fists – Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins
2. Here Comes – INXS
3. HWC – Liz Phair
4. Broadway – Alison Krauss & Union Station
5. River – Holly Cole
6. Unforgettable – Natalie Cole
7. I’ll Go Crazy – Bruce Willis
8. Lily Dreams On – Cotton Mather
9. I Am You – Depeche Mode
10. And So It Goes – Billy Joel
11. Innocent World – Joseph Arthur
12. Blasphemous Rumours – Depeche Mode
13. World Full of Nothing – Depeche Mode
14. Love In Itself – Depeche Mode
15. Indian Summer – The Rippingtons
16. Steam Trains to the Milky Way – Danny Wilson
17. Sunshine – Keane
18. Theme from New York, New York – Frank Sinatra
19. The Science Fair – Meet the Robinsons Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
20. Twisted – Annie Lennox
21. Welcome to Rome – Hudson Hawk Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
22. Miss Gradenko – The Police
23. You’re the Buddha – Howard Jones
24. Chief – Patty Griffin
25. Dream On – Depeche Mode
26. Afterall – William Fitzsimmons
27. Weapons of Mass Distortion – Crystal Method
28. Hidden #3: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes – They Might Be Giants
29. Manhattan Project – Rush
30. Disappearing World – David Gray
31. Firewalker – Liz Phair
32. Belief – Gavin DeGraw
33. You Only Live Once – Yanni
34. All the Way to Reno – REM
35. Selfless, Cold and Composed – Ben Folds Five
36. The Portrait – Back to Titanic: Titanic Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
37. Fools Game – Bonnie Raitt
38. My Time – Earshot
39. Goodnight, California – Kathleen Edwards
40. Switch 625 – Def Leppard
41. Wichita Skyline – Shawn Colvin
42. Tenderness on the Block – Shawn Colvin
43. Not the Red Baron – Tori Amos
44. Circulate – Swing Out Sister
45. Big River – Johnny Cash
46. Like It or Not – Madonna
47. Yesterday Once More – The Carpenters
48. Perfect Romance – Lynn Miles
49. Survivalism (Tardusted Remix) – Nine Inch Nails
50. Black Crow – Diana Krall
51. All Night Long (All Night) – Lionel Richie
52. Hypnotist of Ladies – They Might Be Giants
53. Rhymin’ & Stealin’ – Beastie Boys
54. The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
55. The Night – Catie Curtis
56. Get Here – Oleta Adams
57. Love Love Love – Tristan Prettyman
58. Low Down Dirty Business – Swing Out Sister
59. You Can’t Hurry Love – Phil Collins
60. You Happy Puppet – 10,000 Maniacs
61. Chicago Song – David Sanborn
62. Communication Breakdown – Led Zeppelin
63. Path of Thorns – Sarah McLachlan
64. I Like To – Men at Work
65. Matter of Minutes – Shawn Colvin
66. One in Ten – UB40
67. People Just Love To Play With Words – Men at Work
68. Crystal Ball – Keane
69. Master & Servant – Depeche Mode
70. The End – The Doors
71. We’re Not Deep – The Housemartins
72. A Question of Time – Depeche Mode
73. Call Me Mellow – Tears for Fears
74. Take This Waltz – Leonard Cohen
75. Love Oh Love – Lionel Richie
76. Top of the World – Patty Griffin
77. Streets of Laredo – Johnny Cash
78. Fantastic Dream – Alphaville
79. Dancing on the Ceiling – Lionel Richie
80. Nothing Is Good Enough – Aimee Mann
81. Sister of Night – Depeche Mode
82. Our Song – Yes
83. Oranges on Appletrees – a-ha
84. Love Sick – Bob Dylan
85. Scars – Rush
86. Red Light – Catie Curtis
87. Go Back Home – Stephen Stills
88. Sound of Your Voice – Barenaked Ladies

Worship my iPod before it destroys you.

I'm out-

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of March 18, 2008

Great new stuff this week, and some great new stuff on the horizon as well. Let's cut to the chase . . .

1. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails (2008)

The latest from Trent Reznor is the first internet-only release since his emancipation from the record labels, and it's a bold and successful offering. It consists of 36 untitled instrumental tracks, identified only by number and placement in the series (i.e. 13 Ghosts II) and layered with hope, despair, droning, grinding, simplicity, beauty, scraping, and weight. This will be my bedtime iPod music for the foreseeable future.

2. Supernatural Superserious (Single) - R.E.M. (2008)

The first song available from the upcoming release Accelerate, due out April 1. If this song is any indication, it harkens a welcome return to the days of Out of Time and Automatic for the People (and a welcome departure from experiments like Reveal and Up).

3. How The Day Sounds (EP) - Greg Laswell (2008)

Laswell is definitely a new direction for the singer-songwriter/contemporary folk genre. Many music writers label him as the genre's answer to Coldplay, but I hardly think that Coldplay could take a song like Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and turn it on its ear like Laswell did. The comparisons are correct but reversed - Coldplay wishes they were Laswell. Highlights include the title track and the new version of "What A Day".

4. On A Clear Night - Missy Higgins (2007)

I missed this one last fall, and it was my loss. This Australian singer-songwriter is a stripped down amalgamation of pop artists Anna Nalick and Sara Bareilles. Favorites include "Warm Whispers", "Steer", and "Forgive Me".

5. Music For The Masses - Depeche Mode (1987)

"Pimpf" and "Agent Orange" are 2 of the all time great dark room and headphones songs. This album is loaded with classics like "Never Let Me Down" (always a concert highlight when they extend the song with the Aggro Mix, like the version in the playlist below), "Behind the Wheel", and "Strangelove". It's also one my all time favorite albums covers. Dig it:

I'm out-

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of March 4, 2008

Oh, Canada! Oh, women! Oh, Canadian women!

This week, as I celebrate the release of Asking for Flowers by Kathleen Edwards, I dedicate this week's feature to some of my favorite songstresses from north of the border.

Be sure to crack a Blue or a Molson as you listen. So let's get to it, eh?

1. Asking for Flowers - Kathleen Edwards (2008)

Wow. Not much more to say than I already said here, other than I was up at 4 AM to pull it down from iTunes.

2. Slightly Haunted - Lynn Miles (1996)

Lynn Miles sings sad and beautiful songs - just the way I like them. "The Ghost of Deadlock" was one of the first songs I heard as I was being drawn into the contemporary folk/singer-songwriter genre, and it remains one of my favorites. Her show at One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids, Michigan is also one of my favorite concert experiences.

3. Colour, Moving & Still - Chantal Kreviazuk (2000)

Although I am a fan of all 4 of her albums, this one is my favorite. "Souls" is the highlight, with a gorgeous extended intro and the great lyric "Covenant, we will always grow, our skin will fade, transcend beyond all we've been told". Another favorite is "Little Things", where Kreviazuk's voice soars above string arrangements with lines like "Misery's turning my luck around" and "The past holds the truth like a lost and found".

4. All of Our Names - Sarah Harmer (2004)

Harmer's gentle voice can detract you from some very biting lyrics. See my earlier post dedicated to the song "Greeting Card Aisle". "Tether" is a pretty ballad of lament with lines like "Living this close to the road, you question your vulnerability" and "another melody is aching for a few pretty words to let it be". "Go to Sleep" is a perfect album closer.

5. Bound by the Beauty - Jane Siberry (1989)

Siberry can be eclectic (i.e. "Everything Reminds Me of My Dog") but she can certainly write some beautiful songs. "Life is the Red Wagon" is one of my all-time favorite ballads ("maybe it won't work this time, but that's the risk you take, and you want to take it). Other soothing numbers include "Hockey" and the title track.

I'm out-

Bowl O' Beans: Kathleen Edwards

Click here to check out my review of the outstanding new album Asking for Flowers by Kathleen Edwards over at Spunkybean.

I'm out-

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of February 26, 2008

So what if I post my weekly features once a month? You’re not the boss of me.

There hasn’t been much new music that has caught my attention over the past couple of weeks, but read below about some great stuff that’s new to me, even though it has been out for a while.

I am greatly anticipating the new record from Canadian folk artist Kathleen Edwards. She is releasing Asking for Flowers next week (March 4) and launching a spring tour soon afterwards. Check out a few of the tracks and get tour dates here. I hope I can catch her show at The Magic Bag in Ferndale, Michigan on Sunday, April 6.

That being said . . .

1. Failer – Kathleen Edwards (2003)

“Sweet Little Duck” is one of the most beautifully dark and melancholy folk songs ever, with the feedback-tinged swells of strings and the lyrics “I sleep through most my days, so the time goes by, and I think I drink more now than ever”. Other highlights include “Mercury” and “Hockey Skates”.

2. Back to Me – Kathleen Edwards (2005)

Edwards’ sophomore effort widens the folk scope and features the outstanding mid-tempo tracks “Copied Keys” and “Summerlong” as well as ballads “Old Time Sake” and “Good Things”. The standout is “Somewhere Else”, which features a surprising horn arrangement and juxtaposed lyrics, with Edwards singing “life can be sweet if I want it to be” in one verse, followed by “life is so cruel because I let it be” in the next.

3. Once – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2007)

I am ashamed and embarrassed that I missed this last year. A friend of mine recommended this album (and the movie) during a lunch conversation, and I was floored. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are a pairing on par with Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan. “Falling Slowly” is stunningly beautiful. The film is at the top of my Netflix queue.

4. Swell Season – Glen Hansard (2006)

Of course, I can never get enough of a good thing, so hearing the Once soundtrack led me to this album - an earlier collaborative effort by Hansard and Irglova. It’s the perfect paradox of lush, beautiful arrangements and lyrics and pain and fear, and THAT, my friends, is why you should love paradoxes as much as I do.

5. The Sun is Melting – The Colorful Quiet (2006)

This independent album by Stephen Webster is simply amazing. These deeply introspective songs are emotional and insightful, and I think of him as a modern day Nick Drake.

I’m out-

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Falling Down

I fell down yesterday.

It was a genuine fall, too - not a stumble. I went down, and I went down hard.

I parked my car in front of the local hardware to get some painting supplies. The parking lot was empty, so I was walking fast and trying to read the business hours on the front door to see if they were open. Without warning, I was airborne.

As I flew violently forward, survival instinct kicked in, and I turned sideways to minimize the impact and get set up for the tuck and roll. I landed squarely on my left hip, assumed the fetal position for a split second, and carried momentum through the roll. I popped up on one leg almost as quick as I went down, and was back in stride for a few steps until the second wave of momentum hit me like a tidal wave and sent me spiralling out of control. I landed on my right knee and bounced forward before finally coming to rest face down between the front door and the cases of windshield wiper fluid stacked along the wall.

WTF was that? I looked back, eager to see the snow or ice that put me in peril, but there was none to be seen. It was a curb - in all of its glorious open-and-obvious splendor. I stood up and entered the store, and was quickly greeted by a clerk just few steps inside. He HAD to have seen it all happen, but he looked at me and deadpanned "Is there something I can help you find?" I thought to myself, yes - how about my dignity? Or my center of gravity?

He pointed me to the paint section, and I found what I needed. I paid for the merchandise, and he handed me my change and thanked me for my patronage. I thought I was in the clear, but just before I reached the door, he says behind me "be careful". The bastard mocked me, but he did it without laughing or smiling, so he could later argue he was acting professionally and within the capacity of his hardware clerking duties. Well played, sir, but you will rue the day, my friend.

I haven't gone down like that since the winter of '94, when I fell backwards and slid down an icy embankment in front of a Ponderosa, much to the delight of the many patrons who witnessed it through the huge front windows of the restaurant. I don't know what's more embarrassing - the fact that I bit it, or the fact I was at a Ponderosa.

I'm out-

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of January 29, 2008

Remember “The Jerk”, when Steve Martin goes crazy about the new phone books? Well, it’s like that in the Vox Acerbus Cubicle Tunes feature this week, because the new Brian Vander Ark album is here! The new Brian Vander Ark album is here!

(Deep breath)

(Deep breath)

Like Mr. Miyagi told the Karate Kid – breathe in through nose, breathe out through mouth. Show me “sanding floor”!

Now that pulmonary function has been restored, there are 2 other notable releases this week as well, including one by renowned vocalist Sarah Brightman. 2008 is shaping up to be a very good year.

1. Brian Vander Ark – Brian Vander Ark (2008)

The Verve Pipe emeritus returns with his third album and the third time is indeed a charm. “And Then We Fell” has been a favorite since he opened the show with it at the Magic Bag in Ferndale last April, and “Lily White Way” is a perfect suburban lament.

I had the opportunity to interview Brian about the record for my review that will be posted over at Spunkybean when the new site goes live February 4, so be sure to check it out.

2. Symphony – Sarah Brightman (2008)

After her experimentation with world music on her last album Harem (2003), Brightman returns with a broader collection of pop/opera crossover material reminiscent of La Luna (2000) and Eden (1999). Brightman’s voice shines again, with the horrid exception of the misguided duet “I Will Be with You (Where the Lost Ones Go)” with, I kid you not, Paul Stanley of KISS. Yes – it’s as abhorrent as you would imagine.

3. Charmed & Strange – Yoav (2008)

This very innovative folk/dance/world/ambient album has captured my attention. When is a guitar not a guitar? It’s quite the sonic conundrum. In the words of Morpheus – free your mind.

4. A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea – Tyler Ramsey (2008)

A holdover from the last installment, this record still gets frequent air time in the cubicle, the car, at home, on the can, etc. Check out my review of said record over at Spunkybean.

5. Under the Iron Sea – Keane (2006)

I’ve owned this since it was released, but never really gave it due credence until recently, when “Is It Any Wonder?” was played during a lunch at Olga’s and reminded me that I never listened to it. Peasant soup and Keane – a formidable combination, to be certain. This one is more synth heavy than the piano-laden Hopes & Fears (2004), and the end result is an edgier record worthy of a listen.

I’m out-

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of January 15, 2008

It really is amazing how much better it is to have your entire collection at your disposal in your cubicle. Until recently, I had 1/3 of my music available, and I was about as diligent in changing the the songs as I am about writing in this blog, so do the math. Now, I'm like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, acting like JoJo the Idiot Circus Boy, playing with my new pet. My iPod is naughty!

Dig on these:

1. A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea - Tyler Ramsey (2008)

In a word - amazing. The amalgamation of sonic ambience and folk is fast becoming one of my favorite genres, and the combination here is groundbreaking. Look for an extensive review over at the Bean very soon. 9 tracks are featured on the media player at the bottom of this page.

2. Tiny Cities - Sun Kil Moon (2005)

Mark Kozalek has a history of recording stunning covers, slowing them down and stripping them bare into vehicles for his own (as well as the listener's) forlorn introspection. Here, he uses that formula on an entire album of Modest Mouse covers. "Ocean Breathes Salty" has never sounded better.

3. Some Devil - Dave Matthews (2003)

Funny story - this one got lost in my iTunes library because it was marked as a "compilation", and I never looked in the "compilation" folder. OK - it wasn't funny at all. It was sad. Big ass iPod - the gift that keeps on giving! "Stay or Leave" is gorgeous, and "Gravedigger" is just cool in every sense of the word.

4. Demolition - Ryan Adams (2002)

My favorite track here is the one that strays the farthest from the rest of the album. "Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby)" is sonic and heavy. The more acoustic "Dear Chicago" and "Tomorrow" are other standouts.

5. Lost & Gone Forever - Guster (1999)

Guster is a long time favorite of Vox Acerbus, which goes against principle, because they aren't bitter at all. Some favorites include "Either Way", "Center of Attention", and "Two Points for Honesty". They are working on new stuff, so there may be a new Guster album on the horizon.

I'm out-

Friday, January 11, 2008

New Brian Vander Ark Album

Anyone who has been reading this thing over the past couple of years knows that I am an uber fan of Brian Vander Ark.

He spent the summer and fall on the Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms tour, where he visited the homes of his fans to play intimate sets of songs that they selected, to finance this new self-titled album that is now available for pre-order.

Brian was gracious enough to spend a few minutes talking to me before and after a few shows this past fall, so I am quite happy to post the banner below in the hopes that a few more fans buy the record and/or discover his music.

Also, be sure to check out his MySpace page to hear a couple of the new songs and, more importantly, check the tour dates, because you don't want miss him if he's in your neighborhood.

I'm out-

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cubicle Tunes - Week of January 8, 2008

I am pleased to announce that with the new Xmas iPod and this week’s addition of a recycled set of Boston Acoustic BA745 speakers, music is at an all-time premium here in the box.

This week’s set is a little different. Usually, I wait until the album is out and the music is obtainable, but this stuff is soooooooo choice, you need to hear it now.

1. “Lily White Way” and “I Went With the Road” – Brian VanderArk (2008)

The self-titled new album is “in the can”, as they say, and 2 of the songs are now available for listening here. I pre-ordered the album at his show at The Photography Room in December, and should have it any day now. Look for this to be featured again in the coming weeks.

2. "The Silence Between Us" – Bob Mould (2008)

Hear it here. Mould, formerly of Husker Du and Sugar, releases The District Line on February 5. While you’re there, check out “High Fidelity” from the Body of Song album as well. In a word – wow.

3. Some People Have Real Problems – Sia (2008)

This one, to me, is a poppier, less folky/indie version of Feist (not that I would ever label anything), and honestly, the jury is still out on this one. Check out Randall's Spunkybean review here.

4. Richard Butler – Richard Butler (2006)

I always find myself coming back to this surrealistic album by the vocalist of the Psychedelic Furs. It’s so “out there” that I really can’t figure most of it out, and I dig that, man.

5. The Dream Academy – The Dream Academy (1985)

While compiling the cover songs for the Spunkybean article, I revisited this record, which I’ve always considered one of the preeminent synthpop albums ever released. In addition to the wonderous Nick Drake euology, “Life In A Northern Town”, the song “The Edge of Forever” is outstanding, and "In Places on the Run" is one of the most beautiful songs I know.

I'm out-

Monday, January 7, 2008

You Know What You Did . . .

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on a good rant.

Below is a list of people who have been getting my goat lately. (You know, as far as figures of speech go, this one’s pretty inaccurate, at least as it applies to me. I don’t want a goat, so if I had one, and someone came and got it, I would actually be quite pleased.)

Without further ado:

1. People in line at the coffee shop. You know what? They already have a menu, and you don’t need to stand there and create a ½ this, ¼ that, double this, triple that so everyone can see the exacting standards you live your life under. If you don’t like the menu, go somewhere else. When they put a drink called Pompous Assuccino on the menu, then you can order whatever you want. Until then, order any one of the other thirty menu offerings and quietly step aside.

2. People at a four-way stop intersection. It never fails. When I have the right-of-way, everyone else tries to go. And when I don’t have it, we all sit there and admire each other’s cars. So, as a public service, I am going to spell this out in simple chapter and verse. At a four-way stop intersection, yield to the driver on the right if you reach the intersection at the same time as another vehicle, and yield to any vehicle that reaches the intersection before you. There it is. Now you can get through that intersection quicker and get back to what's really important - that text message you were writing before you had to stop.

3. People with Bluetooth earpieces. I can appreciate the usefulness of Bluetooth technology. It increases productivity in the business community, and it increases traffic safety for those who insist on using their cell phone while driving. However, I don’t think it offers much at the movie theater on Friday night. Honestly – if you are so vitally important to the function of society that you can’t leave it in the car for a couple of hours, then maybe you shouldn’t be at the movies. I guess it helps when ordering a Pompous Assuccino, though, because the two seem to go hand-in-hand.

4. People who won’t pay at the pump. Face it – gas is liquid gold and you can’t buy it anymore without paying up front. On occasion, I like to get a cup of coffee after I fill the tank, and nothing makes me happier than standing there and waiting while you explain to the cashier that you gave the OTHER cashier a $20 bill to pre-pay on pump #4, but you only pumped $18.74, and now you need your $1.26 in change, and now that you’ve seen me and my steaming cup of coffee, it looks really good to you, so you take the $1.26 and get yourself a cup of coffee, and get in line AGAIN to piss off someone else. It’s a vicious cycle, and like Erasure said, it doesn’t have to be like that. A simple debit card will, in all likelihood, save you from a well-deserved beating somewhere down the road.

5. People with $54.90 in returnable bottles/cans. Really – I love standing behind you with my 30 cans while you pump your 549 through the machine. And since you only rinsed out six of them, I also enjoy walking through the sticky remainder that is oozing out of the two black lawn & leaf size bags in your cart. I also love eavesdropping on your Bluetooth cell phone conversation, which is apparently more important than recycling, as evidenced by the dramatic pause of you holding the can to the point where it’s actually inside the machine, but not letting it go until it’s your turn to talk again.

6. People who empty the communal coffee pot and sneak away. My new(er) job prevents me from doing this, but back in my days at the trash hauling company, whenever I would find an empty coffee pot, I would take it and walk around the building with it until I found someone with a full cup, and then I would hand it to them and thank them for not making any coffee. It worked every time. I have more respect for the guy who walks in, sees an ALMOST empty pot, sets his empty cup down next to the pot, as if to say “Make me some coffee, bitch!” and then comes back later. However, karma steps in, and when I see that cup in the holding pattern, I empty the pot and sneak away.

7. U-SCAN checkouts. I was in a Meijer store recently (yes, I name them by name) that I hadn’t been to in quite some time. When I went to check out, EVERY lane was a U-SCAN lane. I had produce, man – nobody needs that kind of pressure. I put the onion on the scale, and I punched all the buttons to get me to the onion screen. I didn’t know if the onion I grabbed was a sweet onion, a cooking onion, or if it was small, medium, or large, and apparently, that’s key information. So I went with medium cooking onion, all the while waiting for the U-SCAN Overlord to walk over and tell me it was indeed a large sweet onion and that I was being detained until security could come back and ask me a few questions. My question to them, in between blows, would be “How come I have to look at 15 pictures of onions and make a judgment call that you obviously aren’t happy with when there is a sticker on this one with a four digit code on it?”

In any event, don’t be that guy.

I’m out-

Saturday, January 5, 2008

William Fitzsimmons

It has been a very long time since an artist captured my attention and admiration like William Fitzsimmons.

His 24 songs in my iTunes library are making the other 15,498 very jealous. In fact, the last time I synced my iPod, three songs were MISSING, so I'm pretty sure I've got mutiny on my hands.

I implore you to take a moment, check out his site, and give him a listen. Just click the banner below. See, I've already done all the work for you - you have no excuse!

I swear - I carry you people like luggage.

I'm out-

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bowl O' Beans - Cover Songs

Check out my recent article over at Spunkybean, where I wax philosophic about my favorite cover songs.

I'm out-

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Bitter Resolutions - 2008

I have never been big on New Year's Resolutions. However, since today is New Year's Day, why the hell not?

Won't it be a laugh riot to see if I succeed or fail (and subsequently praised or ridiculed) in a semi-public forum?

Since I'm a pessimist, I will call this list "Seal My Fate in 2008". How you like them apples?

1. Weight Loss

Ah yes, the time honored tradition of resolving to quit being a fatass. But, since I have a gym membership at a nice gym called Go Workout, and I can see the back door of the gym from my house, I really have no excuse. I've actually had a good deal of success with this before, so once I get it going, it shouldn't be big deal. And, in the interest of public mockery, results will be posted. One of my heroes, author Mike Magnuson, said his motivation was getting naked and riding a bike on the cover of a national magazine. I don't have a national magazine - I have a blog.

Resolution #1 - lose weight and, more importantly, lower body fat percentage. More specific information to follow . . .

2. Soda

I drink a lot of soda, and it ain't the diet version - Mountain Dew in all it's sugary strength and splendor. I really don't like diet soda, so that is not a viable alternative. So, I am cutting it off at the source. Don't buy it - don't drink - don't miss it. Easiest thing in the world.

Resolution #2 = no soda pop for 90 days. (Let's not get stupid, now. A whole year? Please.)

3. Health

I have a few medical maladies. If I disclose my own maladies, do I violate HIPAA? While the Vox Acerbus staff of lawyers is working on that sticky wicket, I'll just stick with a goal of achieving better living through pharmaceuticals!

Resolution #3 - take medications "as instructed" versus "when remembered".

4. Financials

I piss away a lot of money, and since I work in the public sector, I don't make a lot of money to begin with. There's the rub.

Resolution #4 - a 90 day moratorium on discretionary spending while a budget is implemented and put into action.

5. Writing

I have so many story ideas in my head that I can't keep them straight anymore. Like The Beastie Boys puttin' it on wax, I'll be puttin' it on paper.

Resolution #5 - organize ideas and complete one short story by April 1, 2008.

6. Blogging

As you well know, I blog like everything else in my life - inconsistently. I won't blog on a rigid schedule, but a little more regularly wouldn't kill me. However, I submit that the fact that it would make me stronger is a complete misnomer. Now that I have a laptop with wireless capability to use with the network in my house, productivity should improve by default, but we'll see.

Resolution #6 - a modest goal of 2 posts per week for Vox Acerbus and 1 post per week for Spunkybean.

7. Organization

I have a Palm Zire 31, and yet I am always forgetting things.

I forget to put things in my Palm. Ironic, yes? A real Catch-22. Yossarian lives!

Resolution #7 - make life easier through advances in technology (i.e. use the damn thing).

8. Reading

I buy used books faster than I could ever read them. In the spirit of Resolution #4, perhaps I should read more instead of buying more. It's time to get my Faulkner and Updike on.

Resolution #8 - diminish the backlog of classic literature that is taking over my dining room.

Like Semisonic said - this could be my year.

I'm out-