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Top Albums of the Year, pt. 1

December 29, 2011

I’m incredibly excited that I’ve finished my year-end lists actually correspond with the end of the year. Without further pontificating, here’s the first half of the year’s best.

Honorable Mention: LCD Soundsystem - Madison Square Garden Show. It’s not an official release, but it proves that the tightest live band in the world only got tighter with time. “Yeah” is an absolute powerhouse.

20: Beirut – The Rip Tide. The mellower, less brash Zac Condon won me over.

19: The Antlers - Burst Apart. Mostly because “Putting the Dog to Sleep” is my favorite song of the year, although the rest of the album stands up well.

18: Gray Young – Staysail. Post-rock with heart and technical abilities.

17: Bon Iver - Bon Iver. It took a while to grow on me, but now I think that Vernon out-James Blaked James Blake.

16: David Ramirez – Strangetown EP. Moving songwriting, evocative lyrics and a beautiful voice make this a brilliant collection of tunes.

15: Restorations – Restorations. The sound of punk rockers growing old without giving up.

14: Battle Ave. – “War Paint.” A more indie-fied Titus Andronicus? Sign me up twice.

13: Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. Piano-led singer/songwriter fare rarely sounds this confident, powerful or memorable.

12: Pete Davis – The Pottsville Conglomerate. The instrumentation of Sufjan Stevens meets the acrobatic enthusiasm of a pop-punk band. Fireworks ensue.

11: Oh Look Out! – Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright. Electrifying, intricate indie-pop that loves video games just as much as music. “Kam” is brilliant.

Gray Young's maturity creates a gorgeous post-rock/folk album

September 8, 2011

The genres of folk and post-rock are bursting at the seams with new acts. It was only a matter of time before someone combined the two. Gray Young is the first band I’ve heard that treats both post-rock and folk with individual dignity, creating the incredible Staysail as a result.

The band doesn’t mash folk and post-rock together: this isn’t folktronica. Instead, they tie the disparate sounds together by a distinct mood that runs through each of the 11 tracks. Whether rocking out in a frantic manner (“Inside/Outside”), penning reflective post-rock (“The Dawning Low”) or strumming an acoustic guitar in a very Deja Entendu sort of way (“Unbound”), the band maintains a deeply affected atmosphere. The songs, while not expressly heavy in lyric or composition, maintain a mournful intensity in the background. You can tell they mean this.

That maturity sets Gray Young apart. They’re over post-rock as a statement, and they’re past folk for the earthiness of it. The band is creating art in the best way it knows how, and that requires banjo pluck on “Unbound” and Appleseed Cast-invoking riffs on the standout “Vermilion.” There are some tricks here and there: “Picture (Meridian)” is followed by “Meridian (Picture),” while “Seven:Fourteen” is a bit of a kitschy title. But for the most part, the band is not amazed at their own genre(s). They just write music.

The band does have a vocalist, but most of the time vocals are another instrument, much in the same way Appleseed Cast uses them. When his vocals become to close to the forefront they distract, but he fits in perfectly to tunes like “Cycles” and the first half of “Meridian (Picture).” Still, I could stand to hear less vocals due to their incredible instrumental talents.

Some may take offense that I put folk on par with post-rock in my description, even though just three songs here are led by acoustic guitar (and only two prominently feature banjo). Sure, this isn’t Mumford and Sons with a shoegaze guitarist. But the understanding of the melodic and structural requirements of folk underlie many songs on this album: the rhythm of the banjo on “Prescience” is slightly altered and transposed to electric guitar as the song turns into “Vermilion.” It’s an electrifying transition that shows Gray Young is in complete control of two genres, making them connect as the band decides is best. And, incredibly, the transition out to “Picture (Meridian)” is handled just as deftly.

I’ve heard several great post-rock albums this year, and Staysail is up there with the very best of them (Colin Stetson, Final Days Society). It’s an easy contender for the top ten list, because it’s just so expertly written. There’s not a moment here that gets away from the band. That complete control of mood and composition makes this the excellent album it is. Long live Gray Young.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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