History has produced two of the most enigmatic and intriguing albums I’ve heard in a while. Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor used the Civil War as a catalyst for current cultural analysis, while Southeast Engine‘s Canary calls up the Great Depression to give a grounding to its Appalachian folk tunes.
The most immediate track here is “1933 (The Great Depression),” which shares more than just a historical bent with the art-damaged punk band from New Jersey. The jangling saloon piano that underpins Titus rings true in “1933,” giving an fire and urgency that is matched by the roaring guitar, which has a similar fuzzed-out tone to their punk brothers. The difference lies in the drums (not punk), the organ, and the vocals. The vocals are sung in a weary tone ratcheting up to indignation, where the opposite is true of Titus Andronicus.
In short, you can slap “1933 (The Great Depression)” right after “A More Perfect Union” as a great segue into a Josh Ritter tune, and people are gonna think you’re a genius.
But let me dispel any notions that this is the folk Titus Andronicus (although, for real, I’d take that moniker). This is a straight-up Appalachian folk band in many places, which is powerful. It’s bands like these that make me sad when the term folk is bandied about so liberally these days (even by me, I must admit).
The forlorn acoustic guitar beauty of “Mountain Child” sounds like it was ripped out of a forest on the side of some Adirondack peak. The vocal melody is haunting and genuine (at least, as genuine as modern folk gets, but that’s a whole other discussion). The flourishes (violin, sparing piano, background ooo’s) make the tune even more pristine.
The subtlety-eschewing “Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains” features a banjo prominently in its rustic mix, and the addition makes the tune. “Red Lake Shore” has a more urgent feel, but the modern songwriting idea still allows the song to fall firmly within the Appalachian folk tunes surrounding it.
Canary is the sort of album that you have to explore. You can’t just hear it once and know it. The mind-blowing “1933 (The Great Depression)” will reveal immediate payoff, but the rest of the album has to be put on and broken in like a good coat or a pair of work boots. This is an album that, much like its Appalachian forebears, is about being rather than getting there. The tunes have to sit with you and sink in for best appreciation. Imagine you had only dozens of songs at your disposal instead of millions; wouldn’t you get to know those tunes well? Yes. Do the same for Canary. It will reward you.
Independent Clauses has always been a strange beast. I never intended it to be a music blog; I wanted it to be the starting point of a Pitchfork-style website or a Paste-style magazine. So when we did things differently, my thoughts ran thus: “Who cares? We weren’t trying to be like them anyway.” That’s why we would run best-of lists in February, eschew posting MP3s and publish very long articles.
But as people go, so do dreams. Just like mortality isn’t such a terrible bag if you’re ready for it, neither is the death of dreams. Independent Clauses is never going to be the size of Pitchfork, Paste or even dearly departed Delusions of Adequacy (whom I have worked for and dearly love). And that’s perfectly okay.
To that end, it’s starting to look more and more like an MP3 blog over here, as I am accepting what Independent Clauses has become and embracing it. I’m considering getting some extra hosting for 2011 and throwing down d/ls to applicable tunes on posts. I’m also going to redesign this site as an mp3 blog, then not touch the aesthetics till 2012. I’m also going to start using the first person pronoun instead of the third person. It’s just me here now.
Also, I will cover more Pitchfork-level indie music than I have previously. Independent Clauses used to focus exclusively on undiscovered music, and I will still devote much of my time there. One does not throw the baby out with the bathwater, after all; there will just be more Frightened Rabbit and The Mountain Goats in the bath.
As part of the transition, I will be posting two best-of lists this year: one overall best of, and one of releases Independent Clauses reviewed this year. In the future, I will post one list. Without further adieu, here’s the overall top ten best releases this year.
1. Sever Your Roots – The Felix Culpa. I called this “the post-hardcore masterpiece” in January, and I’ll stick by that. It’s near-perfect.
2. Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons. Total world dominance: I was in the dentist’s office the other day, and “The Cave” was playing.
3. The Winter of Mixed Drinks – Frightened Rabbit. “Not Miserable” gives me shivers every time, and it’s incredibly rare to give me shivers once. I love every song on this album.
4. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire. Music world dominance: headlining Madison Square Garden, nominated for album of the year, taking number one on the Billboard Charts. Even if I didn’t like this album it would be in my top ten. It’s a pretty great album, though, even if it does have a few too many ripoffs of The National on it.
5. This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem. Indie world dominance: James Murphy prophesied his title and then backed it up with tracks that made it so. Easily my favorite LCD album, and “You Wanted a Hit” is vying for “favorite LCD song” status.
6. The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens. The man can do whatever he wants and still turn out pure gold. This is easily the most mind-blowing release of the year: it’s hard for me to listen to in heavy rotation because it’s so complex.
7. The Wild Hunt – The Tallest Man on Earth. Do you have to die to be re-incarnated? Because Bob Dylan’s found his second coming already. Don’t go electric, Kristian Matsson! Don’t do it!
8. Sidewalks – Matt and Kim. THIS ALBUM DESERVES ALL CAPS! IT IS THAT ENTHUSIASTIC AND WONDERFUL! I DARE YOU TO NOT BE HAPPY WHILE LISTENING TO THIS ALBUM!
9. The Monitor – Titus Andronicus. Straight-up best guitar riffs of the year are in this album. This album rocks so hard that it’s hard to believe that it’s kind of about the Civil War.
10. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky – OK GO. I just really enjoyed this album. They’ve perfected their strain of exuberant pop, and I like it.
Honorable Mentions: Champ – Tokyo Police Club, High Violet – The National, Weathervanes – Freelance Whales.