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Phoenix, The National, Jars of Clay, Dark Was the Night, Andrew Bird

Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; The National: Alligator; Jars of Clay: The Long Fall Back to Earth; Dark Was The Night (Red Hot Compilation); Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha

Five of my more recent acquisitions are listed according to how much I’ve listened to the albums, which is not to say the order of their worth because that can certainly change over time.

I got my hands on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix April 1, nearly two months before the US release.  I knew nothing of Phoenix and didn’t even know the album wasn’t released when a friend gave me the CD to listen to on the drive back to Atlanta from Nashville.  From the first listen I was captivated.   At some points the sound reminds me of Modest Mouse and My Morning Jacket, but not the vocals.  A lyrical pattern in the songs is persistent repetition of a word or phrase that goes on longer than I would expect, but never too long; it’s unique.  It won’t be long before I start checking out the band’s earlier albums.

I bought Alligator on the strength of the album that followed it, Boxer.  I wasn’t immediately hooked, but the album grew on me like a woman’s short haircut: my first impression is always negative but when I really give it a chance I see the beauty.  I may even come to appreciate Alligator more than Boxer.  It’s more direct and thus seems more honest.  I’ve always appreciated deadpan delivery–my favorite comedian is/was Mitch Hedberg–and apparently that extends to music because the lyrical delivery over piano and guitar-driven rock interspersed with violins could not be much dryer.  There are some great songs on this album: “Karen”, “Mr November”, “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” and “Secret Meeting”  are my favorites, songs I play for those who are not yet fans.  Like with Phoenix, I was late to the game with The National and need to check out their first two albums.

The Long Fall Back to Earth, Jars of Clay’s latest album, was released April 17.  Jars is one of my favorite bands, for sure.  I’ll typically listen to their new stuff every day to every other day the first month after a release.  That wasn’t the case with The Long Fall.  If I’m honest, a couple of the songs strike me as a bit campy.  There are standouts too, namely “Closer”, “Safe to Land”, and the opener/prelude “The Long Fall”.  For me, the depth just isn’t there.  The sound is similar to past albums but where past lyrics are well-crafted, the lyrics on songs like “Headphones” and “Boys (Lesson One)” are too contrived for this cynic.

Dark Was The Night is a 31 original song indie-rock compilation produced by The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dressner to benefit the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS through popular culture.  It’s like a great soundtrack, featuring pitchfork’s favorite artists: The National, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, Beirut, Feist, Spoon, Andrew Bird, Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Iron & Wine, etc.  The best song on the album and my favorite song at the moment is “So Far Around the Bend” by (surprise, surprise) The National.  There is a flute solo on it that is so darn pretty it makes me want to play the flute.  Sufjan’s 10+ minute contribution is also noteworthy as is a song in which Ben Gibbard and Feist team up.  Though the contributing artists are all indie darlings, the album is a great variety and a fun listen.  Go do your part in raising awareness and buy some good music.

Finally, Armchair Apocrypha.  I’d probably listen to this album more if I hadn’t heard Bird interviewed on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  He was aloof to the point of being a prick and it made me recoil.  Pretentiousness is not becoming on anyone nor is it inspirational.  Nonetheless, this album is very solid.  Bird is a super-talented musician and whistler (not sure if they are separate talents).  He also knows how to craft wonderfully textured songs by using a bevy of instruments and looping techniques.  The songs aren’t catchy per se, but they are very well done and make for good listening.

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