A Decade of Muruch!

This month marks a decade of Muruch! Well, I created the original site in 1999, but didn’t post music on it until July, 2000. If you’re interested in the site’s convoluted history, you can read the saga on the About page. To celebrate Muruch‘s 10th anniversary, I asked my very favorite artists if I could share some of their mp3s with you (see below). And I also have a favor to ask you readers at the end of this post…

Anyone who’s read Muruch over the years knows that I like and write about music in just about every genre imaginable. The five artists that this site has helped promote more than any other (because they are my favorites) are: Allison Crowe, Gaba Kulka, Hannah Fury, Xavier Rudd, and The Dresden Dolls (part of Muruch’s “demented circus genre“). If you click on their names, you can read most of my reviews (sadly, the early archives were lost during a domain shuffle).

Unfortunately, The Dresden Dolls and Xavier Rudd albums were released on labels that aren’t mp3-friendly, so I couldn’t obtain permission to share their music. But my favorite independent gals Allison Crowe, Gaba Kulka, and Hannah Fury were all very enthusiastic and generous in granting me permission to include their mp3s in this celebratory post. I’ve chosen to share two songs from their early recordings with a more recent track to show the progression of each artist over the years…

Hannah Fury – The Necklace of Marie Antoinette (mp3)*
Hannah Fury – It Was Her House That Killed Nessarose (mp3)*
Hannah Fury – Beware The Touch (mp3)*

Does anyone remember the music site Epitonic.com? That’s where I first heard Hannah Fury’s music 10 years ago. Hannah is the prime example of how a random mp3 on a music site can create a devoted fan (that would be me) and she is one of the more unique artists I’ve written about over the years. The eerie “The Necklace of Marie Antoinette” first reeled me in and her Wicked-inspired songs (like “It Was Her House That Killed Nessarose”) on The Thing That Feels sealed the deal. “Beware The Touch” is from Hannah’s haunting last album Through The Gash.

Buy Hannah’s Music @ Amazon
Hannah Fury Official Site
Hannah Fury Reviews

Gaba Kulka – Detuned Radio (mp3)*
Gaba Kulka – Coup d’etat (mp3)*
Gaba Kulka – Hat Meet Rabbit (mp3)*

I can’t remember if it was 2000 or 2001, but sometime around then a mutual friend introduced me to Gabriela Kulka (now known as Gaba Kulka) on an old journaling site we used to frequent. Back then I thought of Gabriela much more as an online friend than as an artist, though she did share her pretty cover of Sting’s “Russians” with me. In the years that followed, I had the privilege of learning through her of the joys and difficulties that go into the writing and recording process of an album. I saw how Gabriela struggled to balance her then “real job” with her artistic pursuits, and I’ve been so happy to see that music has since become her very successful “real job.” In the decade I’ve known her, Gaba has gone from releasing her own CDs through DIY sites like mp3.com to performing with Amanda Palmer and becoming quite the rising star in Poland. And her impressive catalogue of music over the past decade has been prolific and genre-defying. “Detuned Radio” is one of the first songs of hers that I heard, from her now out of print Mp3.com demo King of Rats. “Coup d’etat” is from her second album Miss Scylla and a Hard Place. The last song is the frenetic title track from Gaba’s latest release Hat, Rabbit (one of my Best of the Decade) and better represents the music she makes now. I’m happy to say you can now purchase her last two albums (which are also her best) on Amazon.

Buy Gaba’s Music @ Amazon
Gaba Kulka Official Site
Gaba Kulka Reviews

Allison Crowe – By Your Side (mp3)*
Allison Crowe – Independence Day (mp3)*
Allison Crowe – I Don’t Know (mp3)*

As I’ve said before, I consider Allison Crowe to be Muruch‘s true musical mascot. A friend sent me Allison’s cover of a Tori Amos song about five or six years ago and it was love at first listen. Back then, no one seemed to be writing about this Canadian wonder and over the years I’ve seen other bloggers credit this site as where they first heard her music. Allison has also consistently been supportive of mp3 blogs and file sharing in general, recognizing the value of this new form of “word of mouth” as the best way to spread music that doesn’t get played on mainstream radio. She is still relatively unknown in the U.S., but her astounding cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has brought her international attention in recent years. Her extraordinarily emotive way of singing and the subtle beauty of her songs stand out from just about any other artist ever. I think Allison has inspired more writing on this site than anyone else, though she may be tied with Gaba Kulka on that. “By Your Side” and “Independence Day” are from her spectacular Live at Wood Hall album (another of my Best of the Decade), and “I Don’t Know” is from her most recent release Spiral.

Buy Allison’s Music @ Amazon
Allison Crowe Official Site
Allison Crowe Reviews

I want to thank Hannah Fury, Gaba Kulka, and Allison Crowe (also Allison’s manager Adrian) for being so generous with their music. And a huge thanks to my host Song, By Toad, without whom this site would no longer exist. Also, thanks to all of the artists, labels, agents, PR companies, and everyone else who has supported this site over the years – especially all of you readers. Oh, and a special thanks to my oldest friend “Grasshopper” since most of the time I think she’s the only one who actually reads my reviews.

Now, since I’ve spent the past 10 years rambling to you about music and sharing mp3s, I would love if everyone reading this would comment! Share how long you’ve been reading Muruch, how you first found it, any music you’ve liked, loved, and/or bought because of this site, and any other memories you have about it. But even if you just say hi, please comment just this once. And link to this post anywhere and everywhere. I’d like a big crowd to help me celebrate the decade I’ve devoted to this site and to the music I love.

*all mp3s hosted for 2 weeks w/ permission of each artist

Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Gaba Kulka: Elephant Elephant Video

As I posted yesterday, Gaba Kulka performed with Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley in Prague earlier this week. You can see some great photos from the gig here. And following are some YouTube video links from the performance provided by Gaba, including a new one of her elephant puppetry while Amanda and Jason sang “Elephant Elephant” from their Evelyn Evelyn album.

Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Gaba Kulka – Elephant Elephant (live) (YouTube Video)

Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Gaba Kulka – Pre-Elephant Banter (live) (YouTube Video)

Amanda Palmer & Gaba Kulka – Delilah (live) (YouTube video)
Amanda Palmer & Gaba Kulka – Delilah (live) (YouTube video)*
*different camera angle

Gaba Kulka Reviews

Gaba Kulka Official Site

Gaba Kulka & Amander Palmer: Delilah Video

Those who attended Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley’s performance in Prague last night received a special treat – Polish singer-songwriter Gaba Kulka opened the show, served as “elephant puppet operator,” and also sang a duet of “Delilah” with Amanda Palmer (video below).

If you’ve found this post searching for information on Gaba Kulka (formerly known as Gabriela Kulka), I’ve reviewed all of her albums over the past 10 years and I can’t recommend her music enough.

Gaba’s most recent album Hat, Rabbit was my #4 of 2009 and also made it to my Best Albums of the Decade list.

Gaba has been an online acquaintance of mine for nearly a decade – I was the “Vic” thanked in Out‘s liner notes and if you’ve ever seen her wear a purple necklace with a green dragonfly charm, I made that!

Knowing how Gaba struggled to get her music career going in those early days, and learning through her how much hard work really goes into creating and recording an album changed how I viewed artists and was a big inspiration for me in starting this website to support them.

I’ve been waiting all of these years for the rest of the world to discover what an amazing musical talent Gaba Kulka is, and I’m so excited that it seems to finally be happening.

Gaba Kulka & Amanda Palmer – Delilah (live) (YouTube Video)

Gaba Kulka Reviews

Gaba Kulka Official Site
Gaba Kulka MySpace

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’ve also compiled Best of the Decade lists. Following are my favorite albums that were released between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

25. Muse: The Resistance

This is one of those albums that has classic potential, and I expect to move its way up the list as the years go by. A quote from my review: “Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard.”

Buy @ Amazon

24. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Rabbit

It was difficult to narrow how Gaba’s releases to just one, but I think her latest is her strongest to date. As I said when I named it #4 on my Top Albums list, it is “probably the most unusual and creative album” of 2009.

Buy @ Amazon

Buy @ Artist’s Site

23. Soundtrack: Once

The soundtrack to the Irish independent film Once features The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I said in my 2007 review that Hansard’s “lyrics are deeply poetic, his music is heart-wrenchingly lovely, and his beautifully raw voice conveys emotion as if the man were literally ripping his own chest open as he sings.”

Buy @ Amazon

22. Antony & The Johnsons: Antony & The Johnsons

Instead of a best of 2005 list, I deemed it The Year of the Bird and that post says everything about how Antony’s music made me feel when I first heard it. While I Am A Bird Now was their more popular release, I’ve always favored their self-titled 2000 album.

Buy @ Amazon

21. Pina: Quick Look

Pina sadly remains my best kept secret. I discovered her in the early aughts when a French pal shared mp3s of “I Loved the Way” and “Bring Me a Biscuit.” I also love Pina’s 2005 release Guess You Got It, but the rougher edges of Quick Look‘s production fit better with her “Gothic folk” style.

Buy @ Amazon

20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones

My 2008 review summed it up: “The flawless beauty of this album is almost beyond my comprehension.

Buy @ Amazon

19. Hem: Funnel Cloud

I like this album even more now than when I called it a “nearly perfect album” in my 2007 review.

Buy @ Amazon

18. Damien Dempsey: To Hell or Barbados

As I stated in my 2007 review, the album is a “genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae…but the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice.”

Buy @ Amazon

17. Anais Mitchell: The Brightness

My 2007 review said: “Like the greatest of classic literature, the compositions on The Brightness are the kind that softly seep through your skin and slowly make their way into your heart and mind before exploding in dazzling display of amazement.”

Buy @ Amazon

14. Xavier Rudd: Dark Shades of Blue

Xavier has quickly become my favorite male artist in recent years, and as I said in my 2008 review: “the astounding quality of his songs make me wonder if future generations might consider Xavier Rudd to be the greatest artist of this era.”

Buy @ Amazon

15. Mavis Staples: Never Turn Back

I’m almost ashamed not to put this at #1, because in many ways this is the greatest album of the past two or three decades. I simply don’t listen to it often as the albums listed below. I suppose this is because the weighty subject matter requires a certain mood. But as I said when I reviewed it two years ago: “We’ll Never Turn Back is what music should be. Gut-wrenching blues, earth shaking beats, hip swaying rhythms, deeply moving lyrics, and a rich voice that defies description.

Buy @ Amazon

14. Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot to Sleep

I deemed 2005 “the year of the bird,” but that’s only because I didn’t hear Luminescent Orchestrii until 2007 when I said: “there’s a definite connection between their frenzied, violent approach to orchestral instruments and the punk cabaret of The Dresden Dolls, but neither description fully captures their unique and unearthly sound.

Buy @ Amazon

13. Flogging Molly: Swagger

This album ushered in the Celtic Punk craze of the decade. There’s no such thing as a bad Flogging Molly album, but this one was definitely their best.

Buy @ Amazon

12. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

In my review I called Inland Territory a grand “display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.” I continue to fall more and more in love with this album with each listen.

Buy @ Amazon

11. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

My #1 album of 2009. As I said in my review: “I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time.”

Buy @ Amazon

10. Mary Timony: Mountains

I had never heard of former Helium singer Mary Timony until a friend sent me this album shortly after its 2000 release. Mary’s unusual mix of Medieval folk, chamber pop, and indie-rock was unlike anything I’d heard before, and it remains one of the most strangely beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Whole Fam Damnily

My #1 album of 2008. In my review, I called it an “inebriating concoction of swamp stomp and backwoods pluck.” But in subsequent listens I’ve found myself drawn more to The Rev’s lyrics, which accurately capture the perils of modern rural life.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Allison Crowe: Live at Wood Hall

Oh that voice! Still gives me chills. I’ve posted about Allison Crowe so many times over the years that I consider her Muruch’s musical mascot. As I said in my 2007 review: “there’s really no way to convey through mere words how much the music on Allison Crowe’s Live At Wood Hall moves me” Forget Susan Boyle, Allison sang the definitive cover of “I Dreamed a Dream.” (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

7. Soundtrack: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

I always call it the “Buffy Musical” rather than its proper title Once More With Feeling.” Years before Dr. Horrible, Joss Whedon wrote a hilarious, poignant, and very catchy musical for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I don’t know how well the songs translate if you never watched the Buffy series, but I still love singing along to the soundtrack. The album features vocals by actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Hannigan, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, and Anthony Stewart Head. This is an example of why file sharing works – I and several friends burned our own soundtracks from mp3s recorded directly from the televised episode long before the soundtrack was released, yet we all purchased the official album once it became available.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Xavier Rudd: White Moth

I could easily include all of Xavier Rudd’s albums on this list, but I tried to limit myself to just two. My 2008 review said: “Rudd deems the album his “proudest work” and it’s easy to understand why.” But it’s really only been with repeated listens over the past two years that I’ve grown to love and truly appreciate its magnificence. And nothing speaks to the greatness of an album like having a panic attack when you think you’ve lost it and knowing you must replace it immediately. Fortunately, I found my copy!

Buy @ Amazon

5. Damien Rice: O

Unlike most Americans, I heard and fell in love with O when it was originally released in Ireland in 2001. My clothbound first edition of the album is a collector’s item now, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. Rice seems to have faced some post-hype backlash in recent years, but that doesn’t erase the brilliance of this album. Most remember it for Lisa Hannigan’s delicate harmonies, but Rice’s use of strings and opera music were also very unique at the time. And the album as a whole has withstood changing trends in music over the years.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

This is another example of why file sharing can have a positive effect on album sales. Remember “Free Fiona”? If you don’t, Fiona recorded a version of this album with producer Jon Brion and her label initially refused to release it. Mp3s of the demos were leaked online, the fans loved them, and a huge campaign called “Free Fiona” was launched in hopes of getting the album released. It worked, though Fiona re-recorded most of the album for the official release. I was one of many who purchased the album even though I had the demo mp3s. My 2005 review also shifted the focus of this site from simply sharing music to encouraging people to purchase albums. It has since become one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope Fiona decides to grace us with another release in the near future.

Buy @ Amazon

3. Soundtrack: Hedwig & The Angry Inch

Among the 2000-04 archives of this site that have been lost were my reviewes of the movie Hedwig & The Angry Inch (which I saw in a double bill with The Anniversary Party at a local film festival) and its soundtrack. Whether or not you’re familiar with John Cameron Mitchell’s awesome musical about a German transgender rocker, the soundtrack is one of the best rock albums of all time. There are thunderous punk rock numbers like “Angry Inch” and heart-melting ballads like “Origin of Love.” Why Mitchell continues to act instead of record music is a mystery to me.

Buy @ Amazon

2. Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

In my November, 2006 review, I said “I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect.” I stand by that statement. I’ve played this album more than any other released in the past three years, and only one band could keep it from the number 1 spot…

Buy @ Amazon

1. The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls

Anyone who knows me or has been a longtime reader of this site knows that The Dresden Dolls are/were my favorite band. My posts about their self-titled debut (and the live A Is For Accident album that preceded it) were also lost with early archives of this site, but I’ve raved every other Dresden Dolls release since then. After “Over the Rainbow”, The Dresden Doll’s “Girl Anachronism” is my favorite song and this is possibly my all-time favorite album. Amanda Palmer proves without a doubt that – in the right hands – the piano is the most punk rock of all instruments.

Buy @ Amazon

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

It’s that time of year again! Following are my Top 15 Albums of 2009. As usual, I tried to balance the order of the list between what I personally perceive as artistic merit (quality of songwriting, vocals, and instrumentation) and basic listenability (how many times I played the album throughout the year). I’ve included some new commentary and brief quotes from the original reviews. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and in some cases download mp3s…

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

15. Joshua James: Build Me This

…all dusty roads and sunsets buoyed by rock guitar and drum crashes that eventually give way to sprawling piano and mournful strings” – As his previous release did on 2008’s list, Joshua’s album pushed its way onto this list at the last minute. I suppose it’s the subtlety of his music that prevents it from being more prominent in my memory, but it wasn’t until I listened to the album again that I remembered its excellence.

14. Rykarda Parasol: For Blood and Wine

…noirish rock sound with lyrics that alternate between whiskey-splashed cabaret and blood-soaked Gothic poetry” – I haven’t had much time to get to know this new release, but it’s already a favorite. I hope more people pay attention to Rykarda’s unique talent.

13. Sharon Isbin: Journey to the New World

… elegant, Medieval chamber-folk instrumentals and haunting traditional vocal pieces ” – This was a surprise. My enjoyment of instrumental music has grown tremendously this year, but I usually place a higher value on vocals. But this lovely album has been one that I’ve returned to and enjoyed many times over the year.

12. Maura O’Connell: Naked With Friends

…Maura O’Connell’s unparalleled vocal power is beautifully displayed in her impressive new album” – This one was sabotaged by the amount of emotion Maura’s voice rips out of me. It’s a gorgeous album from beginning to end, I just have to be in a particular mood to listen to it.

11. Luminescent Orchestrii: Neptune’s Daughter

…filled to the brim with the kind of warped traditional Eastern European music that made me love Luminescent Orchestrii in the first place” – I really expected this to be #1 when I first reviewed it and the stand out tracks are absolutely stunning, but overall I don’t listen to it nearly as much as the albums below.

10. White Lies: To Lose My Life

…dark, catchy synth-rock with a slight retro Goth feel…think “Blue Monday” by New Order” – This ominously infectious little album worked its way up the list throughout the year. The title track in particular is one that echoes in my head long after the music has stopped.

9. The Decemberists: Hazards of Love

…The Decemberists transformed themselves into the hard rock progeny of Led Zeppelin for portions of the album” – This magnificent concept album may be #1 when it comes to artistic merit, but it lacks the overall listenability of others on the list. Still, it’s one of the more impressive projects of the year.

8. Morrissey: Years of Refusal

…finally puts his pipes to good use over soaring rock arrangements” – I loved this album when I first reviewed it and put it on heavy rotation last winter, but hadn’t listened to it much since then. Playing it again made me wonder why I neglected it for so long. If albums have personalities, it has the strongest of the year.

7. Sonos: Sonosings

…whether humming in such hushed tones or belting to the rafters as in latter tracks, there’s an elegance to each note the sextet sings” – This was another release that faded in my memory until I dug it out again and rediscovered how wonderful it is. Now I love it even more than I did when I reviewed it. The duet with Sara Bareilles on “Gravity” is very moving, and their a cappella cover of “White Winter Hymnal” is one of the loveliest recordings I’ve ever heard.

6. Muse: The Resistance

…Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard” – The brilliance and complexity of Muse’s album still surprises me every time I listen to it. Not only do I love this album, but it’s the one that everyone I know immediately asks about when I play it.

5. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is

…the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins” – I’ve played this countless times and it’s probably the most fun listen of the year.

4. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Meet Rabbit

…marries foreboding metal guitar and militant drums to pretty piano and angelic backing vocals, reminding us of Gaba’s fondness for Iron Maiden” – The Top 4 albums on this list are pretty much interchangeable. This is probably the most unusual and creative album on my list. I’ve known Gaba for almost a decade now, and I was happy to see her popularity in Poland skyrocket this year. I think she’s going to be a huge international star someday.

3. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

…a breathtaking blend of militant beats and orchestral strings” – I loved this album from the beginning, but it also turned out to be a grower as repeated listens revealed even more layers to its beauty. It is definitely the most beautiful release of the year, but there are two albums I’ve listened to more…

2. Great Northern – Remind Me Where The Light Is

…Ominous instrumentation is barely restrained as Stolte’s sultry croon initially floats in” – If the order of this list was based solely on the number of times I’ve listened to an album this year, Great Northern would’ve been #1 by a landslide since I’ve played the album nearly every day since March. It may not be the innovative recording on this list, but it is certainly the most addictive. Only one man could keep it from the top spot…

1. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

…I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time” – The quote says it all. This album had an edge since it was based on my favorite book (Cat’s Cradle) and featured my favorite author (Vonnegut), but Soldier’s innovative compositions helped push it to the top of the list. If my imagination had a soundtrack, this would be it.