Mp3 Menagerie: The Decemberists, Fran Healy & Neko Case, Austra

The Decemberists – Down By the Water (download page)

You can download a free mp3 of “Down by the Water,” a new track by The Decemberists, by entering your email address at the above link.

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Fran Healy & Neko Case – Sing Me To Sleep (iTunes download page)

Former Travis lead singer Fran Healy is offering a free download of “Sing Me To Sleep,” a duet with Neko Case, from his solo debut Wreckorder. You can only download the mp3 at the iTunes link above and you must have iTunes to play it (hey it’s not my idea, I’m just sayin’).

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Austra- The Beat & The Pulse (mp3)*

New song from Austra’s upcoming debut album. Led by Katie Stelmanis, the band plays an interesting style of classically-influenced electro-rock.

Buy @ Amazon (not yet available)

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of band’s PR rep

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.

The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love

The Decemberists will release their fifth full-length album The Hazards of Love on March 24th. Led by fellow bookworm Colin Meloy, the band never fails to impress me with their literary lyrical style and intricate melodies. This grand new concept album is no exception, but it is not another collection of soft folk acoustics and merry sea chanteys. Inspired by the British folk revival of the 1960s, The Decemberists transformed themselves into the hard rock progeny of Led Zeppelin for portions of the album. The result is a work that is equally as mesmeric to the ears as it is to the imagination.

The taiga shifted strange
The beast began to change
Singing: oh, the hazards of love
Oh, the hazards of love
You’ll learn soon enough

The seventeen songs of The Hazards of Love are populated by the maiden Margaret (who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal), her lover William, an enigmatic forest queen – played by My Brightest Diamond‘s Shara Worden – and a murderous rake.

The ominous hum of “Prelude” gives way to the deceptively delicate pluck of “The Hazards Of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Wont Wrestle the Thistles Undone)”, which quickly delves into the flowery prose of Margaret’s tragic tale.

My personal approach to music usually places sound above lyrical content. Not that what a songwriter says isn’t important, but I feel that even quoting Shakespeare can’t compensate for a weak voice or lackluster arrangements. Yet Meloy’s lyrical narratives are unquestionably the backbone of The Decemberists’ songs.

However. The brilliantly dramatic “A Bower Scene” (along with its twin “The Abduction Of Margaret”) rips that pretty little theory apart. In a similar fashion to how Xavier Rudd seared his aboriginal folk style with a dark rock reverberation in last year’s Dark Shades of Blue, The Decemberists suddenly morph into a thunderous folk-metal band invoking the spirit of Black Sabbath.

The guitars continue to crunch hard in “Wont Want For Love (Margaret In the Taiga)”, but are juxtaposed with the dulcet tones of Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark. Stark sings as Margaret in several songs. “The Queen’s Approach” is a clangy banjo interlude before Stark and Meloy duet as Margaret and William in the gooey love song “Isn’t It A Lovely Night” (I suppose it says something unsavory about my personality that I’m more interested in the villains).

“The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid” is the soaring pop-rock number that reveals the connection between our hero William and the mysterious Forest Queen. The Queen is deliciously portrayed by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, who reprises the role in the headbanger epic “The Queens Rebuke/The Crossing”. I hope Meloy and Worden collaborate again in the future, they are genius together.

“The Rake’s Song” is a rock guitar murder ballad sans ballad. Who knew the narrator of the album was such a violent cad? The music strangely ebbs as the lyrical drama builds to its climax in songs like “Margaret In Captivity”. I fear spoiling the end of this musical novel by revealing the plot progression of “The Hazards Of Love 3 (Revenge!)”. Let’s just say it’s unexpectedly creepy and exciting.

I definitely recommend buying the entire album in this case, as the songs cut off abruptly when played as individual mp3s. But the story flows together seamlessly when played as a whole. The Hazards of Love is just waiting for some Broadway producer to turn it into a rock opera.

The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song (mp3 expired) *

*mp3 posted w/ permission of EMI Music

The Decemberists Official Site

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The Decemberists