I reviewed here the most recent album by Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat. Following that review, Stakula, the band’s leader, kindly agreed to an interview, offering some insights into the processes behind the music.
Valta is an addition to what by now is a substantial body of work, and Alamaailman Vasarat has established a distinctive sound. Has anything changed on this album compared to previous releases?
The most obvious changes were in the lineup. Before the Valta sessions, our new drummer Santeri Saksala had already performed with the band for a year, much to our enjoyment. The live performances really tightened up and had a whole new level of energy. In the Valta sessions, his knowledge and passion for the drums as instruments made a huge difference to album sound, not forgetting some of the most memorable improvised moments, like in the opening track “Riistomaasiirtäjä”. His contribution has made a huge impact in the overall sound of the band and we’re very happy to have him on board.
I will admit it. At the end of each year, I attempt to come up with a “best-of” list of my own but struggle to identify even a handful. This is partly due to the fact that I am so bad about paying attention to the actual release dates of albums that I will invariably include several recordings that are older than I thought. This time, however, I had no trouble at all. 2012 proved to be a stellar year for releasing good music. Here are my picks for the best of the best, in no particular order:
O’ Be Joyfulby Shovels & Rope (Dualtone Music Group). (AMERICANA) Shovels & Rope is Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, a husband-and-wife duo. Their website says they “sing harmony driven folk, rock and country songs using two old guitars, a kick drum, a snare, a few tambourines, harmonicas, and maybe a little keyboard sometimes.” There’s plenty of that on O’ Be Joyful, plusfiddles, banjos, and some wonderful, slightly off-kilter horns that take the genre to a new level (“Hail, Hail,” and “Tickin’ Bomb”). Clanky percussion is prominent on most of the tracks. Songs like “Carnival” demonstrate the duo can dazzle with slow-tempo ballads, too. It’s just quirky enough that it may not be for everyone, but if you like an old-timey country sound with a rockin’ edge to it, this album just might be right up your alley. ( Listen to samples here.)
It’s the time of year when folks post their “Best of” lists, and MiG is no exception. So without further ado, here are the Top 20 albums (and some others that deserve recognition) according to Craig McManus:
1. Purity Ring – Shrines: 2011 introduced us to Purity Ring through the singles “Ungirthed”, “Lofticries”, and “Belispeak”, and each of these songs could have made my best of list. Accordingly, I was highly anticipating the release of the band’s debut full length. When news broke that each of these songs would be included on Shrines, however, I grew concerned that Purity Ring didn’t have the depth of quality for a full LP. Obviously, Shrines’ placement on this list demonstrates that my concern was unfounded. With tracks like “Obedear”, “Fineshrine”, and “Crawlersout” added to the early singles, Purity Ring created a dark synth pop gem. The only real negative to the album is the inclusion of the frankly dreadful, “Grandloves”.
Like all music scenes, the Twin Cities have their own pantheon of local greats. Prince, The Replacements, The Suicide Commandos, The Suburbs, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, and Atmosphere to name a few. Then there is Hüsker Dü. Active from 1979-1987, Hüsker Dü is a music typologist’s nightmare. Initially the band’s work could be described as ‘hardcore’, but over the years both songwriters, Bob Mould and Grant Hart, drifted more and more into poppier college radio territory. Taken as a whole the band’s catalog can claim, as with a number of other independent ’80s bands, inspiration for all the ‘alternative’ and ‘modern’ rock that was to follow (Kim Deal famously joined Pixies after answering an ad looking for a bass player who liked both Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü). Perhaps more importantly, though, Hüsker Dü was at the forefront of the ’80s DIY movement which helped create the independent music scene (regardless of genre) that we enjoy today.*
It has been 25 years since Hüsker Dü called it quits following its final performance in Columbia, Missouri. During that time each of the band members has moved on with their lives. Bob Mould has had a very successful career both as a solo artist and with the band Sugar, Grant Hart has been less commercially successful but has put out some no less excellent music with the band Nova Mob and under his own name, and Greg Norton took his handlebar mustache to chef school and now owns a restaurant in Red Wing, Minnesota. I decided it would be interesting to explore how the places that were important to the band have changed in that same time period, so I did some research, grabbed my camera, and toured the Twin Cities. This is the result:
Slumber takes you, and as time passes, you slip into a vivid dream. You are at a heavy metal concert, and thrill to the first deep and doom-laden, viscerally crunching chords. Then you realize that what you thought were guitarists have morphed into cellists, and as the tempo shifts into double time a saxophone adds a frenetic melody. As you look around you find that you are actually sitting outside a cafe in Eastern Europe, and what started as a metal band is now playing klezmer. Some villagers are dancing – somehow it doesn’t strike you as odd that they are dancing the tango, or that evocative middle eastern melodies drop in and out of the tune. You glimpse palm trees, and then hear a jazz ensemble playing somewhere behind you as a marching brass band passes in front, with heavy metal riffs returning to punctuate their melody. But as you turn to watch, you are sitting in the corner of a deserted café in which the pianist is playing his way plaintively towards closing time. In your dream all of this makes sense; the transitions are not jarring but part of an oddly continuous dream logic in which you are in constant movement toward a destination that is ever on the tip of your tongue, yet each passing location is oddly right and vivid.
Such is the experience of listening to an album by Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat (which translates as “Hammers of the Underworld”). Alamaailman Vasarat create hugely entertaining instrumental music that draws from a bewildering variety of world music genres and fuses them within a progressive-rock-like inclination towards ever-shifting rhythms and bombastic flourishes.
This is part of a series suggesting ingredients for mixtapes or playlists on a variety of themes.
Whether you have a special someone to be your valentine this year or not, we’ve got you covered with this genre hopping “two-fer” mixtape of old and new songs ranging from easy listening to rock, pop, R&B, and lesser known indie singer-songwriter folk stuff. Side A is just the thing for happy couples to play while celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic evening alone - or, if the love affair’s over, flip it to Side B and let the music keep you company this Valentine’s Day. Either way, it’s a night spent with some great music.
Links to artist websites are provided for each track - a good way to learn more about the artists or to catch up on their latest news. Many of them are working on new recording projects for 2012.
When Irish troubadour Declan O’Rourke wrote this song, he thought no one would want to hear it. But he liked it and says he only finished it because he thought his family might enjoy it. He was more than a little surprised when he learned Josh Groban picked it up for inclusion on one of his albums – and a little sad to say goodbye to “his little song.” Since then, it has been covered by numerous artists and is destined to become a romantic standard.
I was never more surprised than when I saw the self-titled album Burlap to Cashmere on a recent list of Top 100 best albums of 2011. I knew this band. Discovered by an agent who heard them playing in a New Jersey coffeehouse, Burlap to Cashmere had independently released a live record in 1997 and the following year signed with A&M to release their major label debut, Is Anybody Out There? (an award-winning unconventional Christian music album). Within a few years, they had disappeared without a trace. They were a high-energy folk/rock band with a unique sound, thanks to the band’s talented songwriter and lead singer, Steven Delopoulos, and his cousin’s (John Philippidis) quick-fingering flamenco guitar riffs. That combination created their one-of-a-kind Mediterranean-influenced folk/rock sound of Greek rhythms and world beats that reflected their Christian Greek Orthodox heritage.
That was 13 years ago. Now an album bearing their name appears on a 2011 best albums list and I’m thinking it must be a re-issue or something. But, no. It is indeed a brand new album with 11 brand new songs. And it is creating quite a stir:
On January 24, 2005, Minnesota Public Radio launched 89.3 The Current with the playing of Atmosphere’s hidden track off the Seven’s Travels album, “Shhh”. “Shhh” is an ode to Minnesota and being proud of where you’re from regardless of what others think of your hometown. It was an incredibly appropriate first track to air on a station who’s mission is to bring its listeners the best new local and national music alongside the music that inspired it.
Here as elsewhere, 2011 finished with the customary best-of-year lists, inevitably confronting the dedicated music lover with large numbers of as yet unpurchased albums said to be the cream of the crop; catching up would cost a small fortune, even if 2012 held no new promises. Well, 2011 also saw the release of some excellent albums offered for free download, and a few of the Music is Good authors have put together a list of their favorites across several genres. All of the albums listed below can be downloaded either for free or on a “name your own price” basis (donations encouraged, but with no minimum) from the artists or labels or at bandcamp. You can also stream some of them below. Our thanks to these artists for making such good music freely available.
No, this is not about the old American television sitcom series that stations occasionally re-run late at night. It is a series, though, and the sitcom title is fitting. This is about a different ‘70s Show – a “music show” that was inconspicuously (at least to me) being performed just outside the limelight during the 1970’s. It is only recently that I came to discover some of the outstanding works from a few stars of that ‘70’s show. In a completely just world, their albums would have received the full recognition they deserve. Even now, some 30+ years later, they are remarkable. Here’s one of the best of them (more albums will be discussed in Part 2):
Silent Passage – Bob Carpenter, Warner Reprise 1975 (re-issue 1984 by Stony Plain Records, and 2007 by Riverman Music) “Bob still lives within all who hear his unforgettable Silent Passage.” - Ed Ochs, former music editor for Billboard Magazine (from Rising Storm).
I first learned of Silent Passage by the inclusion of its title track on Midlake’s 2011 album, a mixtape contribution to the Late Night Tales series. Late Night Tales is a series (ongoing since 2001) of “music and stories worth staying up for” in which one artist is invited each year to compile a mixtape of their favorite songs or inspirations. The contents of each Late Night Tales album are the original pieces by the original artists, with one cover chosen and performed by the invited artist. GQ Magazine describes the series as “the Rolls Royce of compilations.” Midlake’s mixtape opens with Bob Carpenter performing his song, “Silent Passage,” which immediately sent me scrambling to find Carpenter’s original album. Here’s what I had heard: