k.d. lang - Recollection

k.d. lang's upcoming retrospective anthology -- Recollection, arriving February 2 -- fortunately will not be just your run-of-the-mill collection of various hits and assorted album tracks. This 2-CD set (and 3-CD, 1-DVD box set) will feature the expected songs such as "Constant Craving", "Smoke Rings" and her definitive version the Leonard Cohen standard "Hallelujah" (video after the jump) culled from her 25 years of recordings leading up to '08's fine Watershed album. But it will also pull together tracks that lang has recorded over the years as duets and one-offs for soundtracks but which have never before appeared on a one of her own studio albums. There will also be a previously unreleased version of "Hallelujah".

Disc One - Primarily a "best of" 11-track collection from her studio albums. Disc Two - Eleven tracks culled from her many soundtrack projects and tribute albums. Disc Three (from the box set) - Eleven rarities including eight tracks recorded live at KCRW. Disc Four (from the box set)- Eleven music videos, two of which were recorded live in 2005 at the Juno awards.

See the full track listing after the jump...

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David Sanborn - Only Everything

Legendary saxman David Sanborn stays in the "key of Ray" with Only Everything (January 26, Decca), a second collection of songs influenced by the great Ray Charles and again produced by the equally legendary Phil Ramone. First volume of Sanborn's homage came in 2008 with the well received Here and Gone featuring a nice array of guests (Eric Clapton, Joss Stone, Sam Moore, Derek Trucks) and generating some solid critical buzz: "a disarming delight" summed up the New York Times. New album features a pair of guest vocals - Joss Stone again as well as James Taylor - but it is Sanborn and his fine band, including Hammond B-3 master Joey Defrancesco and noted drummer Steve Gadd, that are rightly in the spotlight here.

"If anyone would ask me what Ray -- or Ray's musicians -- meant to me, my answer might be, `only everything," says Sanborn. "As a concept, Only Everything is about gratitude. I'm grateful not only for the musical life I've been able to live, but the original sources of inspiration that continue to inform and excite me fifty years after encountering them." U.K. soul belter Stone again makes an appearance on the new album following up her explosive version of "I Believe To My Soul" from Only Everything (and her own recent Colour Me Free album) with a reworking of the classic "Let the Good Times Roll". "Joss is a young woman with an old soul," observes Sanborn. "She's a force of nature who understands the primal power of soul music." James Taylor's distinctive voice graces "Hallelujah I Love Her So", a song Taylor says he performed many times early in his career and one that could have easily been at home on his own recent Covers collection.

Myspace  Artist Site

David Sanborn w/ Joss Stone - "I Believe To My Soul" (from the album Here and Gone)

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Blair - Die Young

Former New Orleans native now living in Brooklyn, 24-year-old Blair delivers her debut full-length Die Young on January 26 (Autumn Tone), an impressive collection of alt-country and jagged indie-pop that hovers somewhere between the bristling force of early Liz Phair and the melodic tw-angst of Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis. Recorded in the sultry summer steam of the Crescent City with producer Keith Ferguson, Die Young has the blurred fuzz of distorted guitar pickups and small, overheated amps, Blair's girlish voice bobbing above the fray with an unexpectedly vulnerable quality. Like her heroes The Replacements, she manages to find the sweet spot of frayed and shaggy edginess and hook-laden melodic tenderness.

"A record of violence and daydreaming" says her label of Die Young and with song titles such as "Murder", "Kamikaze" and "Rampage" you might think that this is primarily an exercise in blunt, caustic blood letting. And, in a more cerebral, mostly lyrical sense, it is. But below the surface on tracks such as "Hearts", with its gleaming, roll-down-the-windows splendor, a delicate balance of grace and power is found. Recommended.

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Blair - "Hearts" (from the album Die Young)

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Shapes Stars Make! - These Mountains Are Safe

Dallas trio Shapes Stars Make! follow up on the promise of their self-titled '08 EP with These Mountains Are Safe, an album of broadly cinematic Sigur-Ros-meets-Radiohead post rock and progressive, often ambient-textured, indie pop. While the band's dreamstate lyricism and vocal melodies add to the overall theme of neo-psychedelia, it is the interplay of chiming, droning guitar riffs and echoing, scattershot percussive runs that make SSM's if not overly distinctive then highly effective instrumental chops such a cathartic listen. This is music full of grand gestures and dramatic flourishes, richly produced (by John Congleton) and immaculately arranged but still grounded with grit and sweat.

Lead track, the instrumental "Le Dodici", is three all-too-brief minutes of nimble, glittering chord progressions riding atop a pounding Bonham-styled drum foundation, layers of synths and bass lines moving in for a flurried crescendo. As with the EP, Mountains possesses both subtle shadings and wall-of-sound grandiosity, creating and then dismantling intricate musical atmospheres of mood and intensity. Shapes Stars Make! are clearly a band with a overstuffed grab bag of big ideas, blessed with both technical ability and symbiotic interplay.

Myspace  Artist Site

Shapes Stars Make! - "Le Dodici" (from the album These Mountains Are Safe)

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Allison Moorer - Crows


Allison Moorer has decided to mix things up a bit for her new February 9 album Crows (Rykodisc). Shifting to the left of her usual "new country" style, Moorer and producer R.S. Field have fashioned an album that emphasizes piano-based writing, personal and poetic lyricism and what is being termed a "sophisticated, pop flavored" style favoring "intricate arrangements and delicate dynamics." Lead track "The Broken Girl" reflects an album that she says "surprised me every step of the way": punchy rhythm backing, guitarist Joe McMahan's rough-edged riffs and a memorable melodic hooks meld into a song that burns brightly from start to finish. “I felt like I was being the most open I’d ever been. I don’t know if that’s age or confidence or what, but after all this time, I’m starting to feel like I know what I’m doing as a singer. Songwriting is very mysterious to me. I know how songs work but I don’t always understand how they come to be.”

"I really just set myself free and just threw all the rules out the window," Moorer tells Billboard. "Y'know, I've never been that concerned with fitting in anywhere, and I've always been sort of a square peg in whatever hole anybody would put me in. This time I just said I'm gonna do what I want to do and let this be as me as I want to." Crows is Moorer's seventh album since her 1998 debut and her first since Mockingbird, her fine (and criminally overlooked) '08 album of eclectic and diffuse covers (Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone) made with producer/guitarist Buddy Miller. Highly recommended.

Myspace  Label Site

Allison Moorer - "Broken Girl" (from the album Crows)

Allison Moorer - "Both Sides Now" (from the album Mockingbird)

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Postdata - Postdata

Postdata is the new side project from Paul Murphy, guitarist and frontman for the excellent Nova Scotia band Wintersleep. What began as a low-keyed, fragmented songwriting excursion between Murphy and his brother Michael over a bottle of Scotch at their parent's home has morphed into what Paul describes as compositions spliced from "thirty or forty pieces of songs in a series of dreams." And it's just that particular nocturnal state that is so hauntingly evoked in the nine songs that make up this powerful, if understated, self-titled debut due January 26.  The original goal of writing laptop-recorded songs about members of their family - particularly their recently passed grandparents - as a gift to their mother became a series of musical vignettes that quietly get under the listener's skin with a shade of melancholy that may have been unintended but creeps through the music like fading light in the shadows of dusk. These are, says Murphy, "kinda sad dreams."

Unlike Wintersleep's dense rock sound (which we'll hear more of in 2010), Postdata keeps things spare and mostly acoustic, with Paul's husky, often near-whispered vocals adding to the songs' inherent sense of mystery and intimacy. Lead track "Tobias Grey" utilizes gentle minor chord guitar picking and a simple, mesmerizing melody to create a mood of hushed confessional storytelling while "The Coroner" turns a gentle folk tale inside out in less than three minutes, pushing the plea of "lie down with me" to a near-creepy insistence. Recommended.

Artist Site  Wintersleep Myspace

Postdata - "Tobias Grey" (from the album Postdata)

Postdata - "The Coroner" (from the album Postdata)

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Patty Griffin - Downtown Church

For Patty Griffin, an admitted "elapsed Catholic", the chance to sing with the legendary Mavis Staples on a gospel tribute album recently had an impact way beyond recording one incredible version of "Waiting For My Child". Inspired by the music she had always admired and "always loved to sing", Griffin decided to create an entire album of gospel-influenced songs and with the help of renowned guitarist and producer Buddy Miller (and some famous friends such as Emmylou Harris), she recorded fourteen tracks at Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church. Now set for release January 26, Downtown Church proves once again that Griffin is not only a world class songwriter, she's also a gifted, soulful singer with a voice that is as clear and pure as, well, baptismal water.

Gospel, she says with a smile, is "right up my alley. It's dark and sad and tragic and it always makes me happy to sing it." Reflecting that clear joy of the music, the songs for Downtown Church range from the classic ("Wade In the Water", "If I Had My Way") to the more eclectic (Hank Williams' "House of Gold", the Spanish folk song "Virgen de Guadalupe") to Griffin's modern ballad ("Coming Home to Me"). But throughout the album, the thread of timeless music performed with love and emotional resonance (and gorgeously produced) is a powerful, unifying force. This is above all a Patty Griffin album; her unique interpretations spanning traditional country, folk, blues and traditional gospel styles make these gloriously spiritual songs all her own. Highly recommended. (Update: We've added a new track to the player: the lovely "Little Fire" along with an album sampler.)

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Patty Griffin - "Little Fire" (from the album Downtown Church)

Patty Griffin - Downtown Church sampler

Patty Griffin - "Waiting For My Child" (from the album Downtown Church)

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Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea

Four is the operative number today as Brit singer/songwriter extraordinaire Corinne Bailey Rae presents the followup to her genre-breaking, best-selling eponymous debut album. New project The Sea is arriving four years after the release of the triple-Grammy-nominated album that featured the international hit "Like A Star" -- an album that exploded in the U.S. upon the release a year later, entering the charts at #4 and going on to sell four million copies. But while beginning work on her new songs last spring, Corrinne's world came crashing down on the news that her husband and musical partner Jason Rae had died of an accidental drug overdose. "My life was going in one direction, then, in an instant, it was turned around," she tells The Guardian. Immersed in her own overwhelming grief, Bailey Rae retreated from music into her own private world for almost a full year.

Beginning late last year, however, she began to emerge back to songwriting, performing in a couple of small clubs and then, this spring, recording again. The difference this time, though, was the emotional support of performing live in the studio with a band rather than simply singing her songs to crafted backing tracks that she had overseen with her producer on her first outing. Also at play is Bailey Rae's voice, described by those that have heard the new songs as deeper, richer and even more jazz-nuanced, more Nina Simone and Sly Stone than the soulful folk/pop voice of "Star" or "Put Your Records On". New tracks include the plaintive ballad "Are You Here" and the powerful anthem "The Sea", reflecting what she calls her "more serious" outlook for the new project.

"You find out there's a lot of beauty and grace even in the darkness," she reflects.  "In the way people treat you, in nature, in the things you maybe took for granted. There is something miraculous that pushes you along, makes you keep going, makes you carry on. It's really about the mystery of that. In fact, the whole album is about that in a way; it's about loss but it's also about hope, about keeping going and trying to find that beauty."

Check out the message from Corinne and read the full interview with The Guardian here.

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Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM

The idea for a full-fledged collaboration may have come in 2006 when French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg made her return to recording with her album 5:55 and utilized arranger/composer David Campbell for the string orchestrations. Campbell is also known as the father of indie-God Beck who, as it turns out, was supposed to work on the album as well, but, as he puts it, "couldn't get over there." The payback now comes back bigtime as Beck shepherds her new IRM project as producer, songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. "I pulled a bunch of songs out," says Beck of the pair's early meetings. "And then I wrote a few, with her in mind, but when we spent time together they changed because I got more of a feeling of where she wanted to go. We got in the studio and I could see all the possibilities.

Scheduled for release January 26, IRM is, says Gainsbourg, the result of trying "very different things." The songs, she adds, "are all in different styles but one proper album." Following the release of the monotone, electronica/industrial workout of the title track last month, Gainsbourg and Beck join voices for new single "Heaven Can Wait", a slithering, piano-punctuated ditty that comes alive in a completely surreal video (watch it after the jump).

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Charlotte Gainsbourg - "Heaven Can Wait" (duet with Beck) (from the album IRM)

Charlotte Gainsbourg - "IRM" (from the album IRM)

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Beach House - Teen Dream

"We’re the same people, but this record has changed our directions,” says Beach House's Victoria Legrand of the Baltimore duo's forthcoming third album Teen Dream (January 26). “We were forced to let go of people and things we were holding onto as individuals: normalcy, daily rituals, the ability to take care of ourselves. We were dropped into a wilderness, but we had more clarity than we’ve ever had before." As the eagerly awaited successor to their 2008 Devotion, the new Dream was created with Legrand and co-conspirator Alex Scally in virtual seclusion, first in an isolated rehearsal space and then in a converted church recording "studio" with producer/engineer Chris Coady (Blonde Redhead, Yeah Yeah Yeahs). The result is a more personal album of impressive scope and clarity of message, something Scally refers to as "instinctual" and "private."

“There’s a different level of intimacy, a physicality on Teen Dream,” Legrand enthuses. “Rhythmically, there’s new motion. This record touches you. On your chest.” Reflecting that aesthetic is lead track "Norway", a song that is both expansive in sound, all droning celestial layers of rich instrumentation, and a slightly left-of-center, woozy, note-bending edginess. This Dream truly does have a drifting, nocturnal feel, a surreality of half-sleep and early hour tossing andturning. Imaginative currents stream through the album. art-pop that remains centered around striking melodic twists and novel new-meets-old production touches. As a visual bonus, Teen Dream comes packed with a companion DVD containing a special music video for each of the disc's ten tracks by a different director. Recommended.

Myspace  Sub Pop Label Site

Beach House - "Norway" (from the album Teen Dream)

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Basia Bulat - Heart of My Own

A certain rustic, old-fashioned folksy attitude is stitched through the musical fabric of Ontario, Canada's Basia Bulat, a heartfelt and straightforward sensibility that emerges fresh-faced and clear-eyed, fusing simplicity of style with innate, effortless sophistication. As a follow up to 2007's acclaimed debut album, the perfectly titled O My Darling, Bulat's new January 26 release Heart of My Own again charts a path positioned between smart, modern indie pop and classic folk/pop traditions. Often clutching an autoharp in concert, encouraging audience handclaps and singalongs (sometimes joining her onstage) Bulat isn't as fearless as she is simply, unpretentiously committed to her craft. Boisterous choruses soar, feet stomp and her rhythms sway and then gallop as she moves easily from mood to mood, a spirited burner followed by a sweet and tender ballad.

First single "Gold Rush" epitomizes what we've come to love about Bulat's special talent for making music that seems to spontaneously tumble from the speakers while still sounding so focused and assured. In just under three minutes, "Gold Rush" is indeed a rush, fusing influences that range from the fiddling flurries of rural Appalachia to busking Celtic folk melodies to breakneck pop a la Arcade Fire. Produced again by Howard Bilerman and glowing internally with a self-generated source of energy, Heart's eclectic punch promises to be a sweet and swooning knockout.  “I think it is at times extremely sparse and, well, spacious, with big choirs singing,” Bulat says, “and then it gets really dense with really spirited and rolling drums.” Recommended.

Myspace   Artist Site

Basia Bulat - "Gold Rush"  (from the album Heart of My Own)

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Jason Boesel - Hustler's Son

After keeping time for bands such as Rilo Kiley and Conor Oberst's Mystic Valley Band, drummer Jason Boesel proves there's more to meets the eye (or ear) with the release of his solo album debut Hustler's Son (Team Love). With a deft combination of grit and twang, Boesel presents alt-country, Americana leanings tempered with an unvarnished, occasionally ramshackle nasal croon that adds to the project's unpretentious good vibes. Neil Young's folkier rambles come to mind as do The Band's Big Pink shuffles in an intersection of Jackson Browne-styled L.A. folk/rock, ragged Wilco-ish riffs and a more rural, barroom jukebox playlist just this side of the whine of a pedal steel guitar.

"There is a wistfulness and a solemn, sober, time-honored reality to the things that Boesel sings about," says Daytrotter, who recently hosted a live studio session, "most of which is a version of looking at the wholeness of what we've become (or failed to become)...He sings about freedom in a way that feels like it holds a lot of purposefulness and authentic meaning." We're particularly fond of the keyboard-soaked "Hand of God" and chuggin' backbeater "French Kissin'" but there's much to warm to here, including "Hustler's Son", the first song Boesel wrote and one that, thanks to the warm reception from friends, became the inspiration for a promising debut album of simple pleasures.

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Jason Boesel - "Hand of God" (from the album Hustler's Son)

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Cold War Kids - Behave Yourself EP

Rock - California's Cold War Kids have earned comparisons to Bruce and Bob with their convincing tales of human experience and timeless-sounding rock grit. Rusty and dusty, their music amalgamates influences from Les Paul to Led Zeppelin without lapsing into cliche like so many artists who mine rock history and "Americana" tropes. Two well-received albums and a handful of EPs have established a strong reputation and an unmistakeable sound: Nathan Willett's tenor runs an impressive dynamic and emotional range as he shouts and murmurs hard-luck tales from a cast of imaginary characters; fuzzy guitars and plodding piano are delivered in short, spare statements; drums shuffle or stomp but the kit always sounds like the one from U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." Sonically, their latest EP Behave Yourself doesn't take The Kids anywhere they haven't been, but where they're at ain't a bad place to be, and there are so many stories left to tell. Check out the teaser video after the jump, which features snippets of each of the EP's four songs. iTunes will have an exclusive early release December 21st.

Artist Site    MySpace    Downtown Records

 Cold War Kids - Audience (From the EP Behave Yourself)

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The Magnetic Fields - Realism

Pop/Folk - For the companion piece to 2008's aptly named noise-pop monolith Distortion, The Magnetic Fields perform an aural about-face, unplugging the amps and hiding the drumsticks. The Fields turned the accoustic trick before, on 2004's i, a mixed bag of strummy indie rock that lacked the giddy punch of the band's back catalog, but Realism takes a maximalist approach to the unplugged aesthetic, employing a broad range of instruments and song forms to create a kaleidescopic folk opus. "I can’t stand the sound of an acoustic guitar for more than three minutes at a time," says frontman/songwriter Stephen Merritt, "So I didn’t go really, really folk, I thought I would go in a ‘variety folk’ format, like a Judy Collins or a Judy Henkse album."

Variety has been the hallmark of The Fields' best work like the classic mega-album 69 Love Songs, and while Realism is currently being kept under wraps - itself an impressive acchievement in this day and age - the press release offers intriguing abstracts like "trippy, toy-box melodies," "mournful tuba," and "a lusty chorus sung in German." Also in the album's favor is Merritt's undisputed status of pop singwriter par excellence. He has a preturnatural knack for catchy melodies and humorous, heartfelt lyrics that shines through even the most mundane arrangements and seems perfectly suited to folk's quirky charm.

Artist Site    MySpace    Nonesuch Records

The Magnetic Fields - I Think I Need A New Heart (From the album 69 Love Songs)

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Vampire Weekend - Contra

Highly anticipated new album from New York genre-blurring indie faves Vampire Weekend is the followup to the band's much-praised, self-titled and 500k-selling 2008 debut. "This cosmopolitan quartet has streamlined ska, post-punk, chamber music and Afropop into a glorious ultramodern groove," raved Paste, just one of many worshipful reviews that helped make VW the "it" band for smart, fresh and dynamically rhythmic rock and alt/pop. "Bring any baggage you want to this record," observed Pitchfork, "and it still returns nothing but warm, airy, low-gimmick pop, peppy, clever, and yes, unpretentious -- four guys who listened to some Afro-pop records, picked up a few nice ideas, and then set about making one of the most refreshing and replayable indie records in recent years."

New Contra was again produced by VW's keyboardist and key creative agent Rostam Batmanglij and finds a way to further expand the the Vampire Weekend all-encompassing style, often foregoing the traditional guitar/rock sound as on Contra's debut single "Horchata" where joyous marimbas and scattershot rhythms lay down an infectious and inviting bed. While primarily recorded in New York, there's no doubt that the band's work in Mexico helped add some spice to the mix. Contra promises something bright -- in every sense of the word -- and just plain exuberant fun -- and a great way to beat the winter doldrums when it arrives January 12.Highly recommended.

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Vanpire Weekend - "Horchata" (from the album Contra)

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Crazy Heart - Original Soundtrack

Early Oscar nomination handicappers are already abuzz over Jeff Bridges' extraordinary performace as an aging, down-on-his-luck and world-weary country singer in the film Crazy Heart, opening December 16. Of particular note is the incredible soundtrack produced with the usual meticulous care from T-Bone Burnett, a man who certainly knows his way around soundtracks having handled three of the best with country and Americana themes: the multi-platinum O Brother Where Art Thou, the Johnny Cash biopic I Walk The Line and the wonderful Civil War epic Cold Mountain. The soundtrack to Crazy Heart oddly enough doesn't arrive until a month after the movie opens but we're thinking that this collection will be essential listening. Tracks from the Louvin Brothers, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt bring some classics to the mix, but it's Burnett's new productions that distinguish the album.

 Bridges handles five of the soundtrack's songs solo, most co-written with the recently passed Steven Bruton (to whom the film is dedicated) while supporting actor Colin Farrell takes one and the two team up for one of the many highlights: "Fallin' and Flyin'". But the biggest beneficiary of the whole project just may turn out to be Ryan Bingham, the Lone Star alt-country singer/songwriter who released the excellent Roadhouse Sun this past June, an album we called "a musical recipe that's soaked in equal parts whiskey shots, truckstop hash and a spicy burrito." His track "The Weary Kind" is a quietly brilliant slice of real and raw music, a song that captures the film's spirit (and Bridges' performance) perfectly and Burnett wisely chose the song to be the film's theme (and end credit roller). Look for an expanded version of the soundtrack (with seven more songs for a total of 23) on February 2. "The Weary Kind" video and Crazy Heart trailer after the jump...

Official Film Site New West Site

Ryan Bingham - "The Weary Kind" (from the soundtrack to Crazy Heart)

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EELS - End Times

Rock - There's no shortage of break-up albums recently: see DC's takes on William Fitzsimmons and Patterson Hood for starters, LeAnn Rimes has one on the way... Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johanssen even cribbed the term to title their collaboration earlier this year.  Is it just bad timing, or a sign of the times? In case the album name isn't a giveaway, EELS' Mark Oliver Everrett clearly believes the latter. On End Times, Everrett views the world through the dark blue lens of his personal strife and sees "The bottom line-ness of it all. The end of common decency. The loss of caring about doing a good job." Throughout the album, Everrett's failed relationship serves as a metaphor for the larger problem of society on the skids, a whole network of failed interpersonal relationships of all shapes and sizes.

The horny werewolf persona that he introduced less than a year ago on Hombre Lobo is long gone, presumably replaced by the empty-eyed old soul pictured on End Times' cover. Gone too are Lobo's blues-rock riffs and sleazy chug, supplanted by clean tones and simple, plaintive songs made all the more intimate by Everrett's home four-track recordings. On the closing track he sings, "I am a man in great pain over great beauty," but that fact is self-evident throughout the album. This is clearly the music of a gifted songwriter in his basement with a tape recorder and a broken heart.

Artist Site   MySpace   Vagrant Records

EELS - Little Bird (From the album End Times)

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Julian Lennon and James Scott Cook - Lucy (EP)

"Lucy", the new track (and December 15 EP release) from Julian Lennon and James Scott Cook, would be news enough if only for the fact that it represented the first new music from Lennon in nearly a dozen years. But we've got a number of things going on here. "Lucy", the first of the tracks three songs, is a brightly colored, uptempo slice of harmonied pop/rock written in tribute to Lucy Vodden, Lennon's childhood friend (and inspiration for his dad's "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds") who died in September of lupus. Coincidentally, Cook, who wrote the first draft of the song, has a grandmother also named Lucy and also suffering from the same malady. With a few lyrical updates, the song became reborn not only as a single but as an EP, the proceeds of which will help fund a lupus charity.

 The EP also gives us a glimpse into the duo's forthcoming solo albums -- Lennon's Everything Changes and Cook's as-yet-untitled new project -- both slated for 2010 release. Lennon's new "Beautiful", a lovely piano ballad written, he says, "about people I know and my friends know that have passed on in life." With swelling orchestration behind him, Lennon sings "the love you left behind will carry on, you gave your heart and soul to everyone" -- and you can't help but think that his famous father is foremost in his lyrical inspiration. "I think it was coming to terms with a lot of issues I felt I needed to deal with," he reflects. "I went through quite a few issues with dad." Watch the "Lucy" video after the jump.

Julian Lennon Myspace  James Scott Cook Myspace theRevolution Label Site

Julian Lennon - "Beautiful" (from the Lucy EP and forthcoming album Everything Changes)

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Final Fantasy - Heartland

Pop - Owen Pallett has become rock music's go-to guy for string arrangements, embellishing albums for everyone from Arcade Fire to The Pet Shop Boys, but it is through his solo work as Final Fantasy that his pop-informed ear for classical music finds its most honest outlet. Though earlier efforts occasionally overindulged Pallett's inner dork and/or drama queen, his third full-length - first for ecclectic indie Domino - reigns in both tendencies and delivers an engaging and utterly unique LP.  Though we haven't even hung our new calendar yet, we're prepared to assert that Heartland will sound unlike any other album released in 2010. Too bold? Too soon?  We'll tell you what we know, and you decide:

Heartland is cycle of twelve pop songs written by Pallett and performed with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra(!) that tells the story of an "ultra-violent" farmer in an imaginary land and doubles as a metaphor for a relationship as seen through the eyes of the author's imaginary lover. While it sounds conceptually cumbersome, Heartland's execution is elegant and, for Pallett at least, understated. The music deftly splits the difference between pop's simple structure and classical music's grand gestures, layering patterns of strings and brass to create rich harmonic soundscapes the way a bedroom popster might layer synths and samples. Beneath the orchestra beats the steady drum of Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara, while above it all hangs Pallett's melodramatic tenor, which has gained considerable confidence and maturity since the start of his young career.

Artist Site            MySpace              Domino Records

Final Fantasy - Lewis Takes Action (From Heartland)

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Zoey Van Goey - The Cage Was Unlocked All Along (U.S.)

Glasgow-based folk/pop trio Zoey Van Goey may have a twee nerdy charm just below the surface of their clever, often lyrically surreal and quietly mindblowing debut album The Cage Was Unlocked All Along, but we're certainly the better for it. Jangly guitars, electronica flourishes and the lovely vocals of Kim Moore bring an undeniable sunny disposition to the shiny surface of the ZVG mystique but beneath the well-mannered charm there's a deeper, darker subversive element bleeding through. There are songs of apocolyptic computer meltdowns and teaching English in Japan, romantic ballads of kidnapping, bandits and buried treasure. Described by one critic as "cuddlecore", this is music that seems to intersect somewhere between a smile and a grimace, smart songs that bring you back to reveal something new and interesting with each listen.

The threesome's first single, 2007's "Foxtrot Vandals" was produced by Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch and moves at a brisk trot, all strum and propulsive, shimmering kick. But with producer Paul Savage at the helm -- and with many more months of writing and studio work -- Cage ended up veering off into more shadowy and daring territory: quieter, pulsing with electronics and decidedly more studied in tone. Songs such as the delicately structured "City Is Exploding" and the chiming, atmospheric "The Best Treasure Stays Buried" seem to drift with a languid nonchalance but the razor-edged lyrics - and Moore's wonderfully cryptic singing - keep the imagery and lovingly crafted melodies in sharp focus. Cage, released in the U.K. this past fall get a U.S. street on January 19. Highly recommended.

Myspace  Artist Site

Zoey Van Goey - "The Best Treasure Stays Buried" (from the album The Cage Was Unlocked All Along)

Zoey Van Goey - "City Is Exploding" (from the album The Cage Was Unlocked All Along)

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