Being a music journalist, people talk to me about music. Not surprisingly, it happens quite often. And while most would prefer to seek respite from their profession, I don't mind mixing my business with your pleasure. In fact, I even encourage it. I'm always reminding my roommates that just down the hall from them is a collection of music that could last them approximately twenty-one and a half days if played straight-through. And that's just the music found on my hard drive. My complete music collection is an overwhelming treasure trove of classic albums, strong debuts, one-hit wonders, and, ahem, a Bee Gees boxed set. If only they took advantage…
And while I would love to share my suggestions with every one I know, sometimes I am simply not around. I cannot be everywhere. I just cannot, no matter how hard you wish it. As a result, some–the mistaken few–will purchase music blindly! With eyes shut! With ears that do not know what they are in for! Surprising the ears! In one specific instance, a friend mentioned casually that he had recently purchased a few CDs off of Amazon.com. I asked him which ones? And he showed me his new booty.
In his hand, he had the Bravery's self-titled debut, Phantom Planet's The Guest, the Killers's Hot Fuss and some other stuff that I kinda dislike but nevertheless understand their appeal (damn you, "Mr. Brightside"!). As I looked at his selections, I considered putting my friend to sleep right then and there. A quick shot to the jugular–he wouldn't even feel the pain and better yet, he would never have to suffer again. But then, I conjured up my role-playing skillz and put myself into Mister Average Listener's shoes. All of a sudden, I wasn't receiving free promos in the mail on every other day. I wasn't getting phone calls and emails from publicists keeping me in the loop regarding upcoming releases. Nor was I being asked to attend shows in local venues for free. Mister Average Listener, or "MAL" as I call him, finds out about music from websites and blogs like Pitchforkmedia.com, magazines like GQ and People, or hears something he digs on a song snippet featured on a TV show.
I asked him where he heard about these bands.
"The O.C.," he said.
The O.C. Hmph. Like I said, a TV show.
1. Death Cab For Cutie It's no surprise that the first band on the list is Seth Cohen's favorite (if only he'd stop being a total dork about it). After all, Death Cab For Cutie is almost synonymous with The O.C.. And if it weren’t for the fact that the Seattle group is so incredibly boring live, they would be mainstream contenders. But bottom line; they're boring live, so who knows if they’ll ever make it further than where they are, i.e. on a teenage girl’s iPod. Ultimately, their strength lies in their polished and produced sound. Chris Walla, both their producer and guitarist, is an underrated studio ingénue making each album a shimmering collection of crystalline music. If you're looking for heartfelt, overtly sincere music, or a perfect fall soundtrack for the sensitive-inclined (bonus! Season-relevant!), then start with Transatlanticism. This 2003 release is easily, lead singer Ben Gibbard's best and frailest performance. If you have that one already, then this year's more confident Plans(as confident as an indie-emo band can be) works successfully as a follow-up, albeit a more secure follow-up. The first hit single off that album, “Soul Meets Body,” is actually just that—an electro-pop song that bears its soul while also moving your body.
2. Youth Group The Australian sensation Youth Group are virtual nobodies here. But thanks to an opening slot on DCFC's last tour, their luck should soon change. Their sound, not completely unlike their touring mates, is the hope to Death Cab's hopelessness. The optimistic and anthemic debut album Skeleton Jar is completely accessible and warm. That may not sound like an endorsement but it actually is. Youth Group sounds like a band you could take home to your mother.
3. Pinback Pinback, the Californian group, essentially a partnership between Armistead Burwell Smith IV and Rob Crowe, has been wrongfully tagged as "emo" and but ultimately Pinback's third release is a slinky, rhythmic pop album that is more sunny day harmonies than bored confessionals. Granted, the soft and unobtrusive tones of Summer in Abaddon would work as appropriate background music but when you listen to the delicate record on headphones, the subtle nuances and bittersweet instrumentation warmly envelop you, making this a well-seasoned release that's appropriate all year around.
4. The Album Leaf Perhaps the gentlest release I have ever heard. Listening to the Album Leaf's In A Safe Place is like a mental massage, an audio hammock, a recorded hug. I have personally used this album on many occasions as background inspiration for my writing (yes, you can blame this record). At the core of this collective is Jimmy LaValle, a supremely talented and chilled-out dude who composes these ambient lullabies and then records them with session musicians. His latest, and third album, was tellingly recorded in Iceland and encapsulates the sound of (warning: here comes a cliché) moving glaciers. The potency of this sublime record is so potent (just how potent is it, Arye?) that it just could finally inspire Marisa to truly commit to Ryan forever (I had to make at least one O.C. reference). Recorded with members of Iceland's favorite sons Sigur Ros, In A Safe Place could stir feelings in you in ways your therapist never could.
5. Rogue Wave A few years back, Zach Schwartz probably decided that Schwartz Wave didn’t make the best band name, so he changed his surname to “Rogue” and recorded one of the best, overlooked albums of 2004. Out of the Shadow (Sub Pop) was rife with melodies so effortless and sublime that it played like a kick to the Shins, the likeminded Albuquerque labelmates who were successfully changing Natalie Portman’s life. Descended Like Vultures, Rogue Wave’s second release, is another warped carnival ride into the school of more power, less pop. While not as strong as their debut, the unpretentious Shadows won’t boldly claim to change your life, but it will sure make it a lot more pleasant.
6. Matt Pond PA After one look at a map of Pennsylvania, you’ll discover that Matt Pond PA doesn’t really exist. But if it were indeed present, what kind of city would it be? Well, for one, Matt Pond, PA would experience autumn all year long where the trees would prophetically wither and the leaves would gently fall (in fact, lead singer, and band name-inspiration, Matt Pond¬ references trees and leaves in many of the lyrics). Throughout Pond PA’s fifth full-length release, Several Arrows Later, Pond strums his acoustic guitar over songs of nostalgia and longing, his earnest voice yearning for summer’s past while the brutal winter looms in the near future. In the titular song, he yelps, “you shouldn’t want to sound like they do/ you should want to sound like you.” Pond takes his own advice and produces a mature autumn album, perfectly seasoned. Start with this record and not with his awful cover of “Champagne Supernova” on The O.C. soundtrack volume 3.