Tag Archive for 'Death Ships'

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2010

Welcome to the first Top List for It’s Time to Play B-Sides. I’ve considered doing one of these lists every year since 2006, but never before have I had a year filled with as many really great albums that have compelled me to compile a year-end list. 2010 has been a pretty busy year for me as far as music has been concerned. Some fantastic concerts and events and some really interesting local (Eastern Iowa) releases have come out. This list represents releases that spent the most time on my playlist– in some cases I have had direct working relationships with the bands and that certainly was a factor in their appearance in the list, but nothing appears on this list that I didn’t feel very strongly about and in almost every case these were releases I was recommending to others either verbally or in print whether it was here at Play B-Sides or at Radio Free Chicago, or The Little Village.

One thing I’d like to point out is the number of strong releases from Iowa artists this year– this list doesn’t include a comprehensive list of Iowa releases, but I’m proud to include some music from my back yard.

This list is roughly in order of rank– rather than reverse order, I’m listing top to bottom. Truthfully, though narrowing this list to 20 was a tough act, and I left some albums off that I really enjoyed, but these are the albums that I think really struck me this year.

1. Tired Pony – The Place We Ran From –  No album this year has moved me as much as this one has. Brilliant work by Peter Buck and Gary Lightbody who are the core members of Tired Pony. Sounds the way I hope the new R.E.M. album will. “Dead American Writers” is easily one of my favorite songs from this year as well (even if it has a confoundingly bland video). Here is my review at Radio Free Chicago on The Place We Ran From.

2. Hiss Golden Messenger – Bad Debt – MC Taylor released what is the second album for Hiss Golden Messenger this year. Titled Bad Debt, it is a collection of “spirituals” in as much as it deals with the matters of faith. It was recorded during the dead of last winter in his kitchen to a cassette recorder– just Taylor and his acoustic. The results are a stark and chilling introspection and really one of my favorite albums this year. The simple approach of this recording lays bare the amazing singer and songwriter that Taylor is. Here is my article on Bad Debt.

3. Death Ships – Maybe Arkansas EP – Although I’m convinced that Dan Maloney– constant frontman for former Iowa City band Death Ships— doesn’t like the songs on this EP based on the fact that he didn’t play any of them the last two times I saw him perform live at The Mill– this is still one of the strongest releases from this year. It’s a little unfair to call this a 2010 release for a number of reasons– first the songs were recorded some time back in 2006, I think and have kind of lingered in Dan’s archives until last year when he was planning to release an EP of them. The EP was finally released this year. To be fair, I guess Dan has moved on to writing songs for the followup to his last full album, so I’m sure he’s less excited about these songs than the prospect of newer songs. Still, this is a fantastic collection of songs and it would be a shame to let these songs die without people hearing them, in my opinion. Read my review of Maybe Arkansas.

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – I’ll come right out and say it– I was not really a fan of Arcade Fire’s first album Funeral. I have friends who really loved it, but it didn’t really move me. Neon Bible was interesting to me mostly because Calexico covered “Ocean of Noise” on an import 7″ and I really liked “Keep the Car Running.” When the buzz started around The Suburbs, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first “leaked” track was “Month of May” which showed a distinctive change in sound for the band, but I was still skeptical. In what proved to be a genius move by the band and the label, they made the album $3.99 at amazon.com the day of release– so I downloaded it. It quickly took over my playlist and even today, I’ll listen to this album a couple of times a week. Significant holding power for me. On my short list for acquiring on vinyl.

5. Gayngs – Relayted – This is an example of an astonishingly great album that came out of leftfield. Almost any blogger whose opinion I value ranks this as one of the best releases of this year. Smooth, sexy 80’s influenced pop with electronic twiddling interludes by a supergroup of bands from Minneapolis and Eau Claire, WI. The honest-to-goodness legacy to the original Minneapolis sound started by Prince and his minions years ago. Here is an article I wrote about the release.

6. The Right Now – Carry Me Home – A bit of a disclaimer first– I’m the executive producer on the vinyl pressing of Carry Me Home by Chicago R&B band The Right Now, which came out in September. While this might disqualify me from being an unbiased perspective on the album, the fact of the matter is that I loved Carry Me Home from the first time I heard it on CD when it came out in March. I guess, much as Victor Kiam liked Remington razors so much he bought the company, I guess I liked the CD so much I invested in the vinyl! The Right Now is part of a what appears to be a pretty substantial revival in R&B music right now, but in my mind provides a unique spin on the genre in that it draws as much influence from the classic Motown, Stax and Bell sides as it does from more contemporary R&B and funk. In fact, the band might have more in common with The Roots than it does with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings even though all three bands could be considered to fit in this space. A great record from beginning to end and the band’s live shows are not to be missed. The band is planning to hit the studio in 2011 to start recording the follow up and the songs I’ve heard so far are great as well. Here is an article by the band about the vinyl…

7. Backyard Tire Fire – Good To Be – I loved BTF’s last album and their live shows are high-energy straightforward blues-leaning rock. Good To Be marked the move to a new record label for BTF and Ed Anderson’s blue-collar sensibilities and humor (and production by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos) makes for a great and rocking album from beginning to end. Here’s an article I wrote about the album.

8. Pezzettino – LubDub – Brooklyn-via-Milwaukee singer-songwriter and Accordion Girl Wonder Margaret Stutt, who performs as Pezzettino released her third album LubDub this year which was co-produced and created with Milwaukee HipHop producer Jerry Gruvis aka LMNtlyst. Much as her music and art influences before her, Pezzettino draws inspiration from her own life and each of her albums to date have been autobiographical in nature and LubDub is no different. Although we don’t know who the romantic suitors were in songs like “Cold Hard Chick,” “You and Your Headaches,” and “Only One” we know that they may have been star-crossed. The album, taken in whole, can be seen as a progression of sorts in one woman’s journey in love and loss of it. The album started as a tentative collaboration between Stutt and Gruvis who met at a show in Milwaukee last year. As the songs came together it became apparent that this was to be her follow on to Lion. The album is fun, funky and has a sense of humor along with the pain. LubDub was done as a Kickstarter-funded project to wild success which yielded a wonderful CD+vinyl package with the record itself a brilliant transparent yellow. Here is my article about LubDub.

9. Pieta Brown – One and All – The news of Pieta Brown moving to Red House Records was one that I felt was going to be the beginning of a fruitful relationship. Her one foray into major label land was 2007’s Remember the Sun on One Little Indian Records that ended after one release. None worse for the wear, she packed up her guitar and moved home– home being the record label her father Greg Brown was very instrumental in forming in 1983 and continues to be his label today. One and All is Pieta’s seventh release of her very distinctive lazy soprano floating on the Eastern Iowa sound started largely by constant partner Bo Ramsey– but it seems to me like she’s just getting started– maybe it feels like that to her, too. One and All just came out on 180g vinyl, too! Here is my review of One and All.

10. Cheyenne Marie Mize – Before Lately – Postitively lovely, ethereal album from Ms. Mize who is known for her collaboration EP with Bonnie Prince Billy which was her previous release. This album is stripped down to a minimalistic endeavor drawing to focus her longing vocals. Every time I listen to this album I crush on it all over again. She helpfully puts the entire record up on Bandcamp so you can listen to the whole thing. Check out her wonderful Daytrotter session, too. There needs to be vinyl of this release. Here is my article on Cheyenne Mize.

11. Gold Motel – Summer House – I had not heard of Gold Motel until they made an appearance at the August Codfish Hollow show. Chicago-based band has roots in lead singer Greta Morgan’s previous band The Hush Sound. The album is sunshine on CD– 60’s girl bands meets Debbie Harry. I meant to write a review about this album following the afterglow of this show but didn’t manage to– so, here is a review for Mezzic.com by Indie-Rock’s biggest fan, Ms. Amber Valentine.

12. John Legend and the Roots – Wake Up! – I’ve always respected John Legend although I wasn’t really a fan. The prospects of an album with his Philly brethren The Roots seemed like it could be magic. It was. I hope that this is not the last we’ll hear from this pairing. The 2 LP version of this album is the way it is supposed to be enjoyed.

13. Katharine Ruestow – self-titled EPKatharine Ruestow ends up on my list twice– she’s also part of The Diplomats of Solid sound. This is her first solo effort– a collaboration with Matt Grundstad of Euforquestra. Jazzy, almost Trip Hop sounding pop. Totally worth your digital-download dollar. Click Here to read the review I wrote for Little Village Magazine.

14. The Wandering Bears – self-titled EP – This album came crashing onto my Top List in the last couple of weeks. I was doing research for my review of the Pieta Brown “This Land is Your Music” show. The opening act was a trio from Iowa City known as The Vagabonds. Two of the Vagabonds are also in The Wandering Bears which released an EP earlier this year that really took me by surprise! The sound comes off as a combination of maybe Rilo Kiley and Throwing Muses. Free download, so just go get it.

15. Beth Bombara – Wish I Were You – Around the same time that Pezzettino kicked off her Kickstarter campaign for LubDub, St. Louis musician Beth Bombara kicked off one for Wish I Were You. In fact, before I ever heard any songs for this album I offered up a video of me talking about why I love vinyl to help promote her campaign. I found out about Beth through Arial Hyatt’s publicity website– back when there were fewer artists on it and the odds of finding very talented artists was much greater (my opinion). Her CD Robotic Foundation, was a mainstay in my listening rotation for over a year. Robotic Foundation was an edgy indie rock. Wish I Were You has its edgy moments- particular “Lately”, but the album seems to explore a few different styles drifting between blues, folk and country.  I love the album ending track “Don’t You Know” with it’s strings, banjo and harmony. Beth seemingly is part of like 16 bands in St. Louis, but she really shines as a solo artist here. Click Here to read my article about Beth.

16. Wolfgang Schaefer – self-titled EPWolfgang Schaefer is a relatively new musician on the scene and this is his first release. I met him during the tour this fall where he opened up for Pezzettino and both of them shared his very talented brother Ben on percussion and electronic wizardry. Margaret had been praising Wolfgang’s music, but I foolishly hadn’t followed up on it. Then I saw him perform live and was very impressed with his command of an audience. His music is VERY dynamic, so it’s a trick to keep your typical bar crowd in sway. Finger-picked acoustic guitars propel his hoarse vocals delivering pained recounts of love and loss. My friend Amber wrote a really great review of this EP.

17. The Diplomats of Solid Sound – What Goes Around Comes Around – The Diplomats are back with their second release on Italian soul label Record Kicks. Like last time, the Diplomats are fronted by the female vocals of the Diplomettes who have by name apparently been absorbed into the band since they are not singled out in credit. Name detail aside, the band came back with a really strong release filled with the sounds influenced by the 60’s R&B bands. I feel like the band has grown a bit in their songwriting with this release, too. Read my review at Little Village.

18. Drive By Truckers – The Big To Do – Love this album front to back– great party music with typical tongue-in-cheek lyricism from Patterson Hood and Co. It’s cool to see this band blowing up a bit. I finally got to see them live this year when they opened for Tom Petty in Chicago. “The Fourth Night of My Drinking,” “Birthday Boy,” “Drag the Lake Charlie,” “This F*cking Job,” and “After the Scene Dies” are all instant classics for me. I never got around to writing anything about this release, although I listened to this album a lot in 2010. Here is the fantastic Daytrotter session for Drive By Truckers.

19. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo – This might be some of my “old guy” coming out a bit. I have been a constant fan of Tom Petty since the 80’s. That said, his last two efforts– The Last DJ and Highway Companion (one a Heartbreakers release and one a solo release) were not as strong or consistent as some of his previous efforts in my opinion. When I started hearing the tracks that “leaked” via videos on line, Saturday Night Live appearances and his XM radio show “Buried Treasures” really started the interest in this release early. Petty stated that for this album they went to the studio loose and welcomed a more jamming approach and this, I feel, really makes for one of the most consistent albums from Petty in a long time. For an artist that could reasonably rest on his back catalog, it is great to see that he’s trying to push the creative envelope.

20. The Budos Band – III – Any release from Daptone Records is worthy of note, but I really love the Afro-Rhythms guitars and Farfisa organ of The Budos Band. The band said that they went into the studio trying to break new ground for the band by braving psychedelic rock and ended up recording an album that sounding like a Budos Band album. After four releases, I feel like this album really shows the band in its element and this album is darker, I feel than the previous releases. Some recent tweets from the band had them soliciting ideas for a new album of psychedelic rock covers for them to tackle which should be interesting. Here is an article I wrote about the album.

Death Ships – Maybe Arkansas EP Released – Upcoming Show at The Mill 9/17

Dan Maloney of Death Ships

Last February I reported about former Iowa City band Death Ships– a show at the Mill and a new EP that he was going to release on iTunes. Titled Maybe Arkansas, it was a 4-track EP of some really great guitar rock. I said that it was, “a flat-out charmer– hook-filled and standing out in my mind as a testament to the great music that comes from the Midwest. These guitar pop songs draw easy and complimentary comparisons to other Midwest greats like The Jayhawks, The Honeydogs and, yes, Wilco. Each of these songs stick in my head with earworm intensity.”

Over half-year later, I still feel this same way about the EP. Since Dan sent me the songs in order for me to review it, I was one of the fortunate few to get to hear it. Well, except for some tracks he gave to some blogs to post and all of the people to which I excitedly played it.

Last week the EP made it to iTunes and you can download it for $3.96 or Amazon for $3.56.  On a post frontman Dan Maloney made to his MySpace page, he announced the EP going to iTunes and also said that there will be a limited CD run of the EP. He also announced that they were going to start recording a new album next month.

Dan is bringing his Death Ships back to the Mill on Friday, September 17th opening for Ha Ha Tonka. In an e-mail to me this week, Dan said that they had a bunch of new jams he was excited to try out at this show.

I saw Ha Ha Tonka back in September of 2008 opening for Backyard Tire Fire and the then-Picador in Iowa City. They put on a really great show. You can see the pictures here. Since I saw Ha Ha Tonka, they have been signed to Bloodshot Records and released a new album in 2009 called Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South.

Also opening is Iowa City musician Brian Johannesen who performs as Grand Tetons.

Maybe Click to buy Maybe Arkansas by Death Ships on iTunes

Click Here to download “I Like It A Lot” from Maybe Arkansas.

Click Here for the Death Ships MySpace Page which has some of the tracks from Maybe Arkansas streaming.

Click Here for the Death Ships Daytrotter Session

Click Here for the Jay Bennett Daytrotter Session with Death Ships as his band

Click Here for the Splice interview with Dan Maloney from 2009 that has some unreleased tracks and a couple from the upcoming EP

Upcoming Show: Death Ships Set Sail for Iowa City 2/27

The story of Dan Maloney’s Death Ships is one of a band outgrowing a local scene, gaining embrace of the Indie Tastemakers riding an arc of success but ultimately stalling. A familiar story to be sure (see: Tapes ‘N Tapes).

For over nine years Dan Maloney has been Death Ships— a band whose beginnings in Iowa City were as a side project. According to his January 2009 interview with Splice, he was in an Emo band called Faultlines when he decided to work on some solo songs. “…on the side I was experimenting with writing songs along the style of the music I grew up with. It took me a while to figure out I could sing better within a certain range rather than “shout/scream.”

Death Ships started initially as a solo accoustic effort and then expanded into a revolving cast of members and became known for having different lineups for every show. In fact, the first time I ever heard about Death Ships was in the context of them seemingly opening for every band at the Mill Restaurant. My friend saw Low and Why? at the Mill and Dan’s Death Ships were openers both times (without drums) and I believe that they opened for Tapes ‘n Tapes and The Hold Steady during their early tours as well. “When Randall (Davis) and Adam “Lars” joined the ranks,” Dan said in his Daytrotter interview, “they really helped shape Death Ships into a functional band.” In September of 2006 the debut Seeds of Devastation was released to some critical acclaim and Alternative Press named Death Ships “Best Unsigned Band.”

The band met ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett through a shared manager and he took the band under his wing and on the road with him as his backing band for two tours. In a recent email exchange with Dan, it is really clear that this time with Jay– who passed away last year— made a big impact on him. “[Jay’s death] was a big blow. I didnt know him better than others did, but from touring with him twice and spending a lot of time with him I got a good sense of the man he was: a caring, compassionate man with a love of music and joy that only comes from a child’s first Christmas. He picked us up and gave us a boost that I will never forget.”

Dan moved to Chicago from Iowa City a couple of years ago and has been carrying on the Death Ships name with occasional shows in the area and watershedding the follow-up to Seeds which will be called Circumstantial Chemistry. Additionally, a four-song EP Maybe Arkansas will be released on iTunes. The EP is produced by Luke Tweedy who runs Flat Black Studios in Iowa City and is in (ft) The Shadow Government. “I started working on a follow up a couple years ago and only scraped together four of the songs for this new EP. I moved to Chicago and basically had to start from scratch again. It’s hard– like any band– to sell everyone on commiting to [it], forfeiting the fact that there may not be much money involved but also requiring a lot of time and dedication. I hope I have this with this new group and am finally ready to start pushing Death Ships forward and getting these songs and new songs heard.”

Dan generously let me listen to the songs that make up Maybe Arkansas, and it is a flat-out charmer— hook-filled and standing out in my mind as a testiment to the great music that comes from the Midwest. These guitar pop songs draw easy and complimentary comparisons to other Midwest greats like The Jayhawks, The Honeydogs and, yes, Wilco. Each of these songs stick in my head with earworm intensity. Dan’s soft vocal approach on “I Like It A Lot” gives a breezy lead up to the break down “it’s dreams like these/ little melody/ i got plans for you/ you got plans for me” which very nicely launches in the double time and urging cry “put it all on me!”

This is followed by the fun, piano pumping, Beatle-y “Somethings Gone Awry” with its superb use of horns. I love how the song goes from this ironically upbeat drive complete with “do-do-do-do’s” to the mood change as the song runs out “It’s hard to blame the darkness for the rain/It’s hard to see clearly when when we’re reeling from a long black cloud…”

“Let Me Think It Over” is a promise to a former love. It has a undeniable 60’s R&B tinge to it– kind of like when Springsteen used to cover Mitch Ryder in concert– particular with the 3/4 time switch from driving 4/4 at the chorus. “We can get together like we used to be/the same old fool you’ve been dying to see.”

The EP wraps up much too early with the title track. It starts as a melancholy aching sentiment of escape to starting over. “With a furrowed brow you slide across the seat/So, maybe Arkansas– another change in plans” It’s the narrator’s thoughts at the halfpoint of the song of the people they are leaving behind halfway that transforms the song to shouting anger. “Write a letter to your dear sweet mother/tell her that we’re only running from our halted, November mind…”What’s that you gain from this song??”

This EP is a calling card and statement of direction for this new phase of Death Ships. Dan continues from the e-mail he sent me, ” There were times after Seeds where I felt the fruit of my efforts were grossly being undermet and underappreciated, but I have come to peace about being jaded. This is music I make and part of my story. If a few people enjoy it I’m willing to accept that. It’s truly a labor of love and sometimes I forget that. If it ever stopped being fun I would hang it up, but clearly I can’t, because I’ve been doing this project for over six years.”

Dan is sailing his Death Ships to Iowa City on Saturday, 2/27 at The Mill Restaurant in Iowa City. They will be headlining a show with Datagun, Olivia Rose Muzzy, and the Vagabonds. 9PM and admission is a measly SIX BUCKS!

Click Here to download “I Like It A Lot” from Maybe Arkansas.

Click Here for the Death Ships MySpace Page which has some of the tracks from Maybe Arkansas streaming.

Click Here for the Death Ships Daytrotter Session

Click Here for the Jay Bennett Daytrotter Session with Death Ships as his band

Click Here for the Splice interview with Dan Maloney from 2009 that has some unreleased tracks and a couple from the upcoming EP

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