Today I want to highlight three bands I’ve been listening to a lot. Their music has improved with further listening, always a good sign.  Each of these bands have proven track records, so you may already be familiar with them, in which case I hope you’ll comment as to whether you agree with my assessment of their talents.

The Jayhawks

A couple of weeks ago I was driving somewhere and had one of our two NPR stations playing on the car radio. It was WOSU 90.5 FM, not the one I usually listen to, which is 89.5 FM All-News NPR. I had gotten a little weary of the all-news format, but I didn’t have any CD’s in the car that I wanted to listen to, so I thought I’d try out OSU, which has some music in its programming, and often some pretty good music shows.

The first song I heard really caught my fancy. It started out with some good acoustic guitar changes, with a solo male vocalist whose somewhat nasal tones were still tender, and the best thing was the hook: a chorus of vocal harmonies with catchy, non-banal lyrics just perfect for singing along.

The song was ‘Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces,’ by The Jayhawks:

This song so caught my fancy that as soon as I got wherever I was going, I wrote down the band’s name, so that my infamous memory wouldn’t fail me when I went to search for the tune. I found the album it’s on, Paging Mr. Proust, at my local library, a branch of the amazing Columbus Metropolitan Library (and that’s not just my personal opinion regarding the library: it has won national awards consistently over the years, including being named number one in the nation).

‘Quiet Corner’s lyrics are delightful, but not obtrusive:

Aside the wandering eye has opened
A stare all the way bare and broken
The start of a brand new adventure

Hey now
Catch me quick before I walk away
Tell me if there’s something I should say
I’ll find the quiet corners and the empty spaces

Not far a blue guitar is playing
It drew me like it knew me
And it’s saying

Hey now
Catch me quick before I walk away….

We drown in ups and downs
The beauty of my sun is setting

In the end there’s no way in redemption
Hey now
Catch me quick before I walk away….

I checked out the album and soon requested some of The Jayhawks’ other albums, which were enjoyable but none were ‘must-haves,’ like Paging Mr Proust is. This is a CD that is entirely enjoyable. Here’s another track from it that I really like. The acoustic guitar sound in the main body of the song is demolished in the break by a simple yet powerful electric guitar riff, echoed at the octave by the bass:

Getting much less air-time than ‘Quiet Corners,’ ‘Leaving The Monsters Behind’ deserves just as much attention. As the old commercial use to say about Mikey, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

And to sum up my feelings about The Jayhawks’ lyrics, songwriters who can include the names of the authors David Foster Wallace and Robert Frost in their songs and even quote Foster Wallace, and do so in a way that doesn’t come off as pretentious or smarmy, are songwriters you should get to know.

Of Monsters And Men

Here’s a group I discovered through my near-obsession, OK, my OBSESSION!, with Iceland. I did an online search through the aforementioned library system and Of Monsters and Men came up as an Icelandic musical group that I’d never heard of, unlike Bjork and Sigur Ros. So I requested the CD that the library had of theirs, My Head Is an Animal. Wow! I love this album!

From the article about them on Wikipedia:

The members are lead singer/guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, co-singer-guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson.

The band’s origins began in 2009 when Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir decided to add to her solo project, Songbird. Of Monsters and Men entered 2010’s Músíktilraunir, an annual music competition held in Iceland, as a quartet with members Nanna (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Brynjar (electric guitar), Raggi (backing vocals, melodica, glockenspiel), and Arnar (backing vocals, melodica, glockenspiel, tambourine). Raggi came up with the band name, Of Monsters and Men, and everyone else liked it, so it stuck.

Following Músiktilraunir, the quartet added two more members, Árni (accordion/keys, backing vocals) and Kristján (bass, backing vocals), and continued to tour venues in Iceland and work on new songs. They were invited to perform at the 2010 Iceland Airwaves festival, and it is there that the Seattle-based radio station KEXP recorded the band performing “Little Talks” from a living room session.

Unlike the first video of theirs that I posted, these two have annoying preceding ads that you have to wait through before you can see the video. Thanks, VEVO–not! 😦 However, the songs are definitely still worth waiting for and listening to, and the video of “Little Talks,” with its accompanying Icelandic/Scandinavian mythic tropes is fun to watch. So please bear with me through the ads.

“I move slow and steady, but I feel like a waterfall.” I can really relate to these lyrics!

I love this entire album, My Head is an Animal, which is not their newest. The newest one is called  Beneath the Skin.  I hope to check it out soon, too.

Walk Off The Earth (WOTE)

Saving the best for last, this group from Toronto is my absolute favorite band from the past couple of years. I listen and listen to the two albums of theirs that I own, and I can never get enough of either of them.  That said, I prefer the earlier of the two albums, R.E.V.O. The newer album is Sing It All Away, and while I do like it, R.E.V.O. has my heart.

But first, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about WOTE:

Walk off the Earth is a Canadian independent alternative rock, ska, and reggae rock band from Burlington, Ontario. They are known for their low-budget music videos of covers and originals. The band is well known for its covers of pop genre music on YouTube, making use of uncommon instruments such as the ukulele and the theremin, as well as looping samples. The band’s recorded music and videos are produced by member and multi-instrumentalist, Gianni “Luminati” Nicassio.

Walk off the Earth was formed in 2006 in Burlington. The band began releasing music independently. The band created cover versions of the songs of The Gregory Brothers. The video of the band’s live cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” gathered over 127 million views in four months on YouTube in early 2012. and received positive responses from both Gotye and his co-singer on the song, Kimbra. The band released an accompanying video where all five members are shown playing on one guitar. The production was taken from the 26th cut of a 14-hour session. Ellen DeGeneres featured the band on her January 23, 2012 show where they played live, again on one guitar.

In February 2012, the band signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. They appeared in the Season 4 premiere of CTV’s The Listener, performing two songs and socializing with the main characters in the bar. They also covered “Rude” by Magic!

WOTE’s members are listed on Wikipedia as:

Gianni “Luminati” Nicassio – bass, guitar, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, drums, vocals, theremin, glockenspiel, piano, cajon, cello, bongos, harmonica, double bass, percussion, kazoo, keyboards, melodica, beatbox, kalimba, whirling sound tubes, producer;

Sarah Blackwood – guitar, ukulele, vocals, bass, glockenspiel, percussion, piano, mandolin, kazoo, harmonica, whirling sound tubes;

Ryan Marshall – guitar, bass, trumpet, harmonica, vocals, ukulele, piano, glockenspiel, percussion, kazoo, bongos, whirling sound tubes;

Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor – piano, keyboards, organ, vocals, xylophone, glockenspiel, melodica, trumpet, didgeridoo, accordion, kazoo, euphonium, slide whistle;

Joel Cassady – drums, cajon, bongos, congas, percussion, vocals, bass, organ, piano, spoons, ukulele, guitar, kalimba, sampling, whirling sound tubes, mixing, producer.

Gianni and Sarah are a couple and have two amazingly adorable tow-headed toddler sons.

So here are a few of my very favorite tracks from WOTE’s R.E.V.O. album.

A couple of my favorite tracks on this album don’t have official videos, although you can find live versions recorded by fans on YouTube. Meanwhile, here are “Sometimes” and “Shake,” from R.E.V.O., without accompanying videos:

Now for three of my favorites from their awesome self-produced videos:

Check them out! I would absolutely LOVE to see WOTE in concert! 😛