Saturday, February 27, 2010

You Missed Out: Rocky Votolato and Josh Caterer

Chicago is my favorite place in the world. I feel so lucky to be able to wake up in this city every day. Of course, I don't mean to discriminate against the Northwest, because I've only heard the kindest words about Seattle and Portland. It's just that I've never been there before (although a mini-vacation in March will soon fix that).

But I get the feeling that Chicago and those Northwest cities are actually very similar to each other. Neither have the best weather, but both have great music scenes. Neither are really in competition, but I've lost many Chicago friends to the clutches of Portland. And I really like the way both cities' basketball teams play unselfish, scrappy ball (not to mention the unchanging, classic logos and red and black jerseys). I think there's some sort of bond between Chicago and the Northwest, or at least a mutual respect.

Tonight, I got to see the mutuality in action, as one of Seattle's finest singer-songwriters played a show with one of Chicago's hometown heroes. And the parallels kept coming from Josh Caterer's acoustic solo opening performance onto the headlining Rocky Votolato.

Both of these musicians have been in the music industry for quite a few years now, and they've each had their ups and downs. Josh Caterer flirted with major commercial success in the 90s' with the Smoking Popes, until he found Jesus and abandoned his former rock and roll aspirations due to "Christian" convictions (You know, like the guy who burned all his secular records after he got saved). And Rocky Votolato gradually suffered from a severe depression, a dreadful and dark existential crisis that threw him into hopelessness. But tonight in the warm atmosphere of a sold-out Schubas Tavern, both artists appeared to be more content and comfortable than they'd ever been before.

Chicagoans are so accustomed to Josh Caterer, the crowd talked over his entire set. But at this point in his career, that's just fine for Josh. He's not a worldwide star, but a Chicago staple. And in this town, local love is even better than widespread fame. Instead of telling the crowd to shut-up, like Chicago's hometown zero Mike Kinsella (Owen) might, Josh played on. Nobody was brought to tears by his set, but nobody wants that anyway. It was just comfortable.

The crowd decided to hush up for Rocky Votolato, who rewarded us with a five-song encore (I think this was the first time I've witnessed such a feat). He introduced the opening song on his new album True Devotion by saying how his new record is really about coming to grips with what he really cares about in life, which is not what a manager or scene thinks he should look or sound like. The result is a totally honest record about acceptance and humility.

Two men took turns standing alone with their acoustic guitars on a small stage. Their journeys are more similar than they know. Both of them singing lyrics that could be attributed to either a girl or God, both happy to revel in ambiguity, they're far from being washed up or played out. They're finally in just the right spot. Instead of demanding that life be a certain way, they're going with what they've been given. And they're not complaining.

Josh recently reassembled the Smoking Popes, and is no longer afraid of the music damaging his Christian faith (thank God he came to his senses!). And Votolato, though undeniably more positive now than he was on past records, still plays requests for songs about heading towards "sweet darkness." These men have learned that life isn't black and white, and that there's no need to fear either blinding light or total darkness as long as you remain in the gray. It may have taken these two a few years to arrive at their contentment, but it sure looked like it was worth it tonight.

*Also published at Burnside Writers Collective

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You Traded My Soul for Pogs?!

I'm steering this blog into dangerously nerdy waters, but I've been thinking about one particular episode of The Simpsons a lot lately.

Bart Sells his Soul is one of my favorite episodes, and has been for years. I used to love it because I could relate to it. The Christianity jokes hit close to home and I didn't need much else beyond that. But now that I've spent some time at Second City, I look at comedy writing in a totally new way. I can see characters' points of views, conflicts and resolutions much clearer now. And the arc of Bart Sells his Soul really is one of the more brilliantly written episodes in the history of the show.

It feels almost like the Coen brothers directed this episode, with its metaphysical plot elements and darkly humorous action. Even Bart's dream sequences have that Coen-esque quality. But most importantly, this episode does what the Coen's always excel at: the conflict of assumption.

I've written before about how comedy is at its strongest when it is born of assumption. Either the audience, a character, or somebody has to make an assumption, and once they do--instant conflict. This is because an assumption produces action prior to any hard proof. Even if an assumption turns out to be correct, it's a hilarious comedic device because of its prejudicial nature. The Coen brothers play with assumption in all of their films (Burn After Reading possibly being the chief example), but so does other great comedy like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm ("I thought he was drowning him, I don't know what a baptism is!"), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and The Simpsons.

I popped my season 7 DVD in to see who wrote Bart Sells His Soul, and got the name Greg Daniels. I was unfamiliar with him, but a quick trip to the internet cleared away my ignorance. And boy, this guy might be the best comedy writer you don't know. He got his start at Harvard, with Conan O'Brien. From there he went on to write for SNL, some of their best seasons actually (87 - 90). Then came The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and King of the Hill. He wrote 254 episodes of King of the Hill. This accomplishment alone may be enough to accredit Mr. Daniels my new hero. He also wrote for the U.S. version of The Office. His current project is Parks and Recreation, which I haven't really given a chance yet, but definitely will now.

So let's recap: SNL, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, King of the Hill and The Office. That is an amazingly impressive record. Especially since the work he's done for all of these shows has been quality. None of the later Simpsons junk, none of the early 80s' SNL. All quality work, for over two decades straight. All this heaping praise comes down to the writing. In all of Daniels' best work, I can see all of the great comedic aspects which are taught at Second City.

Comedy isn't about a bunch of crazy taglines and zaniness. At its core, there has to be emotion. Bob Odenkirk (Tim and Eric, Mr. Show, SNL) told the Chicago Reader last year "if you can think of a unifying point of view for [a sketch]—something you are clearly commenting on while you're listing a bunch of funny taglines—that's even better." He expounds on this point in explaining one of his most famous creations from his days at SNL, Matt Foley:

"That character is telling a story with that catchphrase (I live in a van down by the river!). It paints a picture; the phrase has a lot more meaning to it than just a catchphrase that stands alone. That particular sketch contains a very strong idea: that this guy uses his own tragic career path as fodder for his motivational speaker bit. But there is a lot more to it when Chris [Farley] did it, and he made that character whole. It's not a gimmick. You felt like there was a real person in that character."

Character. This is so vital. If an audience doesn't care about a character first of all, they certainly won't empathize or laugh at him. In Bart Sells His Soul, our protagonist is Bart Simpson. We care about him because he expresses a clear and honest point of view. Bart doesn't believe in a soul. He believes this so confidently, that he pranks the entire church into singing a rock and roll song for the opening hymn ("fresh from God's brain to your mouth!"). He is also so confident in his belief that the soul doesn't exist that he is willing to gain something for his point of view. Milhouse (our antagonist), who believes in a soul, purchases a piece of paper from him that reads "Bart Simpson's Soul" for five bucks. Even this initial transaction is a matter of assumption. In total confidence, Bart declares in the echoing church sanctuary, "there's no such thing as a soul!" He's sure of it. But without hard proof.

Now, the story gets interesting because the protagonist's point of view is about to be challenged. And this is where Greg Daniels goes for more assumption. A string of coincidences take place, pointing to the possibility that Bart really did lose his soul when he sold it. An automatic door doesn't recognize him, his pets growl and snarl at him, and even his mother senses something "a little off" when she hugs him. The assumption that Bart (and we the audience) makes is that these things are happening because he no longer has a soul. Conflict.

Bart's point of view is no longer strong, but challenged. After a while, he even changes his mind completely. He goes on a dark journey seeking out his lost soul, finding nothing but bad luck along the way. And by the time we approach the resolution, Bart is on his knees confessing his sins to a god he didn't even believe in at the beginning of the episode. An amazing moment occurs at the end of his prayer, where the piece of paper falls from the sky and lands in front of him. This is another great moment in which the audience and Bart share a final assumptive emotion. "God answered the prayer! Wow!" we think to ourselves. But then we zoom out, and see Lisa's arm arched over Bart's head. She dropped the piece of paper, not God.

Now we have the hilarious shot of Bart ingesting the piece of paper while ignoring Lisa's expository moral. And the last scene, in which we see the essence of Bart captured in a dream. He is the character we loved and cared about in the beginning of the episode, only now he has gained something from his experience. He is still a prankster, but now a prankster with a soul. Character development.

Doesn't it sound like the Coens again? O Brother Where Art Thou is almost identical, on the narrative level. And A Serious Man progresses its entire story through religiously-fueled assumptions.

I listened to the commentary for the episode, and Greg Daniels talks about it with Matt Groening. They mention that the episode is engaging because viewers are involved in the story. But they believe it's rewatchable because of the funny stuff. I'm not sure if they're right about that though. Obviously it wouldn't be one of the greatest episodes if it didn't have great gags, but (as Odenkirk might argue) the more important aspect is actually the ability the story has to relate to its audience on an emotional level. Groening and Daniels even admit, "the unfortunate thing about a lot of comedy writing is that after you've seen a joke 8 or 10 times you can't tell if it's funny anymore." But this is not the case with great story structure. You can always count on that to be engaging (if it's done properly).

Greg Daniels' story in this episode is just about perfect. Nothing is cheap, all of the gags are intentionally placed within the structure of the story, nothing escapes the core of the arc.

This may just be the first of many Greg Daniels' projects that I analyze on Total Darkness vs. Blinding Light. A writer this talented is worth digging a little bit deeper into. It's his understanding of structure that allowed him to create some of the funniest and most memorable moments we've ever seen in the history of television, and I want to study that. I assume it will be a pretty good way to learn how to write some successful blog posts in the future.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Time Loop

Present Mike: Yeah man, I’m not gonna be coming out tonight… I’m in this chick’s bathroom right now and she’s lying on her bed half naked waiting for me to give her some Polish sausage… oh yeah, she’s had a few long islands already.

Girl: Mike, are you coming!

Present Mike: Be patient beautiful! That’s her… Yeah man, she’s skanky hot.

Girl: Hurry up!

Present Mike: Alright bro, talk to you later. Good luck tonight.

(Checks his hair in mirror, flexes biceps, and makes practice hip thrusts. Claps hands together in excited anticipation)

Future Mike: Agh, shit!

Present Mike: What the hell! Who’s that?

Future Mike: Don’t be alarmed Mike. Ack. Come here, help me through this window.

Present Mike: Uhhh, I think you should get the hell out of here.

Future Mike: You don’t understand, I’m here to help you Mike.

Present Mike: Yeah, I think that maybe… wait… how do you know my name? Who are you?

Future Mike: I’m you Mike. I’ve come from the future.

Present Mike: … alright, I’m calling the cops.

Future Mike: No really! I’ve come to stop you from making a huge mistake!

Present Mike: First of all, my friend, time travel isn’t possible. And secondly, you don’t look anything like me.

Future Mike: Exactly!

Present Mike: … Hello, 911?

Future Mike: Gimme that!

Present Mike: Hey asshole! Give that back!

Future Mike: You have to listen to me! If you sleep with that girl in there you’ll ruin your life.

Present Mike: This is really weird.

Future Mike: Okay, when you were seven years old you were the ring bearer at your uncle’s wedding. You shit your pants while walking down the aisle.

Present Mike: … Yeah. But everybody in the town knows about that.

Future Mike: In high school, you used to masturbate in bathroom stalls to a picture of Kermit the Frog that you kept in your wallet.

Present Mike: … oh shit.

Future Mike: Sometimes when you’re showering, you stick your finger up your own—

Present Mike: Okay! Okay! I believe you’re me. How did you travel back in time though?

Future Mike: That’s not important. What is important is that you get the hell out of here right now. Go through the window, hurry!

Present Mike: Wait wait, this is the hottest girl I’ve ever been with. I can’t just skip out on this.

Future Mike: Look at me. Look at this shit in my beard. This is rat shit. The worst shit in the history of shits. Mike, I wouldn’t look like this if I had bolted. And the same thing will happen to you if you go through with it.

Present Mike: Hm. But, wait a minute now, if I don’t go through with it, that means you’ll have no reason to come back and warn me.

Future Mike: Exactly, that’s what we want.

Present Mike: But, you’re already here. So doesn’t that mean I’m destined to sleep with her?

Future Mike: No, what? That’s why I came back in time to warn you against it.

Present Mike: So no future versions of me came to warn you when you were in the same situation?

Future Mike: Well, I think it would have been a future version of me, not you. And actually yes, a future version of myself did come to warn me, but I didn’t listen.

Present Mike: Okay, I think this proves my point. This is an endless loop.

Future Mike: No, it doesn’t have to be! You can get out now. This is exactly what happened to me when I was in your situation, but I didn’t listen to my future self either!

Present Mike: But won’t that screw up the fabric of time? I mean, if I listen to you, that’ll alter the course of everything. Then let’s say I get to the point at which you traveled back in time, do I not do it?

Future Mike: uhhh…

Present Mike: I mean, this loop is infinite. We can’t just stop it now. That could destroy the universe for all we know.

Future Mike: Well look at it this way, you’re screwed no matter what. If you sleep with that girl, you’ll ruin your life. If you don’t there’s a chance the universe implodes. But I’d say at least take a chance and try to have a good life.

Present Mike: Well, that’s a good point. But will I ever have a chance to get with a girl this hot ever again? I highly doubt it.

Future Mike: Oh come on, it’s possible. Look at your biceps. And you know we have perfect hip thrusting form. There’ll be more girls down the road.

Present Mike: … yeah, but. She’s just lying there at this very moment. I can go do it right now. She’s drunk and ready.

Future Mike: That’s the thing. She’s really drunk. So drunk that she won’t even be aware of whatever you do to her.

Present Mike: Oh my God. That is so awesome.

Future Mike: No! Mike! I mean, I know it’s kinda awesome, but in this case it’s really not!

Girl: Miiiike! Get in here, I’m so wet and wasted!

Present Mike: Jeeeeez. This is tough.

Future Mike: Mike, please. I know it’s hard, believe me, I’ve been here before.

Present Mike: I have to leave right now?

Future Mike: Yes. You can’t ever see her again. Ever.

Present Mike: Well, I guess I have no reason to not believe my self. I’ve always trusted myself before…

Future Mike: I wouldn’t go through all the trouble of time traveling if it wasn’t really important.

Present Mike: Yeah. I can imagine it was an ordeal getting here.

Future Mike: Not as big of a deal as you’d think actually, but it’s on par with installing a new stereo in a car in your era.

Present Mike: Oh, that’s not too bad. But yeah, not the most common, uh… yeah...

Future Mike: right.

Present Mike: (sigh) Out the window?

Future Mike: Yes. And run like hell. Get as far away from her as fast you can.

Present Mike: Alright. Ok. I’ll do what you say. …Will I ever see you again Mike?

Future Mike: I hope not.

Present Mike: Hah. Okay, give me a boost, I’m outta here.

Future Mike: Alley oop! …Run Mike! Don’t look back! Don’t stop! Atta boy! Atta boy! (looks back towards room)

Girl: Are you coming Mike?

Future Mike: (checks hair in mirror, flexes biceps, thrusts hips) Oh yeah, I’ll be right there baby! (takes off belt, opens door and leaves bathroom with a smile on his face)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

You Missed Out: Phantogram and Junk Culture

Now that Animal Collective is actually influencing new bands, I'm a little bit freaked out. So much can happen in a few years. It's funny when the outcome of an experimental project turns out to be successful. I suppose it's better than an unsuccessful experiment, but I guess I always thought that Animal Collective would just have their own little exclusive tree fort club that would forever refrain from expansion. I mean, I never really heard any other music five years ago that made me say "Oh this sounds like Animal Collective." But in 2010, it's a weekly occurrence.

I saw Junk Culture and Phantogram at Schubas tonight. On Animal Collective coattails, but flirting with their own unique style as well, both acts proved to be much more engaging with accompanying video projections than they are on record.

Junk Culture felt a lot like a combination of Panda Bear and Avey Tare, sometimes putting an effect on his voice full of dreamy reverb, and other times yelping and growling like a wildcat. He opened with the title track that kicks off his first full length, West Coast. It might have been the coolest song played all night, but unfortunately only a handful of the audience had arrived at this point.

Released on Illegal Art (Girl Talk), West Coast continues the label's tradition of creating original music through heavy sampling (without permission), while letting buyers pay what they want for albums. It's a great model for artists who want to advertise their more important product--the live show. And in this sense, Junk Culture is successful. The album is like a movie trailer that gives you an idea, but not the whole story. Once we turn the volume up, throw on some projections of old school skateboarders and kaleidoscopic computer graphics, and actually see the man twisting the knobs that make the sounds, then we get full package.

As is the case with most opening acts, they're good for setting a mood for the headliner. Phantogram left the same projection screen up that Junk Culture was using, but as soon as Phantogram started it was clear to see why one act preceded had the other. It was like switching a youtube video from its regular resolution to high definition. Phantogram's images were crisp and stunning, a high step above the things Junk Culture was projecting.

One particularly surreal video accomplished something I've never seen before. You know those spots you see after you look away from a light you've been staring at? You can try it now. Stare into a light bulb for about 10 seconds, then close your eyes and look away. See that? Well, somehow Phantogram recorded them, and projected them back to us. Orange, purple and green spots danced around images of a POV drive through a city street, making us all wonder if this was a part of the video or just our eyes responding to the strobe lights. Maybe this is what they meant by naming their debut full-length "Eyelid Movies."

Phantogram's live show is a lot better than what one would expect from Eyelid Movies, which is more aesthetically ambient than it is pop. Two performers, one male and one female, said very little to the audience between songs. They didn't need to though, their lush rhythms spoke to the crowd clearly. Schubas was packed on a Wednesday night for this duo. I don't know if all of these people just love Barsuk bands, or if Phantogram opened for a more popular band before or what, but I usually don't see such big crowds for new bands. I was happy to see the full house though. Phantogram made the evening worth everyone's time.

And maybe they have already, but Phantogram needs to go on tour with School of Seven Bells. At times, I thought I was just watching/hearing one half of School of Seven Bells up there. But what's great about a new band who can put on a better live show than what's expected based on the album is how it points to potential. They may have only just released their first full-length, but Phantogram's next one is going to be a lot better. The band is better than what you hear on the internet. But come 2011, you won't have to see them live for proof.

Gay Frankenstein

*This story was a team effort, compiled improvisational-style in less than 10 minutes (unedited). The direction my two writing partners took it in just warmed my heart though.

Once upon a time, there was a monster. He was created by a man named Frankenstein. Frankenstein made Monster out of dead body parts and electricity. But Monster didn't tell Frankenstein that he had a strong homosexual attraction to his maker, and it tore him up inside.

The monster tried to ask the man out for some french fries and soda. But the man said he was watching his figure. The monster tried again the following week, to go to a salad bar. The man agreed. At the salad bar, the monster ate nothing and just watched his master lightly pick at a small greek salad on his plate. Then the monster dropped the line... He told him that he loved him and that he would do anything the master desired. The master ran away in disgust. The monster sat in silence, ashamed of his sexual lust.

Frankenstein ran home to call Wolfman.

Frankenstein: I just feel guilty. It wasn't my intention to build this sex slave. I just feel like it's an abuse of power.

Wolfman: Well do you have feelings for Monster?

Frankenstein: I do.

Wolfman: And it seems like Monster truly loves you.

Frankenstein: I think so too.

Wolfman: So go for it.

Frankenstein: Ok. I will. Thanks Wolfman. I'm gonna let you go. I'm going to give Monster a call now. You're a great friend Wolfman.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

You're Not Dealing with Morons Here

The first time one watches The Big Lebowski, the most relatable character is usually Donny. We feel like we're constantly missing pieces of conversations, always playing catch-up, trying to make sense of the story. We are always frustratingly "out of our element." And by the end, we feel pretty dead. Not sure what we just went through, we can only remember a cluster of swear words and trippy dream sequences.

If anyone has the nerve to watch it again, it's still confusing, but a lot funnier. We catch repetitions and parallels that glazed over us before, and we can admit, "that was a great movie." Then by the third viewing, it's one of the funniest films of all time, and we can just about understand the plot.

I've probably watched this movie over a hundred times, and every time I catch something new. The Coen brothers hide so much comedy under the surface of confusion and assumption. And once one realizes this, there's a lot of fun to be had with their films. The game is without rules, and so there's a lot that can be gathered from making one's own assumptions about conflicts and events.

The Coen brothers know that movie watchers love to make assumptions. Viewers are often like Donny: "like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie." When Walter says the word "pederast," Donny asks what that is. I don't know about other viewers, but when I first heard this word, I was with Donny. I thought Walter said "petter-ass." And, I thought to myself, "yeah, what's a petter ass?"

If you google "petter ass," urban dictionary defines it: "Pedophile. One who sexually enjoys innocent youth as opposed to those their age." This is actually the definition of pederast, but the second definition in urban dictionary is more interesting: "Misspelling of the word 'pederast' made popular by The Big Lebowski. Webster's defines it as "one who practices anal intercourse especially with a boy.""

This is funny, right? The Coens are constantly mixing up inane, foul language with high-minded vocabulary that deadbeats don't regularly make usage of. The Big Lebowski is a movie about confusion. So from the get-go, assumptions must be made. Jeffrey Lebowski's home is invaded by two strangers who enact violence upon him based on misappropriated assumption. He is Jeffrey Lebowski, yes, but there is another Jeffrey Lebowski (and who knows, maybe even a third somewhere.)

My most recent realization came after watching the scene in which Dude and Walter convict Larry Sellers of stealing Dude's car and briefcase. Now, there's no reason to think that Larry didn't do these things, however, Larry never actually admits to any of this. They do indeed find the homework of someone named Larry Sellers in the Dude's car when he retrieves it, but this one piece of evidence may not be the proof of anything.

The Dude and Walter assume that this Larry Sellers is indeed the Larry Sellers they think him to be. But what if, just as in the first scene in the movie at the Dude's apartment, what if they had the wrong Larry Sellers?

Dude and Walter say things like, "We KNOW this your homework! We KNOW you stole the car! We KNOW you stole the money!" But, they actually don't know any of these things. They jump to conclusions before they have any definitive evidence--just like the thugs at the beginning of the movie.

What's more fascinating, if one were to google "larry sellers," they'll discover an imdb page for a Native American stuntman. The whole spin about Larry being the son of Arthur Digby Sellers, the writer of the bulk of the TV show, Branded, is totally fictional. When Walter says that he wrote 156 episodes, he is amazingly wrong. There were only two seasons of Branded, a total of 48 episodes. So wherever Walter is getting his information is not reliable. Is it possible the information he got on Larry Sellers is all misinformed as well? Absolutely! But not certainly.

(Another funny little connection: Branded was created by Larry Cohen. Not Coen, Cohen.)

In the story, we never find out exactly what happened to the Dude's car and briefcase. Like the Dude and Walter, we can only make assumptions. The possibility for any "leads" is laughable. The action comes when characters act upon hunches.

But the parallel is funny either way. Two guys come into the Dude's house and yell, "Where's the fuckin' money!" And then an hour into the movie, two guys come into Larry Sellers' house and yell, "Where's the fuckin' money!" It's very possible that there is another Larry Sellers out there somewhere, that Walter got bad information, and the unwarranted destruction of a stranger's property ensued. (Barely audible, Walter even mumbles as he comes out the door to destroy the corvette, "We've got a language problem here.")

And the rule of threes brings the line back one more time, at the end of the movie. Dude and Walter confront Lebowski and the dude again yells, "Where's the fuckin' money!" And, full circle, we still don't have a clear answer. Lebowski even says, "you have your story, I have mine." This is actually true. We don't know where the money is, we don't know where any of it is. From the money the two thugs at the start of the film are looking for, to the ransom money.

The assumption game is a lot of fun to play with the Coens. Lebowski isn't their only film that does this either, A Serious Man is steeped in surmises. I don't know if Larry Sellers stole the car, but the possibility of Walter being misinformed just tickles me. The art of the possible may be politics, but the Coens sure make their version of it a lot more fun.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

Release Date: April 13, 2010

This weekend, I was very pleasantly surprised to receive a promo copy of an album that I didn't even realize was coming out. The new full-length from Sweden's Tallest Man on Earth called The Wild Hunt. His 2008 release, Shallow Graves, was the best Dylan album that Dylan didn't release. And The Wild Hunt is even better. It's actually the best album I've heard so far this year.

The Wild Hunt does exactly what Shallow Graves did so magnificently, unapologetically jamming raspy vocals a hair above the tolerability index in between delicately folky finger-pickings and strums. And the melodies (my God, the melodies.), they're as soul-soothing as any Carter Family song or Bill Monroe jam. The sound of nature speaks coolly through Kristian Matsson, furthering proof that Sweden might be the most wonderful place in the world. At least musically speaking.

His voice attacks the treble range of the eardrum so directly and purposefully, it's a delight to hear such abandon and under-production in 2010. In a time that seems very "over" the resurrection of folk rock, Tallest Man on Earth is making a sound argument for its permanence.

I missed Tallest Man on Earth last year when he was on tour with Bon Iver, but when I talked with friends who were at one of the shows, almost all of them claimed that Tallest Man on Earth was more engaging with his sole voice and acoustic guitar strapped to his back than the fully-banded Bon Iver. Since this album will be released in April, we can probably expect a North American tour soon. Possibly even a headlining trip.

If anything negative can be said about The Wild Hunt, it's that it's too short (just under 35 minutes). But it is one of those albums that you want to start over at track one and let play all the way through again as soon as it's over. There isn't a weak track, and it's the first great album I've heard in 2010. It's warming me up on this cold February night.

Download the excellent first single, King of Spain: HERE