Sunday, April 20, 2014 · 9:18 a.m.

Let's Talk Music!: A weekly album breakdown from Sean Phipps

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The idea for this weekly piece is fairly simple in concept: I like exploring new music. With your help and input, dear reader, I can explore even MORE music. My hope is to create an ongoing dialogue about what readers of Nooga.com are listening to on a weekly basis. I want to know what YOU like and think I might like. Every week, I’ll list a couple of albums that I’ve been enjoying, and we’ll go from there. Deal? I’m willing to listen to anything once.

Tweet your current favorite albums to @SeanMPhipps or email them to seanphippster@gmail.com.

Bat for Lashes, "The Haunted Man"
Listen to six songs here.

Album cover for "The Haunted Man."

What the critics think: 
The new release from Natasha Kahn under the moniker Bat for Lashes, called "The Haunted Man," achieves a whopping 8.4 from Pitchfork. They describe the album as “... effort magnificently realized” and “another step forward for the multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter.” The word “beguiling” (read: deceptive charm) is also tossed around in several reviews, though the album draws less excitement from Paste, which says that the album is “less about grandiose concept albums ... than it is about [Kahn] cashing in her credibility for more widespread acclaim.” Paste uses words like “scmaltzy” and “hollow” to describe the sound of the record. Most reviews focus more on the album art than anything, which features a fully nude Kahn carrying a wounded soldier. Rolling Stone had one of the more glowing reviews, calling Kahn’s latest release “pretty awesome” and giving it 3.5 stars.

What I think:
The first few listens of "The Haunted Man" were like listening to a Kate Bush album; you have little to no idea what is happening, but you know you’re digging whatever it is. However, the opening track on Kahn’s new album, called “Lilies,” while delicious, is no “Running Up That Hill" by any stretch. I think this album will appeal to those who enjoy just slightly difficult indie music. Kahn gives you the hooks but makes you dig for them, too. The earworm on the album over the week has been “All Your Gold,” which has a chorus and feel that might be the best I’ve heard all year. “The Haunted Man” gets a little commercial-pop for me after about the fourth track, with the exception of a beautiful, piano-heavy ballad called “Laura.” Ironically, the title track might be my least favorite on the record. I guess I’m right in line with many of the reviews: Half of the songs are brilliant, but the other half bring down the enjoyment. 3.5 stars. Worth a listen. 

Andrew Bird, "Hands of Glory"
Full album stream is available here.

The new album from Andrew Bird is a companion piece to his March 2012 release, "Break It Yourself." 

"Hands of Glory" by Andrew Bird.

What the critics think:
According to Under the Radar, Andrew Bird’s new album, "Hands of Glory," with all its “Doctor Seussian linguistics,” is just masking the fact that Bird, an indie superstar, is a “folkie” at heart. Pitchfork says the album “possesses an almost academic quality” as Bird covers kitchy Americana tunes. The album only has one new song, and Bird covers songs from Alpha Consumer, the Carter Family, the Handsome Family and Townes Van Zandt. Consequence of Sound says the album is just a “heartwarming and honest tribute—and little else.” One Record Music disagrees, saying "Hands of Glory" is a “masterful album—both quirky and technical in a way few pop musicians can pull off." All critics mention a stripped-down version of a song called “Orpheo Looks Back” from "Break It Yourself" as a highlight. The Austin Chronicle gives the album 4 stars, saying Bird handles “the old and new alike in dusty-trail cowboy swag.” 

What I think:
When reviewing an album, I couldn’t give less of a damn about what the critics say. I can only sit down with my expensive headphones and give it a spin. Maybe it was the chilly weather creeping in or the whiskey I was drinking, but "Hands of Glory" hit me in a real hard—but good—way. The critics were right about “Orpheo” being one of the highlights. This is Americana: bittersweet, wayfaring, lonesome and spiritual. “Three White Horses” is the opening track on this relatively short album (a companion piece), which should be a sort of hit—if Andrew Bird has “hits.” I’ve been a fan of Andrew Bird since his visits to Chattanooga’s Barking Legs Theater in the early 2000s. We even had vegetarian tacos once. He said they were “too spicy.” Bird is a beast of a talent, and he’s had me hooked for years. I’ll listen to anything he creates with enthusiasm. 4 stars. 

Let me know what you’re listening to. I hope to have a nearly constant stream of good music rolling about in the comments below, my Twitter feed and inbox.

You can contact Sean Phipps via email and Twitter with comments and questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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