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[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The Court & Spark
Absolutely Kosher

Rating: 9.2/10 ?

May 3, 2006
The first time I heard Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot I was blown away. Wilco had finally, fully realized the great potential that Being There and Summer Teeth had shown and that their debut, AM, had squandered. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of those technically complex and yet immediately accessible "concept" albums that few artists, other than The Beatles, The (early) Stones and Marvin Gaye, could create. However as much as I love YHF, I have a problem with its inability to be modest. At times YHF has an annoyingly cocky swagger, not dissimilar to Sgt. Pepper's or Their Satanic Majesties Request, which detracts somewhat from the album's impact. I don't think I realized how much Wilco's collective ego detracted from YHF until I heard The Court and Spark's latest disc, Hearts.

Hearts is a simple, quiet record on first listen and seemingly not worthy of comparison to YHF at all. However, put on your headphones and press play and Hearts becomes an album of immense depth and musical sublimity to far surpass most recent comers to the Southern/Country/Western/Space rock arena. The album is also oddly reminiscent of a shoegazer album, in that the higher you crank the volume, the more the sound opens up to the listener. There are instruments buried so far back in the mix throughout that you'll miss them if you aren't paying attention.

The Court and Spark like to play the expectations game. Hearts' opener, "Let's Get High" is also its weakest, lyrically speaking. Before lead singer M.C. Taylor can even open his mouth though, listeners are treated to a field of almost Asian sounding electro distortion. The album kicks off when the calm is broken by a great Southern rock riff. As I was saying, M.C. Taylor's lyrics are not great on this song but they quickly improve and his voice is really very rich and painfully earnest which allows listeners to forgive any lyrical shortcomings.

"We Were All Uptown Rulers" implements gorgeous pedal steel and organ, giving the track a reminiscent feeling of longing for better days, now long gone. The third track, "Birmingham to Blackhorse Road" shares similarities to both Sixteen Horsepower and The Black Heart Procession in its feeling of inescapable loneliness. M.C. Taylor sings: "Met you at the change of the century," and as he does it feels like being alone on New Year's Eve, 1899.

As with all Southern rock albums there is the obligatory long-form, jam track. On Hearts that track is "Early in the Morning" (pronounced: err-lie-n-tha-mor-nin.) What separates The Court & Spark from their contemporaries however is that their "jam" is contained within six minutes and the solos are very strategically reigned in to curb anyone's ego from getting out of control.

Four songs on this album are instrumental affairs, each very distinctive from the rest. The first of these is: "The Oyster Is a Wealthy Beast" where a cello's long sliding notes are broken up with bowed staccato rhythms and deep bass. Truly this is a beautiful track. The next instrumental: "A Milk White Flag" is a piano solo with ambient, almost music box-like sounds floating by in the background. "Smoke Signals" is a brief, hippie space jam that would have fit in nicely as filler on My Morning Jacket's Z. The last instrumental song on this disc, titled: "Gatesnakes" is another made up of piano/ambient sounds. It is the weakest track on the disc, musically speaking and only serves to show that the band really likes Radiohead. All of these instrumental tracks are nice but really don't do much other than lengthen the disc's runtime.

The album's sad bastard, whisky sippin' jukebox track "High Life" is also its most densely layered and polished. It begins with enough guitar reverb to make Angelo Badalamenti green with envy. Taylor's vocals are met by harmony from Magnolia Electric Company's Jason Molina. Molina sounds bit like Will Oldham here and that only adds to "High Life's" beautiful melancholy. Suddenly at three minutes in, the song breaks into a pounding rock jam complete with harpsichord and a rhythmic electronic loop.

The disc's last track, "The Ballad of Horselover Fat" has a spare acoustic intro. It builds slightly to a chorus where M.C. Taylor sings: "As a man/ I fade away/ I fade away." It becomes clear, as Taylor's vocals become progressively more distorted that he is fading away before our very ears. The song closes with a drowning feeling - not of panic but instead of calm and renewed resolve. "Horselover" is a beautiful finish to a beautiful album.

In my opinion, Hearts is an album worthy of much critical acclaim. This is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot without the arrogance. This is one of the best Southern rock albums ever made by a California band. This is a record so disarming that it will pass most people by if they aren't paying attention. This is a record you should buy.

Reviewed by Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other reviews by Jon Burke



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