Staff Picks: January

Justin Wesley
The Milk Carton Kids

Album: Prologue
Comments: In the thick of Midwestern winter, I’ve found no better blissful companion in equal measures charming poignancy and somber serenity than with The Milk Carton Kids’ 2011 album, Prologue. Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, two promising L.A. singer-songwriters who had been making individual names for themselves for nearly a decade, joined together a few years ago and have radiantly coalesced as a duo known as the Milk Carton Kids. Singer-songwriters and folk musicians are a dime a dozen in any scene populated by coffeehouses and open mic nights, but the songs of The Milk Carton Kids are gentle revelations. Pattengale and Ryan are musicians in the spirit and league of Simon & Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, and The Jayhawks’ Mark Olson and Gary Louris. The uncommon beauty with which Pattengale and Ryan marry their voices, strumming, and lyricism to craft sublime folk songs like “Michigan,” “One Goodbye,” and “There By Your Side” is both subtle and exceptionally fulfilling. They are graceful, wayfaring tunes of heartache and enchantment, and they slip deep inside your core and open your eyes and heart to life inside and around you. Prologue was released in mid-2011, and you can download the album for free from The Milk Carton Kids’ website. The duo has a new album, The Ash & Clay, slated for release on March 26 via Anti-.

Janey Criss
Artist: Joy Division

Album: Unknown Pleasures
Comments: This week, through some method of scientific musical research, I’ve been thumbing back and forth through each track of Joy Divison’s Unknown Pleasures – from the live versions of this collection to the remasters of the originals. The live nuances add so much to the listening experience, rendering each studio version – those heroic songs that have influenced me so much at various times of musical growth and development – almost wimpy by comparison. The lasers on the live version of “Insight” are the loudest sound in the entire collection. And it comes across almost compression-free… like a DAT recording from the back of the room. The drum reverb and guitars harness a live warmth and unpredictability where recorded versions flow chillingly, hauntingly and rehearsed. Ironic, but true, Unknown Pleasures was and is a true pillar of post-punk, despite what happened in music after 1979. But, coupled with these abstract live explanations, it becomes more apparent why. I highly recommend it to any post-punk or true new-wave fan.

Matt Fox
Senior Editor
Artist: Paradise
Album: I Love Thousands Every Summer
Comments: I Love Thousands Every Summer, is a sincerely-crafted effort that presents itself as a humbled endeavor, inviting listeners to enjoy without growing overbearing. Unscathed by reverb and other oft-abused effects, Torrisi’s voice pierces through the instrumentation with a hidden frailty that demands attention. Lines such as, “people will need you ‘til they don’t / they’ll always find someone to better their score,” are brutally honest and unafraid of consequences, but come from a voice that has certainly discovered such truths firsthand. Whether or not intended, Nina Torrisi’s sincerity is the bonding glue of these two tracks and manages to create an organic infectiousness that is challenging to look past. 

Will Donelson
Assistant Editor
Artist: Frightened Rabbit
Album: Pedestrian Verse
Comments: I wasn’t totally clear on what to expect from a new Frightened Rabbit release. The Midnight Organ Fight was a real surprise and a breath of fresh air, and came at a time when folk really needed that kind of clever, honest and uplifting songwriting. Leading up to the release of Pedestrian Verse, I was both nervous and excited. A new release from the band who (in my opinion) gave folk the much-needed kick it deserved was something to be excited about. However, with so many similar artists coming out in the intermittent years, and the furthering of folk into the mainstream, I was also worried about how unique the once-innovative band would sound. Pedestrian Verse, simply put, is a damned fine-tuned album. The craftsmanship is meticulous and the songwriting fastidious – and in the end the delicate process of piecing these songs together leads to a bombastic, emotionally fulfilling, fun and thoughtful record. Pedestrian Verse is a high point for a band that had already made their mark.

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