Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rated S for Swell.

I've become so lazy in my blogging, guys. Seriously, Oscar season ends, and the blogging just tapers off. It's very sad.

I don't blog about music much, primarily because most of the stuff I really enjoy (which actually is pretty varied, as you're about to see), most people hear about way too often anyway. But I'm going to take a crack at blogging about music this week to talk about two albums that I really enjoy from start to finish, which is rare in this single-based world.

The first is an older album: The Swell Season, by, appropriately enough, The Swell Season. The members of the group, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, are perhaps best known for their film Once and the Academy Award-winning song from the film, "Falling Slowly." The beautifully orchestrated anthem about new love is exactly what made me seek out the soundtrack to Once, but because of a price disparity, I instead bought The Swell Season, the group's official debut album, which featured many of the same songs. I'm glad I made the choice I did. The album has very few low watermarks ("Leave" and "The Moon" are the only tracks I generally skip when listening to the album), and its high points are pretty incredible.

There's something soulfully stirring about The Swell Season's instrumentation and vocals. My fondness for the violin is a great fit for The Swell Season, as the emotionally evocative instrument is used beautifully here, especially on "Falling Slowly" and the band's titular track, the instrumental "The Swell Season." If you're looking for a strong vocal from Hansard, you can't find anything better than "When Your Mind's Made Up," one of the more quick-paced choruses on the album. "Drown Out" and "Lies" are both painful melodies that use the piano and violin to great effect. But nothing is better than the Irglova-centric "Alone Apart," which uses every strong suit of The Swell Season's, including a stirring melody and a beautifully evocative vocal. It's the highlight of the album.

In a very different genre, Rihanna, the pop princess from Barbados, released her rock-tinged album Rated R late last year to critical and commercial success. It is her darkest effort yet, and, I would say concomitantly, her best.

It's no secret that Rihanna had a domestic abuse scandal with her boyfriend Chris Brown early last year. While none of the songs directly address the abuse (though the haunting "Russian Roulette" gets pretty damn close), all of the songs are tinged with a dark tone and a maturity rare for Top 40 music.

Your mileage may vary as to your favorite song, because the songs themselves are so disparate in style. If you like a slinky, almost Latin flavor, "Te Amo" is the song for you. If you're looking for a brilliant gangster anthem, check out "G4L." For a hard rock kiss-off featuring no less than Slash on guitar, take a listen to "Rockstar 101." Then there's the stirring "Cold Case Love," the "Take a Bow"-esque "Stupid in Love," and the absolutely hilarious "Rude Boy." My personal favorite is either the creepy album opener "Mad House," the hard-hitting "Wait Your Turn," or "Roulette," a masterpiece unto itself. The best part of "R," however, is that it listens so beautifully as a whole.

These are two albums that anyone can find highlights in, but if you're going to download certain tracks, you can't go wrong with:

- "Alone Apart," the stirring love song
- "Falling Slowly," the Oscar-winning anthem
- "Drown Out," the haunting violin-focused song
- "G4L," the hard-pumping gangster anthem
- "Russian Roulette," the beautifully composed song of lost love
- "Wait Your Turn," a hard-hitting pop ditty

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