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Bryce Dessner Tag

Now, that is what the fuck I’m talking about. From the first grungy, then vaguely pixelated, guitar chords of album-opener “Trembling Hands,” Arizona, the second record proper by loop-rock “band” Mylets, just grabs you by the ears and controls you. It will not let go. Unlike

I’m sure it is a little bittersweet when your band has its highest debut ever –#3 to be exact —  on the Billboard 200 album chart with its new, critically-acclaimed album, and the record that still sits at the top is from…Justin Bieber.

I wonder if after celebrating the success of their new album, High Violet — perhaps with a delicious meal and a few beers — they discussed finding Bieber, shaving his head and throwing him into a dumpster like in some ’80s movie where the underdog gets revenge on the bully.  I’m guessing they’re more mature than I am.

Though High Violet is the National’s fifth studio album, it is also an album of firsts — it’s the their first record since their brilliant 2007 release, Boxer; it is their first album on the 4AD label; and it is their first record to be recorded in their own studio in Brooklyn.

In a little over 10 years, the National — who now reside in Brooklyn, but hail from my hometown of Cincinnati — have gone from underground to, well, national stars. Propelled into the limelight by critical acclaim for Boxer and its 2005 predecessor, Alligator, as well as opening slots touring with Arcade Fire and R.E.M., you may also recall that one of their songs, “Fake Empire,” was used by the Obama campagin as an anthem of sorts for his presidential run — it was the soundtrack to the promotional video Signs Of Hope And Change, and was the background music played during his victory rally in Grant Park.

Night two of the 2010 MusicNOW festival was the night I was most looking forward to. I am a huge fan of St. Vincent, the name under which young guitar virtuoso Annie Clark performs, and I was blown away by her live show when I saw her perform last year.

But St. Vincent’s set wasn’t the only thing I was excited about. That night, a special commissioned piece composed by Clark would be performed by contemporary music ensemble yMusic.

For this show, I chose to sit on the floor, just a few rows back from the stage. The last time I had seen St. Vincent, my vantage point was in the balcony of that venue, so I wanted the opportunity to see her up-close this time.

As it had the night before, the evening began with Bryce Dessner welcoming everyone to the show. He gave a little background of the festival and recognized the patrons who had helped keep it going. He also discussed teenage Cincinnati musician Esme Kenney, who was brutally murdered during last year’s festival. He talked about how much her death had affected him and everyone involved in MusicNOW and because of that, it was decided that the 2009 festival would be dedicated to her.

The MusicNOW Festival returned to Cincinnati for its fifth year last week, and for the first time I was able to attend. Though I wasn’t able to go all three nights — I missed the closing night with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver — the two shows I was able to attend were special, unique, and breathtaking.

MusicNOW began in 2006 and is the brainchild of Bryce Dessner, Cincinnati native and member of the acclaimed indie rock band the National. The festival “invites contemporary music and artists that take risks and do not fit neatly into categories.”

It’s become known for its eclectic lineups — past participants include Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, Kronos Quartet, My Brightest Diamond, Bill Frisell, Glenn Kotche (of Wilco), and Amiina — as well as unusual festival-only collaborations and commissions and a unique atmosphere provided by the gorgeous venue, Memorial Hall, and artist Karl Jensen’s incredible festival-art installations, which hang on either side of the stage.

Dark Was the NightIt’s no secret that tribute albums and charity compilations can be hit-or-miss affairs at best. In the case of the latter, all you can really do is be happy that you’re supporting a good cause, and hope that the music is more hit than miss. Two important charity albums have recently appeared, and when I say important, I don’t just mean for the causes they’re helping, but also for the virtual who’s who of contemporary indie artists that has contributed tracks to them. If you could somehow assemble all of the buzz that these artists have collected, you could light the universe. In other words, to the naked eye, it’s a music blogger’s dream.

The Red Hot Organization has been using pop culture to fight the good fight against AIDS since 1989. They have released 14 albums together with related television shows and media events, and have raised $7 million to date. Their most recent project is called Dark Was the Night (4AD Records). It’s an enormous 30-song effort that has been curated by brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National. In addition to a track from the National, contributors include Bon Iver, The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, Feist, and a host of others.

Let me say right up front that apparently Bon Iver can do no wrong. From Justin Vernon’s nearly perfect debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, to his recently released Blood Bank EP, and now, this album’s best track “Brackett, WI,” there have been few, if any, missteps. Vernon is also involved here in an intriguing collaboration with Aaron Dessner called “Big Red Machine.”

Sufjan Stevens’ contribution, “You Are the Blood,” reminds me that it’s been too long since we’ve had new music from him. Antony and Bryce Dessner duet on a beautiful version of the traditional “I Was Young When I Left Home.” Yes, Feist is here, combining with Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie on “Train Song,” and with Grizzly Bear on “Service Bell.”