BlackBook Tracks #27: Is 2012 Over Yet?

The holiday season isn’t over yet, but maybe your winter ennui has already kicked in. That’s okay, it was going to happen eventually. Stay warm with these songs.

Coeur De Pirate – “Comme Des Enfants”

Even non-French speakers can understand the nostalgia that this Montreal chanteuse taps into. I associate this song with sunnier days, but sweet folk-pop fits every season.

Blur – “For Tomorrow”

Santa didn’t bring me the deluxe box set of Parklive, Blur’s triumphant Hyde Park show commemorating the Olympics closing ceremony, but I guess I kind of forgot to ask him for it. Well, Portlandia’s coming back soon to remind us that the dream of the ’90s is still alive.

The Decemberists – “The Engine Driver”

Speaking of Portland…

Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)”

When Arcade Fire release new material next year, it will undoubtedly spark a cycle of both over-the-top fawning and overeager backlash that will dominate my internet life for several weeks. But there’s a reason we started liking them in the first place, and here it is.

Belle & Sebastian – “If She Wants Me”

Is there anything more comforting than listening to truckloads of Belle & Sebastian? I thought not.

The Walkmen – “New Year’s Eve”

It’s that time of year, and though this charming piano ditty is far from a party anthem, it’s perfect for taking a minute to look back.

M. Ward – “Radio Campaign”

You may have had She & Him’s Christmas record on heavy rotation lately, but here’s a reminder that M. Ward’s Transistor Radio hits the singer-songwriter sweet spot.

Badly Drawn Boy – “Something To Talk About”

Nicholas Hoult is all grown up and eating brains now, but we’ll never forget his beginnings in About A Boy. It’s a movie that’s held up over time, as has its theme song.

Camera Obscura – “The World Is Full Of Strangers”

The world may be full of strangers, but there are still friendly faces to be found when sailing the melancholic pop seas with Camera Obscura.

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Colin Meloy Will Teach Your Hipster Kids About Murder and Rape

Colin Meloy, the high-pitched, baby-faced frontman of The Decemberists, has published the first novel in a trilogy of children’s books with the help of his wife, illustrator Carson Ellis. The Wildwood Chronicles centers around Prue McKeel, a 12-year-old vegetarian from Portland whose baby brother is kidnapped by a murder of crows. Because of course it does.

The dark colors in the first volume of “The Wildwood Chronicles,” titled “Wildwood” and recently published by Balzer & Bray, should not surprise anyone familiar with the band’s playfully roguish songbook, which includes, amid seafaring yarns and espionage procedurals, blanching descriptions of rape, torture and the serial murder of children.

The book, intended for ages 9 to 12, brims with grimly comic violence. Coyotes dressed in Napoleonic uniforms train musket, cannon and bayonet on woodland bandits, talking birds and an industrious rat named Septimus. Many perish in the fight, although not nearly as many as Decemberists fans might be accustomed to.

The first novel is already set for a stop-motion animated feature, surely to rival the twee preciousness of Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which also featured wild animals wearing formal garb. The pirate-rock singer might have an advantage here, what with the growing interest in teaching pre-adolescents about rape and mass murder with a fantastical backdrop. But is this a series for actual children, or rather for Williamsburg denizens who have a fondness for regressing into an adolescent state?

Holiday Music Reviews: Destroyer, The Decemberists, Gang of Four

Destroyer, Kaputt (Merge) That Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar can produce a relaxing song about cocaine is deliciously ironic, and it’s this aural disconnect that sets the tone for the group’s tenth album, Kaputt. Floating languidly around a core of laid-back rhythms, the album also showcases Bejar’s lyrical gymnastics. Listen to the lead single, “Kaputt,” for detached synth-pop goodness, or “Chinatown” for a sad story about widows and rain told over pulsing electronic waves. The new Destroyer feels essential; it’s weed music for cokeheads.—Nicholas Remsen

Nicole Atkins, Mondo Amore (Razor & Tie) The singer-songwriter label does little to convey the depth of Nicole Atkins’ powerful and hypnotic voice, which has invited comparisons to the likes of Janis Joplin and Etta James. Atkins was raised in New Jersey, where she spent her adolescence digesting classics by Pink Floyd, the Ronettes, and the Mamas & the Papas, a biographical nugget that makes itself heard in this eclectic, almost genre-less collection of songs. Now based in Brooklyn, she continues to hone that soulful range on her sophomore album, Mondo Amore, transitioning seamlessly from darker, psychedelic tracks like “You Were the Devil” to the bluesy, guitar-heavy “War Is Hell.” —Nadeska Alexis

The Decemberists, The King is Dead (Capitol) Following the theatrics of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists’ sixth offering is an exercise in restraint. On The King is Dead, the band replaces the alluring, complicated rock opera of albums past with stripped-down country songs that evoke the homespun sound of Americana with pastoral lyrics, rousing fiddles, and rattling drums. Recorded in a barn not far from their native Portland, the Decemberists drew inspiration from ’70s legends like Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and Gram Parsons, tapping R.E.M.’s Peter Buck to play guitar on the tracks “Down by the Water” and “Calamity Song.” The album is a sunnier, sturdier version of their signature folk-rock arrangements, with fewer obscure references and inscrutable evocations. —Cayte Grieve

Gang of Four, Content (Yep Roc) With the release of their web-funded seventh album, Content, post-punk icons Gang of Four prove they can rock as hard as any of today’s indie darlings. Their sonic power is in full effect throughout the record’s 11 songs, which pair Jon King’s fierce yet plaintive vocals with growling guitars, gut-thumping bass lines, and drumbeats that dare you to trash your hotel room. “Never Pay for the Farm” channels the working-class anger that propelled the band from Leeds to fame back in ’77, while “Second Life” evokes the feeling of elbowing your way through a sweaty club en route to the bar. With “I Party All the Time,” they lay it on the line: “I’m not innocent. I’m a phony, and I party all the time.” Don’t wait for an apology. None is forthcoming. —Victor Ozols

Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over (Third Man/Nonesuch) Wanda Jackson, arguably the first woman to record a proper rock ’n’ roll track, is back with The Party Ain’t Over—and she ain’t lying. With a career spanning more than 50 years, Jackson proves yet again that she’s nothing short of legendary. Friend and fellow rocker Jack White produced the album in his Nashville studio, enlisting the help of Jack Lawrence, one-fourth of White’s the Dead Weather, and Karen Elson, White’s wife. The result is a cross-genre throwback with an emphasis on sultry rockabilly and soul-stirring gospel. Whereas “Dust on the Bible” is rooted in classic folk, “Like a Baby” favors sultry Southern rock. The perfect complement to whiskey-drenched heartbreak, The Party Ain’t Over is also a boot-stompin’ good time. —Hillary Weston

Tapes ’n Tapes, Outside (Ibid) To craft Outside, their self-produced third collection, Tapes ’n Tapes brought back the carefree fun that underpinned the band’s critically acclaimed debut, 2005’s The Loon. Severing ties with their former label and taking a break from touring gave the indie-rock foursome from Minneapolis the freedom to record in their hometown, at their leisure. What they came up with is a blend of playful, upbeat melodies and unpretentious verses, delivered through their own imprint, Ibid Records. Without major-label scrutiny, a slightly less polished Tapes ’n Tapes return to their jittery punk roots on Outside—a collector’s item, indeed. —NA

White Lies, Ritual (Interscope) White Lies’ sophomore record, Ritual, is steeped in smoke and sorrow. Over the years, the British gloom-rock trio has cultivated a following with its macabre sound, which hearkens back to the band’s ’80s-goth predecessors, and their latest album is no exception. With Harry McVeigh’s harrowing vocals, a layer cake of synth and thunderous bass, Ritual wraps us in its weary arms and ferries us straight to Hades. “Is Love” is a massive, rich opus meant for the stage, while the engrossing “Strangers” would be appropriate at a private séance. —HW