Monday, December 27, 2010

Final Top Ten! (Guilts & Regrets...)

File under: 'Only so many minutes in the day...', but now that the Lists are over, the one most occupying my time is the 'How The Hell Did I Not Buy That Yet?' list...Scary part is that I think all of these could have comfortably found a spot in my year end parade...sigh.

10) JONSI: Go
9) ABE VIGODA: Crush
7) *NATIONAL: High Violet
6) BLACK KEYS: Brothers
5) *WALKMEN: Lisbon
4) MASSIVE ATTACK: Heligoland
3) TED LEO & PHARMACISTS: The Brutalist Bricks
2) THERMALS: Personal Life
1) FLYING LOTUS: Cosmogramma

* Bought within last two weeks...I'm trying! (Like the Walkmen, National is a grower-very strong)

Monday, December 20, 2010

b/o 2010: part two (10-1)

At long last, here we go with the final ten!

10) LOS CAMPESINOS! Romance Is Boring
Adulthood is here for LC!, wherein they continue the transition away from their twee beginnings, finding a happy medium between that and their noisier inclinations.

Saying goodbye to old members and ringing in the new, it's a microcosm of all our lives...

Ornette Coleman once told us that "Beauty Is A Rare Thing", a phrase that occurs to me every time I hear this record.

It's a luminescent, jangly wonder-song for song as strong as most any record this year, and somehow overlooked in most places.

Along with the Superchunk record, it was hailed (ironically) as a return to form, but it was the listener that went away, not the band...

8) NO AGE Everything In Between
One of the leading prongs of a music scene from Los Angeles, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the heyday of X, Los Lobos, and The Blasters in the 80's, No Age moves forward and stakes its claim to forward motion with "Everything In Between".

Adding a new member could upset a delicate balance, but the band just keeps growing, adding new shades of sound, while sacrificing none of their grinding power.

Bonus points for the sterling vinyl edition, which comes with a 12X12 attached photo book...Years best vinyl packaging, hands down.

The floodgates opened in 2010 for Sufan, starting with the "All Delighted Peoples" EP, which I was only just coming to grips with, when, behold-up shows this behemoth on the doorstep.

Seeing his show really helped crystallize the record, and bring new appreciation to parts that could have been overwhelmed by the whole.
Best example being "Futile Devices", the opening track that seems almost a red herring as to what is to come...
Delicate & spare, it's Sufjan haiku and in very short time, lays out the adventure that is the rest of the record.
As for the 25 minute closer "Impossible Soul"...good luck with that!

6) ARCADE FIRE The Suburbs
It's so easy for a buzz band to quickly get swallowed and disappear in the whirlpool of the internet, which makes the splash Arcade Fire made this year all the more impressive.

Sprawling & impassioned, they deliver the goods with some of their greatest songs to date...the title track, "We Used To Wait", and both "Sprawls" move mountains.

Side note: make sure you hunt down the video experience that is "We Used To Wait"...

Titus Andronicus takes a template of rock influences that could sideways in a hurry in the wrong hands, and thoroughly makes it their own in this ambitious Civil War cum New Jersey economic downfall parable.

It swings from the beginning to the 14 minute marathon closer, "The Battle of Hampton Roads"

More bagpipes!!!

4) JANELLE MONAE The Archandroid

Kanye West most assuredly won the battle of the 'column inches' this year, but for my money, years down the road, this would be the album we're reminiscing about...

Ambitious to a fault, and self assured swing through a variety of styles, this will stand as her 'Dirty Mind'...The moment when everything came together into one irresistable package.

3) SPOON Transference

According to Spoon themselves, this self produced followup to 'Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga' represents "us at our Spooniest".

And as cryptic as it may sound, that is precisely what's going on here. Screwed down tighter, then knocked sideways-this is the band at their brutal best...Even throwing in a ballad.

Any album released in January that i'm still playing at the end of the year...let that say it all.

Teen Dream

I scoffed when people were touting this as the album of the year in early January, mostly on principle, and overcame that to actually get the record and digest it.

And digest it. However misguided 'they' were in form, 'they' hit the mark on content. This album never went away from my brain.

Innocuous on the first few listens, but absolutely riveting the more you peel back the layers-the very definition of a 'grower'...Beach House has truly come into their own with "Teen Dream".

The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Deep, haunting, and sonically beguiling collection from the Montreal collective that consolidated the finest points of 'The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse', and weaved an album long tapestry of blissful, sometimes discordant rock.

One of the best examples of this top ten's recurring theme: the importance of the album. These tracks shine when they come up in a random mix, but their power is truly unleashed when you go back to front...Simply a stunning piece of work.

2011 preview: Already looking forward to new PJ Harvey, Decemberists, Okkervil River, and Anna Calvi...Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Favorite Songs 2010

For those with numerical list fixations, here's my favorite songs from the year past...
10) ALOE BLACC "Femme Fatale"
9) LONELADY "Fear No More"
8) SUFJAN STEVENS "Futile Devices"
7) BESNARD LAKES "Chicago Train"
6) BEACH HOUSE "Ten Mile Stereo"
5) WARPAINT "Lissie's Heart Murmur"
4) SPOON "Out Go The Lights"
3) SUPERCHUNK "Hot Tubes"
2) TEENAGE FANCLUB "When I Still Have Thee"
1) LOS CAMPESINOS! "The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future"

Here's a playlist of what rocked my world in 2010...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

b/o 2010: pt I (25-11)

Looking for a predominant theme in my world, at least, it has been the Year Of Merge, comfortably placing four albums in the top 25, notching their first #1 album in Billboard, and topping it off with the resurgence of label founders McCaughan & Ballance's own band Superchunk, it has certainly been a year to remember for the Little Indie That Could...

The subtext would be: 'The Long Tail Rules...' Years from now, I suspect I'll look back on this time as being as much of a watershed as the early '90's, in terms of depth of releases. The List has been very tough to narrow down the last few years, and it's been a bonanza of great music. Last year tilted heavily towards veterans, this year seems more of a mix.

Without furthur ado:
Carl Newman and the gang bring it on home for 'Together', sharpening the songs, and adding the special bonus of a tour that included, (at some stops), all the original cohorts.

A pure pop extravaganza from the Canadian supergroup...

Key tracks: "Silver Jenny Dollar" and "Your Hands (Together)"

#24) VASELINES: Sex With An X
Any decade that has a Vaselines record can't be all bad. Wonder of wonders, 2010 saw the gang drop 'Sex With An X', dress up as a priest and nun in their video, and hit the road in style for a U.S. tour, while maintaining their bellicose goodness on record.

"I Hate The 80's" will serve as the statement on misguided nostalgia, and the final track, "Exit The Vaselines" closes another chapter.

Utterly unpredictable, and joyously bitter, that's our Vaselines!

#23) WARPAINT: The Fool
Long strange trip from the LA underground to this, their debut album. Intense and atmospheric, they could be the dark horse of the strongest LA musical scene in the last 25 years...

Key tracks: "Undertow" & "Lissie's Heart Murmur"

#22) SERENA MANEESH: S-M2: Abyss In B Minor
Tired of waiting for that My Bloody Valentine record that's hell bent on putting 'Chinese Democracy' to shame? Well, have I got something for you, or the noise rock fan in your life...They don't call it "Abyss In B Minor" for nothing!

Surprisingly tuneful, and always rocking new entry from Serena Maneesh that never really left the turntable all year long...

Key tracks: "I Just Want To See Your Face" & "D.I.W.S.W.T.T.D"

#21) BROKEN BELLS: Broken Bells
Danger Mouse continues his hot streak, this time picking up Shins frontman James Mercer for an album of dark pop bliss.

Branching off his recent work with the Black Keys and Beck, it's a deep record that rewards every new listen...

Key tracks: "The High Road" & "The Ghost Inside"

#20) SUN KIL MOON: Admiral Fell Promises
Dark cryptic record that poses as many questions as it answers...Perhaps not the greatest gateway to Kozelek's work, but at the same time a portal for a subset who might never have come across his previous work.

Stark insular take on the ususal Kozelek tales of people and the road, done all on one nylon string guitar. What at first could sound samey becomes a hypnotic trance...

Key tracks: "Half Moon Bay" & "Third & Seneca"

#19) SCOUT NIBLETT: The Calcination Of Scout Niblett
What might win the takeaway prize for cover of the year, the enigmatic photo only serves to enhance the spookiness within. A great grueling guitar album for those who bemoan the lack of such things in today's environment.

Key tracks: "Calcination" & "Just Do It".

#18) QUASI: American Gong
Really don't know when Janet Weiss finds the time, but Quasi steps back into the limelight with their strongest and most assured record to date.

A genuine rock and roll blast!

Key tracks: "Bye Bye Blackbird" & "Death Is Not The End".

#17) BEST COAST: Crazy For You
Simple stories of a woman, her cat, her boy problems, and her weed, or the lack thereof, set to fuzz blasted Spector tones...What indeed, is not to love?

Key tracks: "Our Deal" & "When I'm With You".

#16) ALOE BLACC: Good Things
Aloe Blacc runs over the sophomore slump with 'Good Things', an assured followup to his bedroom treasure debut 'Shining Through'...

Key tracks: "I Need A Dollar", which got some great exposure as the theme to an HBO show, and his reinvention of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale".

#15) SHARON JONES & THE DAP KINGS: I Learned The Hard Way
SJ&DK return with an album perfectly pitched to these trying times...'I Learned The Hard Way' is bloodied but unbowed look at the state of things in the here and now, personally and politically.

The band is in as fine shape as ever, and enterprising late night show hosts should take notice: if there's one band that could possibly give the Roots a run for it's money as the default house band, the Dap Kings would be the one.

Key tracks: title track, "The Game Gets Old".

#14) BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: Forgiveness Rock Record
Broken Social Scene return with their first LP in five years, a sprawling beautiful mess of a record that holds up to repeated listening...

Drew and Canning have dropped some of their most cohesive tunes, and it stands as a breakthrough record for them.

Key tracks: "World Sick", "All To All", "Art House Director", & "Texico Bitches".

#13) GRINDERMAN: Grinderman 2
Building on the dirty ass rock & roll of their debut, Grinderman 2 ups the ante with more assured songcraft, while not sacrificing the edge.

In places, the line between Grinderman and the mothership Bad Seeds is not erased, but certainly blurred. As long as Nick Cave is at the helm, though, you know what you're going to get...

Key tracks: "Heathen Child", "Mickey Mouse & The Goodbye Man", "Evil"

Bonus Points: Amazing remixes are available, including "Worm Tamer" as done by A Place To Bury Strangers, and "Super Heathen Child", featuring Mr. Robert Fripp.

#12) LONELADY: Nerve Up
Amazingly assured debut LP that builds on wired post punk rhythms but coalesces into a beauty all its own...

Key tracks: title track, "Marble", & "Cattletears".

#11) SUPERCHUNK: Majesty Shredding
Heart warming return from North Carolina quartet with their first full album in nine years. Dial is firmly wrenched up to 11, and their energy level throughout shames bands half their age.
Followed by a series of blistering performances that left many a poor aging hipster all pogoed out.

Key tracks: "Fractures In Plaster", "Learned To Surf", & "Everything At Once".

Post script: 11 & 12 were the hardest things to kick out of my top ten, & led to much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Mea Culpa: Albums that I haven't got to yet that would probably be very listworthy: Joanna Newsom's 'Have One On Me', and Gil Scott Heron's 'I'm New Here'...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Prisoners need not apply': Grinderman live

Ending a quick US jaunt in service of "Grinderman 2", Nick Cave brought Grinderman to LA. Essentially a scaled down Bad Seeds tuned quartet-style to the key of filthy rock'n'roll.

Grinderman is Cave, Warren Ellis on violin and guitar, and the rhythm section of Martin Casey & Jim Sclavunos.

The enigmatic Armen Ra opened the evening with his theremin, doing a proper job of setting an unsettling tone for the proceedings.

Warren Ellis in full flight...

Grinderman hit the stage promptly, and unleashed their trademark noise, quickly adjusting to the eccentricities of the house sound system, then pushing it to overload levels.

To watch these guys in any of their configurations is always a joy, and the stripped down setting worked perfectly in a smaller venue. It's interesting to note that a performer of Cave's caliber, that controls the room completely, is something of an endangered species these days...

The finest example of said control came towards the close of their set, during the frustration anthem 'No Pussy Blues', from their first album.

Cave leered through the verses, setting up the story of the man who would do anything for his dearest, but not in turn receive the one thing he was looking for...
As the band lurched into the bridge, he held up his hands and clapped out a simple beat, then repeated it. The crowd took it up, then Cave dropped out the band and the whole room echoed with only clapping...

The band blitzed into the chorus, and the house levitated...Such a simple trick proved so brutally effective, and a welcome antidote to eons of hapless singalongs...
A reminder, once again, that no matter the configuration, their are few bands working at this level...