Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top Albums of 2010 - Some Runners Up and Some Singles

The Black Keys - 'Brothers' 
By far my most listened to album of 2010.  Just amazing from first to last note, I never tire of it.  I enjoy hearing them branch out on this release, incorporating bass, keyboards, backing vocals.  The album is so refined but never once abandons their trademark sweaty, grimy, blues rock.  You can literally hear the Alabama humidity in the famed Muscle Shoals Studio on this album.  They were able to effortlessly capture the feel of the countless records made in that studio.  Dan Auerbach is pushing his singing into new territory as well; offering up a suprisingly on point falsetto in 'Everlasting Light'.  The lyrics in songs like 'Next Girl' refer directly (I am assuming) to the messy divorce of drummer Patrick Carney.  It appears that Dan is singing for him here, letting him know he has a second chance to love again and he should turn the page on the "ex-girl".  The DangerMouse produced 'Tighten Up' is just plain fun - it is actually impossible for me to hate any song with whistling in it (save for children's songs).  I think 'Howlin' For You' is a cover but they play it like they wrote it.  The album isn't overlong or too short, it is perfect, not one song is a misstep. Quite possibly one of the few releases that is flawless.   

Highlights - 'Everlasting Light', 'Sinister Kid', 'Ten Cent Pistol', oh hell, listen to the whole thing obsessively. 
Further listening - seek out some of the live material with the additional keyboards, bass, and rhythm guitar. 

Vampire Weekend - 'Contra'
I will admit it, I wholeheartedly love Vampire Weekend.  It is like Paul Simon and Talking Heads had a baby and that baby absolutely adores me.  I enjoy the hell out of their releases.  They remind me that I am allowed to have fun.  This LP had a firm grasp on my record player for months, never leaving, constantly spinning.  The album cover faced me every time I descended my stairs, with that hipster photo of an 80s era blonde chick.  She hung out for so long, I feel as if I know her intimately now.  It was the soundtrack of Winter/Spring 2010 and has leaked into Summer/Fall/Winter - basically a part of my DNA.  Each tune is just effortless, they know their musical niche and they do it well.  'Giving Up The Gun' is their finest moment.  A true step forward in their songcraft. 

Highlights - 'Giving Up The Gun', 'California English', 'Diplomat's Son'. 
Further Listening - check out 'California English Part 2' on the bside of the Cousins 7" single. 

The Radio Dept. - 'Clinging To A Scheme'
I never would have heard this album if it weren't for the holy grail of snarky websites, pitchfork.  I check their site a couple times a week and troll through the best new music category looking for new bands.  Truthfully, the album cover displayed on their site caught my interest.  A grainy vintage photo of a young dude - possibly a Vietnam era soldier - smoking out of the barrell of a rifle, face engulfed in smoke, graces the cover.  It is pretty arresting, but upon buying the album (non LP sadly, they made a small amount and I am not cool enough to own one) it was the music that was equally arresting.  I knew nothing of the Swedish dubby, downtempo, dream poppers before this release.  From what I can gather they are pretty sporadic with their releases.  'Clinging To A Scheme' floats out of the speakers in a pop haze reminscent of The Dream Academy and synth based Euro/UK bands of the early 80s.  This is THE record to put on if you are home from work with the flu.  As you sink into your couch in a cough medicine haze, put on your headphones and sink a little further.  The vocals are amazing. 

Highlights - "Heaven's on Fire', 'Never Follow Suit', 'This Time Around'.  Hell listen to the whole thing - its under 40 mins. 
Further Listening - 'Never Follow Suit' EP

Broken Bells - 'Broken Bells'
Much like most of the world, I had never heard of The Shins prior to Garden State.  Thank you Nathalie Portman/Padmae.  Ok, there we go.  I used all the cliche references to The Shins, the same ones that are in every damn article you read about them.  So long story short - James Mercer and producer/arranger extraordinaire DangerMouse get together and recorded Broken Bells.  AND it is amazing.  A home run really.  It captures the pop sensibilties of both talents and melds together into some very solid songs.  It has the right amount of oddball quirky layered musical backdrops for Mercer's oddball quirky lyrics and trademark high register delivery.  It has the ability to transport me to some other planet, filled with great tunes. 
Highlights - 'The High Road', 'Your Head Is On Fire', 'The Mall & Misery', 'The Ghost Inside'. 
Further Listening - 'Meyrin Fields' - Bside to 'The Ghost Inside' single. 

Damien Jurado - 'Saint Bartlett'
Whilst racing through the streets of Montreal to a brewery in our friend Scott's van, this album made its way into my life.  After being completely floored by the voice, I immediately asked what it was.  Scott started gushing about Damien Jurado.  I was instantly sold.  Damien's voice and sparse accompanyments cut to the core of your very being.  It is rare to find musicians so honest and naked.  That night between delicious pints of craft brews, I made every effort to remember the artists name as the album wasn't due in stores for weeks.  It truly was a privilage to hear it prior to the release date or else I never would have known about him.  I bided my time until the release date, decided to forego local purchase and get it straight through the source with Burnt Toast Vinyl (Scott's incredibly cool label).  It too has a firm grasp on my turntable.  The atherial vocals accompanied with tastefully arranged strings allows 'Cloudy Shoes' to standout as an opening cut.  It was about a half hour before I could get past this song and onto the second track - spinning it over and over.  I greatly enjoy 'Throw Your Voice' and it isn't just because he sings "Michael", but because of its slow burn tale of what I can only contrue as heartbreak.  The album closes with the stark 'With Lightning In Your Hands' another triumph in his wide catalog of acoustic balladry. 

Highlights - 'Cloudy Shoes', 'Throw Your Voice', 'Kansas City'. 
Further Listening - Four Songs EP on Burnt Toast Vinyl. 

LCD Soundsystem - 'This Is Happening'
I like dance music.  LCD likes making dance music.  It is a match made in disco ball heaven.  I first fell in love with LCD upon hearing the first cowbell whacks of 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House' off their self titled album.  I assumed they were either English or from outer space.  Turns out they are the purveyors of cool in the epicenter of hip out of Brooklyn, NY.  Great thing about LCD is that they do not make music for hipsters, they make it for music junkies.  'This Is Happening' is so tight, wrapped up, and on the money it is truly a miracle of modern music.  James Murphy's vocals continue to shine, channeling his inner Bowie, his inner Moz at will.  The band has never sounded better.  LCD is a true dance band, cutting everything with actual instruments (gasp!) and live drums which sadly is becoming less and less common. 
Opening track 'Dance Yrself Clean' is classic LCD - subscribing to the slow build formula that they gave us in 'Get Innocuous' off the 'Sound of Silver' LP.  By the time the beat hits in 'Dance Yrself Clean' you are wanting it so badly it is maddening.  Then it hits, the spazzy synth and the drum beat is total elation coupled with a song about turning to music and dancing to rid thyself of everyday tedium.  'One Touch' is downright hypnotic with its propulsive synth and drums.  'I Can Change' is my favorite tune by a long shot.  Murphy's voice turns elastic while delivering a sad-bastard ode to being lonely - "I can change/If it helps me fall in love".  LCD can deliver songs like that and frat house anthems like 'Drunk Girls' with ease.  I hope they continue to produce material of this caliber, because lets face it, the world needs it.

Highlights-  'Dance Yrself Clean', 'I Can Change', 'Pow Pow', 'One Touch'
Further Listening- LCD's live album 'London Sessions', 'I Can Change' remixes by Tiga and Stereogamous. 

Spoon - 'Transference'
I am very transparent in my Spoon love.  Whenever they release an album it will be on my year end best-of list.  I listen to them obsessively, thinking that if they are the soundtrack to my day, I will somehow get some of their coolness via musical osmosis.  'Transference' is a definite change of pace for Spoon.  Rather than the impossibly perfect arrangements of prior albums, 'Transference' seems much more in-the-moment and off the cuff.  They are allowing themselves to wing it and make mistakes, some of them even show up on the final cut.  Even though they may be winging it, their tracks come through in classic Spoon fashion - witty, snarky, spiky, groove based and just so fu**ing cool.  They make early Elvis Costello records sound lame they are so cool.  'Mystery Zone' is a standout: playful, clean and a great story about an alternate world.  Said alternate world is exactly where I head to when listening to music, I have to thank them for giving it a name.  'Written in Reverse' is completely disjointed and compared to other tightly composed Spoon songs seems a bit unhinged.  It is the disjointed/unhinged aspect that makes it so utterly amazing.  'Trouble Comes Running' sounds like a first take, starting with distant demo sounding guitar strumming before vaulting into the song.  Piano ballad 'Goodnight Laura' will be sung to my children someday with their names in place of Laura's.  Album closer 'Nobody Gets Me But You" offers a stripped down arrangement and a bass line that Prince would have killed for in the 'Controversy' days.  Spoon always delivers.  They have an incredible ability to make the listener feel cool.  That is what it is all about. 

Highlights - 'Mystery Zone', 'Nobody Gets Me But You', 'I Saw The Light', pretty much the entire album actually. 
Further Listening - Check out their performance of 'Nobody Gets Me But You' with ?uestlove on Fallon

Ryan Montbleau Band - 'Heavy On the Vine'
RMB band never ceases to amaze me.  We have watched them evolve into a serious, professional, and awesome band.  This is their most coherent effort, their big record with Martin Sexton producing.  I thought having Sexton as producer would hurt the band, ultimately casting a big name shadow over our little band that could.  The truth is, you really can't tell that Sexton fingerprints are on the record, which is perfect.  It is like he just guided the ship and let the players play. 
Opener 'Slippery Road' we find them in familiar territory, putting Ryan's shining vocals out front weaving his words into stories and the band backing him up with classic and timely instrumentation.  'Songbird' is an easy standout.  It effortlessly lilts between summer pop and lite-reggae laced with Lawerence's viola runs.  'I Can't Wait' is essential, again riding the viola runs and showing off some call and response lyrics.  I heard the track live a couple of times and knew it was a keeper. 

Highlights - 'My Best Guess', 'Songbird', 'I Can't Wait', 'More and More and More'
Further listening - Live recordings from Fall Tour 2010, 'Stages Vol 2' (Ryan Solo). 

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - 'III/IV'
Unfortuantely I have not received this album yet, damn "presale".  But I just wanted to type it out as to will it to my mailbox. 

Runners Up/Notables/Singles
Gorillaz - 'Plastic Beach' - Amazing record. "Yourawinnah"
Wild Nothing - 'Golden Haze' EP - Steeped in 80s synth washes
Girls - 'Broken Dreams Club' EP - Pleasent surprise. 
Robyn - 'Dancing On My Own' single - This guy likes his Euro-Pop ok?
Usher - 'DJ's Got Us Fallin' In Love' single - Yep.  Usher. 
Cee-Lo Green - 'F**k You' single - Undeniable.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hell Hath Frozen Over - I Attended A HANSON SHOW! GASP! Hanson @ HG 11.21.10

No, I did not lose a bet. 

No, I was not dared, threatened or held against my will. 

I went to Hanson's show at Higher Ground at the insistence of a friend, Lindsay.  Upon finding out she was a "die-hard" fan - yes those truly do exist - I gave her a few jibes and ultimately came across as "hipper-than-thou".  She countered my hipness with an offer.  She said that she would purchase my ticket if I agreed to go and write an honest show review blog about it.  I pondered her offer and made sure she upped the ante by adding a few beers to sweeten the deal.  We agreed and then the day finally came;  the day whence I would shed all of my street-cred and walk into Higher Ground with my head held high and get my ticket ripped for a once wildly popular teeny bop trio of brothers.

After getting razzed by the entire staff of HG, both on duty and off duty, and an owner I felt like I wanted to die.  Alas, I just loosened up with a couple of my beers from the package deal.  I looked at the bright side, this could be considered my first paid gig writing show reviews - who cares if it is freakin' Hanson - just need make your financier happy and let the adjectives fly freely.

The opener was Jarrod Gorbel, the former lead singer of a now defunct emo band The Honorary Title.  They were around for a hot minute in the early to mid 00's.  Believe it or not I actually remembered his band's name but none of the music.  I went into the venue with an open mind (obviously) but I gotta say he was nothing short of awful.  His voice was so grating and whiney it sounded like his balls were in a vice.  Perhaps his voice was just a latent defect of having worn skinny girl jeans for all those emo years.  He looked like and sounded like a third rate Bright Eyes.  He managed to salvage his set with an Alicia Keys cover of "No One".  Albeit pitchy and completely from left field it was a welcomed change from shouted lyrics about trust and abandonment issues. 

During the break I made a point to speak with some Hanson-heads.  One particularly excited young lady named Stephanie had entered and won a contest on Hanson's website.  The prize was a meet and greet prior to the show and an exclusive opportunity to act as the band photographer for the first three songs of the night.  She was enamored with the opportunity as her best photos would be featured on their website.  Come to think of it - more bands need to do that!

Seeing how this was Hanson's "Shout It Out" tour, they opened with a song I can only assume was called "Shout It Out" as that is what they insisted that the crowd did so over and over.  It was enjoyable and truly impossible to hate.  Never heard the song before but was singing along by the end.  "Shout It Out" is from their newest material (as per Hanson heads) but feels like a classic.  Right away you can tell that these dudes - Zac, Isaac, and Taylor (the latter is not a girl by the way - contrary to what you may have thought in the 90s after having seen the "MmBop" video *clears throat*) never really stopped giving a shit just because they had a hit early in their careers.  Their band was filled out by a bass player and a keyboard/rhythm guitar player.  In the grand scheme of things they have been playing together for almost two decades therefore they are bound to have some chops.  It is clear that making music is their lives and they are playing out of love.  They all wear their musical talent on their sleeves - rocking out at will and showing off their three part harmonies.  I swear these harmonies are impossible to attain unless you are brothers, they hit you like a hair dryer. 

They hit on a bunch of other honey drenched pop tunes before playing one of the few I knew prior.  Oddly enough I didn't even know one was their song. "Where's The Love?" is a Hanson song?  Somehow over the years this song has impeded my brain, wrestled it into submission and hid out in my pop song subconcious until this concert.  Amazingly enough I was not only familiar with the song but found I knew actual lyrics!  GASP!  I immediately thought to myself, am I having fun?  Shit, I was.  I was having fun at a Hanson concert.  After leaving the stage for a few minutes, they returned as a trio to do stripped down versions of their songs.  One included the inevitable "MmBop" which they delivered with unabashed enthusiasm.  I am impressed that they still embrace the song rather than abandon it due to burning out on it.  But much like any band with a huge hit, it is best to play it as the song belongs to the hearts of the people who paid money to get in.  After the short acoustic set the full band returned and to my surprise completely tore it up on a fantastic cover of "Oh Darlin'" by The Beatles. 

I must say that by no means am I a Hanson-head now, nor do I share the unbridled enthusiasm of their predominately female crowd (save for a few dudes, and that really creepy guy at the soundboard railing).  But as a pseudo-critic I can say that they put on a great show and cram as much into it as they can and I respect the hell out of them for it.  They are hopelessly devoted to their fan base offering meet and greets and the One Mile Walk with band members.  It is entirely refreshing to experience somthing like this to get a full perspective on the world of live music, there is more out there. 

Sufjan Stevens @ Metropolis, Montreal, Quebec. Tuesday, 10.12.10

After driving around in circles amid multiple construction projects for close to 40 mins in downtown Montreal, my wife and I finally found the damn Metropolis.  It just so happened to be directly in the MIDDLE of one of the construction zones.  I have no idea what the hell I did to Canada, but it straight up hates my skinny ass.  Without fail, I will manage to get myself completely lost inside a paper bag if it is on Canadian soil.  Sure I could learn their version of the French language better or I could invest in a non-Google sponsored map, but that would take all the suspense out of it wouldn't it?

Sufjan Stevens' show would mark our first show at Metropolis.  We went into this show with lower than normal expectations (well, at least I did) as Sufjan's most recent material both 'All Delighted People EP' and the new, sprawling 'Age of Adz' didn't quite hit the sweet spot quite as resonate as strongly as his past releases.  But as two huge music nuts we were able to identify that he is a true artist and needs to evolve.  Just how far he would let it take him was on full display on this blustery Tuesday. 

We knew we were in for a special evening when there were enough musicians on stage to form a softball team.  At any given time there were 10 musicians making beautiful, elegant music or noisy, layered, booming passages.  Both ends of the spectrum were tightly arranged, meticulously played, and literally jaw dropping to witness. 

Throughout the night he relied almost exclusively on his newest material, some never played in front of an audience.  He did dip into his Illinois LP for the set ending fan favorite 'Chicago' and his two solo encore songs 'Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois' on piano and 'John Wayne Gacy Jr.' on acoustic guitar.  With the new material we find Sufjan staking claim in a completely different territory than his earlier records.  Gone are the hushed acoustics, the banjo altogether, and narrative driven songs with 19 word titles.  In place of the Sufjan-of-Yore are longer, complex, movement based songs that cram as much into the song as possible.  Thematic tunes about 'Bobby Getting a Shadfly Caught In His Hair' have been eschewed for emotionally driven songs steeped in personal pain and heartbreak.  From what I can tell after hearing the dubby 'I Walked' off 'Age of Adz' , he definitely had his little indie hipster heart broken.  Sad, I know, but his personal experiences have made for amazing new songs. 

I am used to Sufjan's material clocking in around 4-ish minutes per track or less than a minute for half baked thoughts he would label as songs.  Newer material like the opening track 'All Delighted People' and the mammoth 'Impossible Soul' clocked in at well over ten minutes and 31 (!!) minutes respectively.  Come to think of it, I am not 100% sure if 31 minutes was the final time for 'Impossible Soul', it very well could have been longer.  

It is clear Sufjan is taking risks with his new material.  It may not hold up on the album for me but the live show interprets the material amazingly well.  Easily one of the biggest surprises of my show going life was this concert.  Preach on Sufjan, you little hipster you! 

Recommended listening - All Delighted People EP tracks 'Enchanted Ghost', 'Heirloom', 'From the mouth of Gabriel'
                                       Age of Adz tracks 'I Walked', 'Too Much', 'Get Real Get Right'

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Power Ballad Thursday!

While the posts for October Phish shows, Sufjan Stevens show, and November Hanson show are in the editing room, here is some 80s power ballad rad-ness to tide you over.  I think this one is by far one of the most overlooked 80s power ballads.  Please enjoy Kix and their anti-suicide hit "Don't Close Your Eyes".