Friday, December 31, 2010

The beauty and harshness of snow.

I came across this yesterday and I agree that it is pretty amazing. Although I'm not qualified to comment on its Oscar eligibility, however, I can say that I thought it pretty terrific.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Albums of 2010

Note that this is my favorite albums of 2010, not a best album list. I only speak album, so if you are looking for a singles breakdown so you can steal music, read Rolling Stone. The list means only something to me, but maybe you'll find something you will like as well. No particular order.

Let's start with the ones that I was late to the Ball with: 2009 releases

Bob Mould - "Life and Times" Somehow I missed this album's release in 2009 and bought it in early part of this year. It's a deeply personal album for Bob and he holds nothing back about the pain and joy of life. Lyrics presented with nuanced chorused, chiming guitars, and with the well known roar of his guitar, albeit somewhat in the background at times.

Florence and the Machine - "Lungs " Even-though this was on many people's list for 2009, it didn't hit my ears until January of this year. And hit me it did. Wonderful and rousing. I rolled over the play count column on my ipod with 'Boy Who Builds Coffins." Later in the year she hijacked the VMA's and pushed herself into the consciousness of the non-music world with her music in commercials and one of her songs was ineptly covered on Glee. Can't wait to see her open up for U2 in June at Spartan Stadium.

The XX - "XX" Everybody heard their song that Apolo skated to in the Visa commercial during the Olympics, but the rest of the album is terrific as well. I wish that I would have picked this album up earlier. A joy.

2010 Releases
John Butler Trio - "April Uprising" A return to form for this Australian distorted amplified acoustic 12 string musician. The album has many focus points, but the overarching theme is concern for the common man, social injustice, and love. "I'd Do Anything" (Soldiers Lament) is a wonderful song about a soldier in Afghanistan missing home is extremely touching and the guitar work is terrific.

New Pornographers - "Together" A record that's a little beefier than their previous album "Challengers" and a little disjointed. Many of the tracks are up to NP standards, and the Neko and Dan Bejar penned songs don't quite fit into the flow of the album. Bejar's contributions are especially grating. AC Newman seems to have made the choice to satisfy the individual contributors on the album instead of making a solid front to back album that we have grown to take for granted from this band. Maybe the title was meant to be ironic. One of the shows I caught this year and it was terrific.

She and Him - "Volume 2" Not as natural sounding as Volume 1, but still a very nice effort by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Some of the songs feel as though they are trying too hard and come across forced. A good album nonetheless. p.s. I'm not sure why Deschanel is such a love her or hate her artist. I think she's very good and very honest and humbled in her work.

Drive by Truckers - "The Big To Do" A home run for the now three guitar band. The band seems to be working together much better than the past couple of efforts, where the individuals seemed to be competing against one another in the songs. No one sings better or more earnestly about the hard times of working class people like Patterson Hood. From an abandoned boy wondering when his father is coming back, or an alcoholic trying to recall his latest binge, to a heartbreaking story about the Wallendas, and describing the feelings of working a job you hate, because there is no other choice, this album doesn't have a throwaway track. The biggest surprise on this album was the Mike Cooley songs, as his primary writing efforts and the cranked up high treble brittleness of his AC30 added an additional layer of 'wowness' for DBT's latest.

John Legend and The Roots - "Wake Up" The R&B singer teamed up with the "Best Band on the Planet" with mixed results. Definitely worth picking up, but on balance, kind of falls down. Some of the song selections just didn't fit the pairing. However the high points are worth the price of admission and they remind you of why we miss music of consequence so much.

The Roots - "How I got over" A much more positive album than their last ('Rising Down') Strong female vocal contributions and a great vibe throughout. Missing is Capt'n Kirk's guitar, which is very hard to discern, but Black Thought is in full flight with his lyrics and style on some songs and absolutely blows off the doors when paired with some of the usual suspect collaborators.

The National - "High Violet" After being held hostage to Dad's dejaying on a short road trip, my 12 year old requested that I put this album on his ipod, saying "This guy is good". Well, they are good and this album is wonderful. The album was in the running for my "soundtrack of the summer" moniker and still in heavy rotation. It forced me to revisit a previous effort that I was initially disappointed with ('Alligator') and admit that I was wrong. Now a confirmed fan.

Janelle Monae - "Archandroid" I bought it on a whim, as sometimes the most pleasant surprises are self-inflicted. An album with really bad cover art, a weird concept, eccentric, overly ambitious, a hard to figure out debut effort that you must absolutely buy. I don't know if I'll ever 'get' what she's trying to say with this album, but it is certainly fun trying to get to the bottom of it.

Chris Isaak - "Live at the Fillmore" Despite providing the soundtrack to the first of my two summer bike crashes, the album captures the feel of the Chris Isaak show I saw in late 2009. Lots of fun.

Against Me! - "White Crosses" Tom Gabel is a genius. A genius. This album is my best cycling soundtrack of the year. Great riffs, great lyrics, great rhythm section. The vocals never pull back, especially on "Because of the Shame" a gripping story of attendance of a past lovers unexpected funeral and on "Spanish Moss", wonderful.

Arcade Fire - "Suburbs" We all get old and this album could be the accompanying soundtrack to Jim Harrison's book of the same themes in his novel 'Farmer'. The band takes on contentment, modern fear and boredom with an album with which you can't stop hitting repeat. Buy it.

Pete Yorn - 'Pete Yorn' What a difference a producer can make! Black Francis (better behind the board than in front of it) seems to have told Pete to put down the acoustic and crank up his electric and never look back. What came out in early in September was my biggest surprise of the year. Not one bad song on the entire album. I'm in Pete's choir, but had low expectations after the last record and the 'whatever that was' collaboration with Scarlet Johanson. Because I was hesitant to put budget money towards a sub-par effort, the first listen came courtesy of the local library copy. I quickly headed to the store to secure my own copy and placed it it the front spot in his row in my catalog racks. He fondly remembers a childhood highlight of getting new shoes in "Velcro Shoes" and tries to figure out what he's scared of as he gets older in 'Future Life". Sounding ragged and vulnerable on 'Wheels" the album hit its highlight on "Always". I especially like the guitar tone he has employed on this album, fairly clean that muddies up when he pushes the strings. If ipod playcount was the sole determinant of my "Album of the Year", this record wins hands down.

KT Tunstall - 'Tiger Suit' A late year release that certainly is turning into on of my favorites of the year. Richly produced, KT stretches herself a little bit, but maybe hasn't figured out what she wants to be. A little more consistent that her last, "Drastic Fantastic", but maybe to a fault. Still, spending time with it is worth it.

The Black Keys - 'Brothers' I didn't buy my first Black Keys album until listening to Dan Auerbach's solo effort early in the year. 'Brothers' turned out to be a perfect initiation to the band.  A solid album throughout, with the highlight being Dan Carney's drumming.

Brandon Flowers - "Flamingo" I like Flowers' voice, but what is missing on this solo effort is his band's (Killers) strength to support him.  A good album nonetheless. He clearly loves Vegas, but the message doesn't quite connect with this Midwestern boy on some of the tracks.

Biggest surprises of the year.
Jakob Dylan - "Woman + Country" It seems that everything that T-Bone Burnett touches is gold. Dylan wisely turned away from Rubin and teamed up with his family friend and the result was terrific and unexpected. A slow but never bogged down, sauntering album that begs for repeated listens. Listen carefully with some over the ear headphones to discern the interesting layers and subtleties.

Robert Plant - "Band of Joy" The album title is a nod to the band he was in when Jimmy Page pulled him out of a bar to be his new singer in the New Yardbirds, but other than that look backwards Plant produces great new music. His new band is very eager to show that they belong with the legend. The best guitarist Plant has had with him on his solo efforts since Robbie Blunt, Buddy Miller fits perfectly with this record. Easily accessible the albums warrants repeated listening, because every pass through reveals something new. Jimmy may be knocking now, but with Plant's last two efforts, I don't see him opening the door. They probably should not have ever let the genie out of the bottle for the O2 show, because Robert is holding the cork.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - s/t Looking past the obvious hit single, the band and its singer provide some pretty good stuff. They have the feel of a well seasoned band, who just likes to play good music. There are some pretty good guitar fills, even-though some of the solos are cliche and the drumming is solid and sometimes inspired. On some of the tracks it comes across that they are trying to hard and Grace's vocals fall down below some of the albums high-points, but a worthwhile purchase.

Biggest Disappointments of the Year.
Interpol - The best tracks are where the departing founding bassist Carlos B seems to saying, "follow this" They can't. The band can't seem to get back to the greatness that I think they are capable of and have demonstrated in the past.

The Black Crowes - "Croweology" After the band's last two stellar albums, this release held promise greater than what it delivered. A 'for fans' only double album release of rather unimaginative reworkings of their greatest hits. Not so much.

The Hold Steady - I might be proven wrong in the future when I'm in a different mood, but I am just not connecting with this band after a few tries. Probably the last one I buy from them.

Vampire Weekend - 'Contra' At the top of many year-end lists. Not mine. The album faded too quickly and didn't sustain my interests past a few listens. Unnecessarily complicated in too many places as if to say, "see what we can do" and the result is less than memorable songs. Unique to be sure, but falls down fast with time.

Kings of Leon - "Come Around Sundown"- Eh.

Albums that are still on my list. Bands that interests me, but might be on next year's list.

Dead Weather- 'Sea of Cowards'
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
The Joy Formidable
Kanye West - Yes, I might give him another shot.
Jamey Johnson
High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine

Tell me what you think or maybe what I've missed.

Thanks, Eric