Best of 2010 (Albums): Honorable Mention

Before we get too deep in 2011, I thought I’d put a bow on 2010 this week. I’ll be listing a CD-R’s worth of my favorite tracks, my top 5 albums, and maybe a few other things this week. Too start things off, a list of great albums that deserve some sort of honorable mention…

cerebellum tewligans

Cerebellum 1989 (via Slamdek.com)

 

While these albums didn’t quite make my top 5 this year, I don’t think there is any doubt that I will be listening to them frequently for years to come.

She & Him – Volume 2: I almost didn’t even bother here, but I’m really glad I did. Discovering this was like finding out about an old rock masterpiece. There’s a lot of warmth in ZD’s voice and songwriting, and M. Ward’s flourishes round out the best traditional pop record of the year. (listen to “Lingering Still“) Read my original review.

New Pornographers – Together: I’m not really sure how AC Newman keeps getting such inspiration out of this wacky ensemble, but Together, as its name would imply, manages to achieve both a stunning overall unity and the most idiosyncratic performances from each of the key players yet. Neko’s at her best on “The Crash Years”, Dan’s a wacky loverboy on “Silver Jenny Dollar”, Kathryn Calder shines on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, and Dr. Newman rounds out just about everything else. Fantastic artsy power pop, fabulous performances, a great experience all around. (listen to “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk“) Read my original review.

Venice Is Sinking – Sand & Lines: This is what rainy Saturday mornings feel like. The great thing about this record is that you can get up close to it or leave it on in the background, either way you enjoy it. As I’ve said before, I wish more bands would just hang a microphone from the ceiling and play a set. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for ViS. (“Bardstown Road“) Read my original review.

Frontier(s) – There Will Be No Miracles Here: Chris Higdon returns 7 years after the demise of Elliott with a record heavy on the DC-style hardcore. As packed as this one is with melodic, chunky riffs, comparisons to Jawbox seem obvious but entirely appropriate. Oh yeah, and it grows on you too. (“Abul Abbas“) Read my original review.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise: Recorded in the late 70’s, this is a gold mine for just about anyone who cares about rock and roll. Did we really need a reminder of what a monumental and unique talent Bruce Springsteen is? The Boss himself seems to think we did, and for that, I’d like to shake his hand. (“Someday (We’ll Be Together)“) Read my original review.

Stars – The Five Ghosts: Stars fully embraced 80’s synth-pop on this record, and what came of it was one of the most listenable and catchy collection of tunes imaginable. With all their earnestness, I get a feeling it’s becoming less and less cool to like Stars, but don’t let that hold you back. This is some serious ear candy, so just indulge your sonic sweet tooth already. (“Wasted Daylight“) Read my original review.

Cerebellum – Cerebellum: How could this not be awesome? Cerebellum came to a pre-mature end in 1989, leaving only 5 studio tracks (collected here) and a handful of other unrecorded songs. They recorded them for posterity this year, and it’s remarkable just how much these guys sound like they are picking up right where they left off. The big highlight is the mighty “Crawl Out of the Water”, which existed as an inferior Crain demo. It’s in all its glory here. (“Crawl Out of the Water“) Read my original review.

Quick Review (LP): In the Cool of the Day by Daniel Martin Moore

Daniel Martin Moore
In The Cool Of The Day
Sub Pop; 2011

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: “Closer Walk With Thee”, “In The Cool Of The Day”, “Lay Down Your Lonesome Burdens”

Haunts, Chills, Soothes…

I guess I was expecting a little more irony and a generous smattering of over-the-top, arty poppiness here. I can’t help it, I’ve been conditioned by years of indie listening, where you get your folk with a prefix. This is a plain-faced folk record though, and it certainly stands on its own without the indie or the pop. It’s a completely understated and pastoral record, sincere and earnest with the right twinges of nostalgia and organic instrumentation. Many of the numbers will be recognizable to individuals with any sort of church background, and Moore’s humble delivery casts things in a particularly affective light, as if he’s arranged the songs this quietly in order to discern the still, small voice of God in between the notes. There’s some outstanding individual tracks here, too. The title track, in particular, haunts, and the impressionistic instrumental “Lay Down Your Lonesome Burdens” is as plaintive and lovely as a clear summer’s night. I’ll break it down – there’s something about this record, and so I recommend it to you, dear reader, with enthusiasm.

Cohesion (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

AMG review
Pitchfork review
PopMatters review

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Suspending Judgment: The King Of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead fans have learned to bear patiently with the band over the course of their career. Ever since they trampled all over the “one hit wonder” label with The Bends, they’ve been completely defying the expectations of their audience with each successive album. Their last full-length, 2007’s In Rainbows, went far beyond expectations, proving the band was anything but short on inspiration. And so, at this point, waiting three and a half years for a new collection from the world’s greatest anti-rock band doesn’t seem like much to ask. We are assured that when Radiohead gets around to releasing something new, it will be brilliant, and well worth the wait.

Only I’m not so sure about The King Of Limbs yet…

I will stick with it for a long time before I give up on it, but I’ve listened to it a good seven or eight times since it was released last Friday, and I’m not convinced it measures up. A few thoughts:

  • It sounds more like what I would have expected from Thom Yorke as a second solo record, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that it doesn’t have the “massive” feel of the other Radiohead albums. It’s certainly not a “guitar” record.
  • There isn’t a “fireworks” track on this record. Think of “The National Anthem” or “Pyramid Song” or “There There” or “Reckoner.” There’s no moment of unfathomable greatness that explodes from the speakers, blowing your mind. Perhaps The King Of Limbs is more about restraint than catharsis.
  • Eight tracks? Surely there’s more where this came from?
  • I hate to say it, but many of the tracks seem like they would have been better as b-sides. Of course, Radiohead are a great b-sides band.
  • For crying out loud, will they ever release “Follow Me Around” and “Lift” as studio recordings?

I will say that The King Of Limbs is growing on me though. I don’t think it will ever measure up to In Rainbows or Kid A in my mind, but there’s at least one track that’s undeniably brilliant (“Codex”), and a handful of other lovely moments (“Give Up The Ghost”). I’m going to suspend judgment on this one until I’ve given it the hearing that Radiohead deserve.

Listening Log: New Radiohead Saturday

Thom Yorke Jonny Greenwood LP8

New Radiohead = Live-Blogging Event

I’ll be live-blogging my first-listen experience of Radiohead‘s new LP, The King of Limbs, on Saturday. Stop by and leave your thoughts!

Quick Review (LP): Hard Candy by Counting Crows

hard candy counting crows Counting Crows
Hard Candy
DGC; 2002

My Rating: B+ (77/100)

Best Tracks: “Hard Candy”, “If I Could Give All My Love”, “Goodnight LA”, “Miami”

While I didn’t much dig this album upon its initial release back in 2002, I have to admit that it has stood the test of time remarkably well. Sure, if the Crows have a “sell-out” record, this is the one. The hidden track, “Big Yellow Taxi”, was all over the radio for a while, sounding more like an American Idol product than a single from the band that wrote “A Long December.” Additionally, Duritz co-wrote “Butterfly In Reverse” with Ryan “Critical Darling” Adams (long before ol’ Ryan had come through the strange phase that was his first five LP’s), which is arguably the worst track on the album. But the thing is, there’s just too many great tracks on this record to tank it overall. “Hard Candy” might be the best opening track on any of their albums. “Richard Manuel Is Dead” is a powerful and moving tribute to the tragedy of The Band’s heart and soul.  “Goodnight LA” and “Good Times” are big, harrowing, soulful numbers. Even “American Girls”, with its thin, poppy guitar jangle and hyper-yearning vocals, is a pretty fantastic song. That’s not to say that Hard Candy doesn’t have its flaws. For one, it’s frontloaded with the best material. For another, the production is too precious. But that’s OK, because it’s a very listenable record with several bright spots. While it may not be as good as any of their first three records, Hard Candy is at least in the same league.

Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

AMG review
SputnikMusic review
My review of August And Everything After
My review of Recovering the Satellites
My review of This Desert Life

Quick Review (LP): Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine

iron and wine kiss each other clean Iron & Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
Warner Bros.; 2011

My Rating: B (66/100)

Best Tracks: “Tree By The River”, “Monkeys Uptown”, “Godless Brother In Love”, “Glad Man Singing”

Prediction: one of these days Sam Beam will make a lullabye-metal record, entitled Iron Maiden & Wine. For now, we must content ourselves with his exceedingly pleasant indie-folk, and Kiss Each Other Clean shouldn’t make anyone upset at that fact. Now from what I know of Iron & Wine, this is the grandest stretch Beam has yet made. It’s essentially a record that celebrates the soft-rock of the 70’s, with a little bit of Stevie Wonder’s good-times-funk thrown in for flavor. As for references, Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac are primary, and “Half Moon” recalls Clapton‘s “Promises” big time. This is a friendly record, wide-eyed and fatherly, full of great melodies and warm, clever arrangements. Additionally, the best tracks feature some truly lovely moments, especially “Tree By The River” and “Godless Brother In Love.” This isn’t a great record – the last song in particular sort of stinks – but Beam deserves accolades for taking some serious chances here. A 70’s throwback record could easily have sounded hokey coming from Beam, but he pulls it off rather well. That’s much easier said than done. Worth a listen for fans of the soft-rock sound.

Concept (4.5/5)
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

AMG review
Pitchfork review
SputnikMusic review

Quick Review (LP): This Desert Life by Counting Crows

this desert life counting crows Counting Crows
This Desert Life
DGC; 1999

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye”, “Amy Hit The Atmosphere”, “All My Friends”, “High Life”

The Band‘s influence is still prominent, but what I think of with This Desert Life is Gram Parson‘s cosmic americana. There’s something particularly starry-eyed about the recordings here, with the more epic tracks achieving the sort of prolonged, brilliant focus that Duritz had only come close to achieving on Satellite‘s longer tracks. Standout performances belong to guitar wizard Dan Vickrey (again) and drummer Ben Mize, the former for continuing to channel Robbie Robertson’s humble-pie lead work, the latter for delivering some of the best working man rhythms since Kenny Buttrey’s magical performances on Blonde On Blonde. I’ve already declared my love for “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye” elsewhere, but dozens of listens in it’s still one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard, the divine love child of “Rocket Man”, “City of New Orleans”, and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” And while Duritz got tagged with the “Van Morrison” mantle pretty early on, this record’s “All My Friends” is the track that comes closest to emulating the blue-eyed soul man. This is a wide-open road record, a celebration of classic rock that is at the same time the most focused and well-written in the Crows’ catalog. While it didn’t quite score the big hits, it’s the band’s sleeper, the little known gem that is just waiting to be discovered, by you and everyone else.

Cohesion (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

My review of Recovering The Satellites
My review of August And Everything After
SputnikMusic review
AMG review

Quick Review (LP): Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows

recovering the satellites Counting Crows
Recovering the Satellites
DGC; 1996

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: “Daylight Fading”, “Children In Bloom”, “Monkey”, “A Long December”

After channeling Van Morrison on their first record, the Crows hired Pixies producer Gil Norton and decided to channel The Band on their second. You’ve got Dan Vickrey and his massive, flaming guitar riffs as Robbie Robertson, Duritz as the fame-wrecked and soulful Richard Manuel, and even Charles Gillingham’s organ sounds like the madness that Garth Hudson was putting out back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Where lovely mandolins once adorned the band’s pretty folk songs, Duritz has instead concocted a collection of stadium-sized hard rock songs. Some of them are epic. “Children In Bloom” and “Recovering the Satellites” both go way beyond anything you’d have thought the band was capable of on August and Everything After, and “Miller’s Angels” is about as impressionistic, cathartic, and arcane as a roots rock band could be that side of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Yet the album shares one key thing with August – great songs. Between “Daylight Fading”, “Monkey”, and “Have You Seen Me Lately?”, this is one of the better rock albums of a hard rock decade. That’s notable, especially since Duritz really doesn’t get much credit as a rock musician. But the proof is here for those who are willing to listen and put aside the fact that he is also the guy who wrote (great!) wuss-rock like “Mr. Jones” and “Round Here.” Still, the final word must go to “A Long December”, which is quite simply one of the greatest tracks of the 90’s, and the sort of tune that is nearly impossible not to sing along with. Naysayers, respect is due.

Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Cohesion (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Related Links:
My review of August and Everything After
AMG review of Recovering the Satellites
Duritz on the songs
SputnikMusic reviews of Recovering the Satellites