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 (EP): Glenn by Slint

slint glenn rhoda 10" Slint
Glenn EP
Touch & Go; 1994

My Rating: A+

Best Tracks: both tracks

Spiderland gets all the recognition, but when it comes down to it, this is the record that truly DOCUMENTS the reality of this band of bands. First of all, the recording is amazing, the sound of Albini completely redeeming himself after sabotaging Tweez. Second, the band never sounded better, more Slint-ish, than this. “Glenn” is perhaps the essential Slint track, immediate and mysterious, sprawling and meticulous, an epic crafted to precision that proceeds to blow your mind. “Rhoda” refurbishes the poorest track on Tweez, thrusting it forward as perhaps the best. When Walford crashes in near the end of the track (“One two three four!!!!!”) and the band goes insane, you get a sense of what this band was capable of live. Doubters, beware. This EP just might convert you.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
Hardcore For Nerds review

Book Review: Spiderland (33 1/3 series) by Scott Tennent

Spiderland (33 1/3 series)
by Scott Tennent
Continuum; 2010

My Rating: A

I can remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1994, and I was a freshman in high school, examining a double-sided, photo-copied Slamdek Records catalog. My eyes fell upon a blurb about a band named Slint, and I fixated on a quote that went like this: “Even Stone Temple Pilots rip off big ideas from these guys.” Not that I was an STP fan, but it didn’t take me long to realize that these Slint guys were a big deal. A few days later, I boogied on up to Mike Bucayu‘s Blue Moon Records in Holiday Manor and bought myself a cassette copy of Tweez. So, when I popped that sucker into my bookshelf setup, and the first discordant notes of “Ron” came blaring through my speakers, I was a little taken aback. Was this really the pride of Louisville?

Suffice to say, eventually I got it, and that’s why I’m pleased to say that Scott Tennent has finally written THE BOOK on Slint, a band that was heretofore the subject of so much conjecture, hearsay, and legend that it was often hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Starting in 1982 with Brian McMahan‘s first band, Languid and Flaccid, the book not only serves as the definitive story on Slint, but it also covers just about everything you’d want to know about seminal Louisville acts like Squirrel Bait, Maurice, and Solution Unknown. Tangentially, it even goes quite a ways toward revealing some of Will Oldham‘s artistic roots as well.  Through in-depth research and first-hand accounts from Dave Pajo, Todd Brashear, Ethan Buckler, and the imminently quotable Sean “Rat” Garrison, Tennant takes the band from cradle to grave, telling the story of the band’s origins as a Pajo/Britt Walford side project, Steve Albini‘s early embrace of the band, the controversial Tweez sessions and departure of Buckler, the second Albini session that produced the Glenn/Rhoda 10″, their efforts to establish themselves as a live act in 1989 and 1990,  the Spiderland sessions, and the band’s subsequent demise in late 1990.

Along the way, Tennent’s account is revelatory, capturing the artistic dynamics that went into composing and making Spiderland, and demonstrates that Slint were truly aiming for something new and unique. They were a band driven towards the sort of precision and craftsmanship that is often dismissed by rock musicians, and one gets the sense from reading Spiderland that one of the reasons the record is so special is that those guys cared about the placement and performance of every single note. Tennent’s analysis of Spiderland‘s tracks is quite insightful as well, and even for those, like myself, who have listened to the record dozens of times, it refreshes the record and illuminates just what it is that makes it such an uncanny experience. Let me just put it this way: having just finished Tennent’s Spiderland, “Good Morning, Captain” sounds even greater.

It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. Tennent’s Spiderland is HIGHLY recommended for any Slint fan, Slint-curious music fan, Slint-skeptic, or fan of interesting music in general.

Scott Tennent’s blog, Pretty Goes with Pretty
Wikipedia article on Spiderland

Quick Review (LP): Tweez by Slint

Slint
Tweez
Jennifer Hartman; 1989

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Charlotte”, “Ron”, “Carol”, “Darlene”

They probably didn’t realize it at the time, but what the guys in Slint did with Tweez was deconstruct hair metal and hardcore. The guitars, drums, and vocals explode convention (at least the conventions punk kids were used to) and bleed into jazzy noodling and (classical?) dissonance. Most of the lyrics are fractured, dangling, and impressionistic loose ends that yield for the record a remarkably wide open sense of narrative. Albini‘s production is controversial and intentionally ugly, but to be honest, I can’t imagine the record any differently. All that random noise and nonsense just sounds right here, making this the Slint record with a sense of humor. Tweez is a strange and fascinating piece of work, a record with an inexhaustible sense of mystery, and one of the most consistently original rock albums you’ll ever hear. Seventeen years on, I’m still trying to figure out what there is “past where they paint the houses…” Sure, it pales in comparison to Spiderland, but what doesn’t?

AMG review (not entirely accurate)
Wikipedia article
DK Presents review
Pre-Slint article from the guy who wrote the book on Slint

Quick Review (LP): One Less Heartless to Fear by Shipping News

Shipping News
One Less Heartless to Fear
Noise Pollution/Karate Body; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Half A House”, “(Morays or) Demons”

Shipping News speeds things up and unleashes a little bit of the ol’ Albini charm here, but I gotta admit, I’ve always been a sucker for Shipping News’ slower, brooding side. Therefore, I wasn’t immediately thrilled by “The Delicate” when it was released a few months back. And to be clear, OLHTF is not really a new LP so much as a live document. It contains a few tracks from their last LP proper, Flies the Fields, and features a solid set of otherwise unreleased material. The good news is that the old tracks sound great here, and the new stuff presents a side to the Noble/Mueller partnership that I hadn’t thought of since “Shiner.” Overall, I’m a big fan of the record’s concept. More bands (indie ones specifically) should take a step back from the studio and let their fans hear unreleased songs in process. I’m not so much talking about “LIVE” albums, greatest hits collections performed on stage, I’m talking about single-take sets of old, new, and weird. I could get used to Shipping News (and plenty of other bands) releasing something like this every other year or so. Dig the cover art too.

Built On A Weak Spot review
Dusted review
Young Scamels review (SGB)
June of 44 career-in-brief (SGB)

News Bits: Possible Rodan Rarities Collection in 2011

jason nobleCheck out this Magnet Magazine interview with indie rock godfather/superhero Jason Noble. Newsworthy bits:

    • Rodan Peel session – Official release likely (along with other rarities) in 2011 on Quarterstick
  • Rodan reunion – unlikely (but he doesn’t completely rule it out)
  • Shipping News – Next project will be another RMSN EP with separate studio recordings by each member
  • Young Scamels – More music probable in the near future, looking to a more contemporary author for influence.

There’s much more where that came from, so you should definitely check it out.

My review of Rodan’s 1994 Peel Session
My review of Young Scamel’s Tempest LP

Quick Review (LP): There Will Be No Miracles Here by Frontier(s)

frontierscover300 Frontier(s)
There Will Be No Miracles Here
No Sleep Records; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Young Lives”, “Abul Abbas”

It goes like this: Chris Higdon used to lead the charge for Elliott. Elliott’s first (and, ahem, best) album, US Songs, opened with a track called “Miracle.” Said track was one of the most upbeat in their whole catalog, not really fitting in with their later stuff. Higdon now fronts Frontier(s), who have just released their debut LP a few months back. Get it? There will be no “Miracles” here. So goodbye Elliott. Now, it’s not that this record is a complete departure from Elliott’s dense and moody hard rock,  it’s just that it’s stripped of the former band’s more atmospheric tendancies. This is a straightforward post-punk record, full of Jawbox-style indie rock. And it’s quite a good one at that. Yet the message is clear: Higdon’s done with the skies, ready to spend some time at ground level. The result is a very strong record, one that grows on me with each listen. Highly recommended, miracles or no.

Band Myspace site
PunkNews.org Review
Music-Is-Amazing Review

Quick Review (LP): Sweetheart Rodeo by Dawn Landes

Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn LandesDawn Landes
Sweetheart Rodeo
Essential Music; 2010

My Rating:  C+

Best Tracks: “Romeo”, “Little Miss Holiday”

Coming on the heels of the excellent urbanicana folk of 2007’s FIREPROOF, my expectations were high for this one. Unfortunately, it was a letdown. That’s not to say this is a bad record; it probably says more about the greatness of FIREPROOF. Landes plays very “low-key” music, and this time around it doesn’t have the staying power of FIREPROOF tracks like “Bodyguard” and “You Alone”, or even the ridiculously catchy stand-alone single “Straight Lines”. Folk music seems to go best with a lot of heart-on-sleeve, but SWEETHEART finds our leading lady a little too level-headed. I guess I’ll hold out for another great record the next time around.

Paste review
Artist website
Artist Myspace

Quick Review (LP): Mercury by Follow the Train

Follow the Train
Mercury
Removador; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Movin”, “Coffee”, “Mellwood”, “Division”, “Seamless”

One thing seems certain; the band’s songwriter has an outstanding sense of melody and majesty in a late 80’s/early 90’s alt-rock sense. Witness: “Movin”. Yessir. Wow. Let’s play that again. And again. Opener “Coffee” features a great vocal performance as well, and more melancholy bits like “Mellwood” (saxy) and “Nowhere Night” (urban lonesome) really shine as well. As I’ve said before, they remind me heavily of Afghan Whigs, with some of the mighty blues of Zeppelin thrown in for good measure (“Division”, “Mercury”) and a big midwestern heart. I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t be playing big stages at summer festivals, because this is one of the best albums of 2010.

Band website & listen to album
Removador page & listen to album
SGB Breath of Sigh review

Quick Review (LP): Cerebellum by Cerebellum

Cerebellum
Cerebellum LP
Noise Pollution; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Fire”, “Marble”, “Calm”, “Crawl Out of the Water”

The first five songs were originally released in 1989. This band produced future members of Crain, Rodan, Matmos, Parlour, and other post-punk pioneers. What we have here is, on one hand, above average fare for a group of high-schoolers looking to imitate their musical heroes. On the other hand though, there is evidence of real creative vision here, and the melodies are especially strong on “Fire”, “Winter”, and “Calm.” “Marble” is a lovely little Smiths-esque piece; Drew Daniel’s adolescent-in-longing vocals evoke an incredible nostalgia for me now. The best thing here though is the brand new recording of “Crawl Out Of The Water” (one among five such tracks). It sounds outstanding, and feels more like a long lost Crain track (which it pretty much is) than anything else. Most of the music world probably won’t care about this, but they should.

Louisville Hardcore History band story
Slamdek band story
Buy the album