Top Tracks 2011: In 80 Minutes or Less

I’ve given you 2011’s best albums. Now, behold, the year’s top tracks in 80 minutes or less, as selected by a distinguished panel of me.

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NB: For about half these artists, I would’ve chosen more than one track (esp. Fleet Foxes, Twin Sister, Dawes, Real Estate). So there are some pretty great tracks that didn’t make the cut.

"Chinatown" by Destroyer & "Stop" by Twin Sister: It’s difficult for me to separate these two out, because I love them for very similar reasons. Both feature dueling male/female vocals, romantic themes, 80’s soft-soul ambiance, and just the right touch of silliness and excess. This was the sound of 2011 in my book.  (“You can’t believe/The way the wind’s talking to the sea/I heard that someone said it before/I don’t care/I can’t walk away/I can’t walk away…”)

"Calgary" by Bon Iver: I’ve never been an admirer of Vernon’s vox, but "Calgary" comes off like the omega to Another Green World‘s alpha. It is quite possibly the most unusual song I heard last year, and also, quite possibly, the very best. Amazing video too.

"It’s Real" by Real Estate: Although I missed the wonderful nostalgic haze of Real Estate’s debut on 2011’s Days, the band’s second LP featured some flip-floppingly breezy garage-pop goodness. "It’s Real" is perhaps the best cut, a sing-along inducing nugget that makes the case for Real Estate being one of the best bands on the block.

"Bedouin Dress" by Fleet Foxes: "Innisfree" is apparently some sort of mythical paradise of Celtic lore, and after hearing Robin Pecknold’s joyful paean to the place, I’m inclined, in the words of Liz Lemon, to "want to go to there." A huge stylistic leap for an already great band, and they nail it. (“And I can’t/No I can’t get through/The borrower’s debt is the only regret of my youth…”)

"Us Against the World" by Coldplay: Chris Martin has to be one of the most under-appreciated songwriters in the world today. True, I’m sure the guy gets "appreciated" mighty well in the pounds-sterling department, but the point is the dude can write a freakin’ song. It’s that point where Martin’s voice ascends into the lyric mimetically that slays me: "If we could float away/Fly up to the surface and just start again/Lift off before trouble just erodes us in the rain…"

"Dear Avery" by The Decemberists: Ready to weep? Listen to this song, envision that bit about grabbing the child "by the knape of [the] neck", and then realize that Meloy wrote this song from the perspective of a parent sending their son off to war. Like "Tears of Rage" without the bitterness(?), this one just makes you want to sigh hallelujah. (“There are times life/Will rattle your bones and will bend your limbs/You’re still far away the boy you’ve ever been/So you bend back and shake at the frame/The frame you made/Don’t you shake alone/Please Avery, come home…”)

"Civilian" by Wye Oak: Last year I included Wye Oak’s "I Hope You Die" on my best tracks list. This year, I’ve included the driving, downtrodden rocker "Civilian", a tune that seems to owe quite a bit to Neil Young’s folk-rock period. Builds from a circular guitar figure into a storm of distorted catharsis, it’s a harrowing take on loneliness, and features great drumming. ("Perfectly able to hold my own hand/But I still can’t kiss my own neck")

"Hard Times" by Gillian Welch: It’s a simple little story of the wearing down of sincere promises, a ballad of poverty, will, and the inevitable. I wasn’t greatly impressed by Welch’s 5th released last year, but this ranks among her very best songs. Listen to those lyrics, and try not to cry. ("C’mon sweet ol’ girl/I bet the whole damn world/We’re gonna make it yet to the end of the road/Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind…”)

"Million Dollar Bill" by Dawes: It starts with that slow-tempo drumming that instantly calls to mind The Band, Big Pink-era, fronted by Richard Manuel. It would be unfair and simply stupid to draw all things Dawes back to The Band, but with "Million Dollar Bill", they offer up something that is unmistakeably a tribute to one of their biggest influences, showing that they are every bit as capable of Robertson’s brotherhood of creating "melt-your-face" Americana. ("When it hits me that she’s gone/I think I’ll run for president/And get my face put on the million dollar bill")

"Turn A Light On" by Kathryn Calder: Of all the tracks on 2011’s Bright And Vivid, "Turn A Light On" most recalls the pleasantly noisy pastoral beauty of Calder’s 2010 debut LP. It emphasizes all of the things that have quickly made her one of my favorite new artists – the airy acoustic strum, the angelic melodies, the gracefully crafted harmonies and dissonant flourishes – and fits in perfectly with the album’s overall theme. ("Throw the table/It began to waver/The wine is cloudy too/So I watch it go/You wonder if/When it’s almost gone/So what’s the use/If you missed it all/We’ll make the rounds/But what’s the use…")

"In My Eyes" by Givers: One of the band’s more "downbeat" tracks, "In My Eyes" is nevertheless still pretty bouncy and catchy and all that. But there’s more texture here, a narrative arc more dynamic than some of the band’s more prominent tunes. The breakdown at the end is one of the band’s best moments, showcasing all of their strengths. Love those voices, love that tropical post-punk sound.

"Supercollider" by Radiohead: 2011 was the full realization of Radiohead’s independent dream. They released not only their shortest album to date, but a couple of outstanding non-LP singles as well. "Supercollider" is the best of the lot, a tense builder that recalls the bleak tunefulness of In Rainbows, the icy synthscapes of Amnesiac, and the utter brilliance of Thom Yorke’s voice.

"Ring Them Bells" by Sarah Jarosz: Oh Mercy! How did this one ever get dropped from the pile o’ Dylan classics? , Thank Jarosz for digging it up. Her voice owns it, and the bluegrass accompaniment weds it with humble joy. (“Ring them bells ye heathen from the city that dreams/Ring them bells from the sanctuaries ‘cross the valleys and streams/For they’re deep and they’re wide/And the world’s on it’s side/And time is running backwards/And so is the bride…”)

"Days Like This" by Over the Rhine: The best cut on Over The Rhine’s latest wasn’t their own tune, but a composition by Kim Taylor. It’s the kind of simple song that lets the strongest of strengths shine forth for Linford and Karin…that voice, the moody instrumentation. Perfection. ("All I wanna do is live my life honestly…")

"Tree By The River" by Iron & Wine: An optimistic and warm address to Mary Ann. "All the thorns and the roses/Beneath your window panes…" A lovely peace of nostalgia.

"One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)" by Wilco: Gorgeous, epic, blissful, unsettling, final, hopeful, sad, wow. Holy blessings what an amazing song. Quite possibly the song that Wilco was destined to make. (“Outside I look lived in/Like the bones in a shrine/How am I forgiven?/Oh, I’ll give it time…”)

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Top Albums 2011: The Best

It’s been a long time coming, but hey, this is a very part time gig for me. Below are my favorite records of 2011. I think these are all pretty darn great.

        

5. Radiohead – The King of Limbs: If Radiohead is capable of making a "roots" record, then this is it. Rather than going to Nashville and getting all strummy though, Radiohead imports the outdoors mimetically. On "Bloom", the pianos unfold like flowers in a field. On "Magpie", the guitars jitter back and forth with the spasmic, angular rhythms of birds. Even "Lotus Flower", for its synthesized palette, rises pure and pristine out of the mess of the first half. All in all, The King of Limbs is meant to be heard as a whole, but there are two standalone gems here. The first, "Codex", is a mysterious masterpiece, all mood and gorgeous darkness, the washing away of all the electronic mud of the first five tracks. The second, "Give Up The Ghost", sets Yorke against singing birds, plucking out a little acoustic ditty while spectral voices beg for mercy. These are the human moments on a record otherwise given over to a strange synthesis of the electronic and the organic, where we set out in expectation of "a universal sigh." Still, one can’t forget that as a whole there is an unsettling element running through, an element reinforced all the way through the album’s final track: "If you think this is over then you’re wrong…" It’s that cover: the king of limbs bent over, coming for humanity with ghostly eyes, an apocalyptic terror anticipating a day of reckoning. TKOL is a manifesto of primal environmental vengeance. CF "God’s Grandeur"… (KEY TRACKS: "Bloom", “Lotus Flower”, "Codex", "Give Up The Ghost") (original review)

4. Kathryn Calder – Bright & Vivid: Bright & Vivid is Calder’s debut gone through the looking glass. It’s a study in contrasts through and through, from the dark album cover to the ambiguous title to the harsher musical textures featured. Thematically, where Calder dealt with the certainty of reality and personal identity on Are You My Mother?, she seems to be starting over here, searching for relevant first order questions rather than seeking answers. At one point, she questions "How many throats will be cut till I see/What is beyond the breach?" Calder’s object here, her addressee, seems disembodied, ghostly, a "silhouette" to use her own words. And her search is evident musically as well as lyrically. A typical structure on Bright & Vivid is to build from a sort of swirling ambience, to layer precisely plucked acoustic guitars on top of washes of distorted synth. Furthermore, she toys with musical distance, especially on the highlight "New Frame of Mind", giving the song three or more dimensions as it crashes forward in a final thrust – "We will run through it!" So if this record is all about a surrounding darkness, why the title Bright and Vivid? I can’t speak for Calder, but what I hear is a search for that bright and vivid thing, a place full of life and light, a presence beyond the vale of shadows and of loss. (KEY TRACKS: "Turn A Light On", "All The Things", "New Frame of Mind", "City Of Sounds") (original review)

3. Twin Sister – In Heaven: In Heaven is typical of indie pop these days: quirky and attractive female vocalist, mish-mash of a sound, ironically dance-worthy, bleepy/bloopy, and the list goes on. If it were any longer, it might be a mess. Its 10 songs though all sound like different concepts, as different as the population of a Brooklyn city block. From the spaghetti western lead guitar of "Gene Ciampi" to the pathos-laden synths of "Kimmi In A Rice Field", each tune is laced with something all its own. Lead vocalist Andrea Estella serves as the unifying force, injecting just enough sassy sweetness to put a personality on the whole thing, but the rest of the band deserves equal credit for a sort of restrained and studied hyper-creativity. The bottom line though is that, like Beach House’s masterpiece Teen Dream, this feels more like a mini-blockbuster with each additional listen. From the opening, lazy-morning vibes of "Daniel" to the far and away dream of "Eastern Green", every tune here is a nugget. I’m still puzzling over the album’s title to a degree, but the sounds are heavenly, beyond a doubt. For all of its surface silliness and bright textures, this is a deep and soulful record, a very human experience, a record that transfigures normal human emotions into something ecstatic. (KEY TRACKS: "Daniel", "Stop", "Kimmi", "Eastern Green") (original review)

2. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto: Throughout their career, Coldplay have been dogged as copycats, sentimentalists, and purveyors of the bland. "Good music," saith their detractors, "has a harder edge, deals in stronger lyrics, doesn’t ape all those classic bands." Mention Coldplay to certain folks and you can almost hear eyes grating across hard bone, fed up immediately with the fact that the band hasn’t forsaken all for black metal or atonal experimentalism or just gotten miserable like everyone else. But do you remember when you fell in love with music? When that one song grabbed your heart and took you to another world? When you seemed to see the veils of heaven pulled back, the mysteries of reality revealed to you, the hope of all the ages flashed before your eyes, and you realized that escape might just be possible? Brother, that’s the record Coldplay have made with Mylo Xyloto. On their latest, Coldplay stand guilty of making a concept record of that period in life. Inspired largely by graffiti and The White Rose Movement (inspiring), Martin and his brothers are doing what we always hoped Radiohead and U2 would do: continuing the trajectory of their career into even grander stadium-size singalongs. Mylo Xyloto is an escapist masterpiece, pure and simple. If that’s not your cup of tea, then fine. It’s just that, in all honesty my good sir, you are missing out on something wonderful. (KEY TRACKS: "Hurts Like Heaven", "Charlie Brown", "Us Against the World", "Up in Flames") (original review)

1. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong: "That special kind of sadness/That tragic set of charms" – with that bit of parallelism, Taylor Goldsmith encapsulates my love for this album. I’ve known of Dawes since their debut, a record that was a little too heavy on pathos for my taste. So what has changed? I can only speak to the evidence before me, but what I detect is a band that has broadened across multiple spectrums. Where North Hills was heavy on a pathetic sort of sadness, the sadness on Nothing Is Wrong is broader and more visceral. Truth be told, though, what really makes this album a classic is Goldsmith’s amazing way with a melody and lyrics. The playing is all good, don’t get me wrong, but Goldsmith just seems to flow through these tunes, channeling righteousness from The Band, Gram Parson, Jackson Browne, Adam Duritz, and Van Morrison into one entirely cohesive and tasty mix. Writing about it just sort of hurts, because the words can’t really capture the brilliance of the chorus on "Time Spent in Los Angeles" or the mountain-high bridge of "My Way Back Home" or the windows-down, high-plains harmonies of "Fire Away." There’s really nothing conceptually amazing about this record. It’s just a collection of perfect road tunes, a soundtrack for leaving it all behind. But isn’t that enough for greatness? (KEY TRACKS: "Time Spent in Los Angeles", "My Way Back Home", "Fire Away", "Million Dollar Bill") (original review)

====> Top Albums 2011: Honorable Mention
====> Top Albums 2010: The Best

Initial Reactions (2011): Coldplay, M83, Kathryn Calder, Surfer Blood, Josh Rouse

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto – (++): Yes, it’s poppy, but I’m hearing Stone Roses. Hipsters will sneer, but aside from CM’s frequently atrocious stabs at transcendent lyrics, can there be any doubt that "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall" recalls "Waterfall" on a few levels, or that "Hurts Like Heaven" has traces of "She Bangs the Drum" in its DNA? I really don’t like the Rihanna duet, but that might just be because I am a curmudgeon when it comes to R&B since the dawn of hip-hop (I know, I know). On the flipside, for all of their U2 jr. posturing,  they seem to be catching up with U2’s latter-day missteps a little too quickly. Let’s not forget that U2’s fifth album was The Joshua Tree, not Atomic Bomb. The band might be trying to skip a few rungs on the ladder, and they are beginning to come dangerously close to a major plummet. Still, one thing I’ve learned with Coldplay is that you should never judge their latest album too quickly. Lord have mercy, but they are perhaps the Tim Tebow of modern rock: technically and artistically messy with the uncanny ability to put stars in your eyes as they genuflect before the great unknown. ("Hurts Like Heaven", "Paradise", "Us Against the World", "Major Minus", "Up in Flames")

M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming – (++): I’m divided on this one. On one hand, I admire the scope of the album. On the other, it’s thin on truly memorable songs, and that leads me to think of that old quip about "sound and fury." The melodies are big and juicy, but they savor like Starburst rather than fruit fresh from the vine. Certainly "sounds a lot like My Bloody Valentine," yeah. So, it’s enjoyable, but that’s all I feel about it at this point. Epic though. Maybe it will grow on me? And what the heck is that mask??? Last, I wish the guy had a deeper voice. Imagine the Simple Minds dude singing on these songs, or Peter Gabriel, or hell, even the guy from Elbow. A little more gravitas. That would do the trick. ("Midnight City", "Reunion", "New Map")

Kathryn Calder – Bright and Vivid – (!!!!!): Songs, songs, songs. Kathryn Calder gets it. A lot of flash and crazy concepts will only get you so far. She’s hit back to back homeruns with her solo work now, and that is because she never strays far from the thing that makes pop music so great in the first place. That’s not to say it’s all convention and no style. The production on the opener takes the great melody to a gauzy, dreamier level, like My Bloody Valentine working with Natalie Merchant. Carl Newman, thank you for shining a spotlight on your cousin. Neko who? ("One Two Three", "Turn a Light On", "Walking in my Sleep", "All The Things", "New Frame of Mind")

Surfer Blood – Tarot Classics EP – (++): In terms of sound, it’s a good reprise of the meaty guitar pop on their debut LP. It’s enough to get me excited about a second LP. ("I’m Not Ready", "Drinking Problem")

 

Josh Rouse – Josh Rouse & the Long Vacations EP – (++): This won’t surprise anyone who has been following the music of Josh Rouse. "Long Vacations" says it all – this is music to put you on a sunny beach, and it has a care-free, well-to-do, throwback sound. Longtime fans will find plenty to enjoy. ("Diggin’ in the Sand", "Fine Fine")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

LP Review: Song In The Air by Elliott

Elliott
Song In The Air
Revelation; 2003

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "Land And Water", "Carry On", "Believe", "Drag Like Pull", "Song in the Air", "Away We Drift"

Next step: evaporate.

TRACK NOTES

"Land And Water" (4.5/5)

  • Very cool sound.
  • Still can’t understand a thing of what he’s saying. That’s his bag though.
  • Great guitar work by Benny Clark.
  • Production sounds PERFECT this time around. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

"Carry On" (4.5/5)

  • Pretty melody.
  • Again, nice guitar effects by Benny Clark.
  • Another somewhat Coldplay-ish tune.
  • Well written song. Great arc.

"Believe" (5/5)

  • Here’s an excellent example of the band just sounding more graceful than on False Cathedrals.
  • This is a gorgeous track.
  • The string work is perfect.

"Beijing (Too Many People)" (4/5)

  • You know, this reminds me of The Shipping News’ second album (Very Soon…).
  • Pleasant, but maybe a bit too long?

"Drag Like Pull" (4.5/5)

  • Excellent instrumental.
  • Tight as a snare drum.
  • Bet this one was awesome live.

"Bleed In Breathe Out" (4/5)

  • A bit faceless (?).
  • Still, I like it.
  • Especially dig the part towards the end where Ratterman starts in with a more martial pattern.

"Song In The Air" (4.5/5)

  • Strings, piano, and Higdon’s voice. Just great.
  • A perfect interlude. This really grounds the album. Makes it feel complete.

"Away We Drift" (5/5)

  • Another excellent rocker. This is the band firing on all cylinders.

"Blue Storm" (3.5/5)

  • Not much here. It strikes of filler.

"Genea" (4/5)

  • If that’s not Eno-esque, I don’t know what is.
  • Very cool.

ALBUM NOTES

  • False Cathedrals gets the props, but for my money, Song In The Air is superior. The album nails it in terms of cohesion and concept.
  • Eno might call this “Music for Airlines.”
  • It’s a shame the band decided to call it quits after this, as it is their strongest effort artistically (though I’ll always have a big place in my heart for US Songs). In all reality though, I don’t know what they would have done after this. Get MORE atmospheric perhaps?
  • Few bands have so dramatically transformed in the space of five years. Remember when these guys were writing power pop?

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Songs (4.35/5)

LP Review: False Cathedrals by Elliott

Elliott
False Cathedrals
Revelation; 2000

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "Calm Americans", "Blessed By Your Own Ghost", "Drive On To Me", "Shallow Like Your Breath", "Superstitions In Travel", "Speed of Film"

In transit-ion.

TRACK NOTES

"Voices"/"Calm Americans" (5/5)

  • Spectacular.
  • Coldplay-ish piano line, but I think they beat Chris Martin and his merry band of hobbits to the punch.
  • Hyper-emo, but in a good way.
  • A technical note: these tracks should be sequenced into 1. It sounds really awkward when you stream it.
  • Lastly: I’m actually not that crazy about this track, a little too melancholy for me, but it’s pretty great in all reality.

"Blessed By Your Own Ghost" (5/5)

  • Pretty.
  • Sorta dreamy.
  • Kinda sounds like "Silent Lucidity", right!?!? "We’ll protect you in the night…"

"Drive On To Me" (4.5/5)

  • Poppy.
  • Is it just me, or does Higdon’s second vocal track sound like Sheryl Crow?
  • Nice tune. Just not sure what "drive on to me" means.

"Calvary Song" (4/5)

  • Here’s one where it would have been good to actually understand Higdon’s vocals.
  • Man, that bass is just right up there in your face.
  • There’s something unique about this cut, but it’s not quite there, you know?

"Lipstick Stigmata" (4/5)

  • I’m not crazy about the recording here, but I’ll bet this one is pretty powerful live.
  • The end of this one almost sounds like late period Endpoint.
  • Not as melancholy as some of the earlier cuts, a bit more like their US Songs tracks.

"Dying Midwestern" (4/5)

  • Nice use of dissonance.
  • There’s those synth effects again.
  • Good grief, just wanna understand the lyrics!!!

"Shallow Like Your Breath" (4.5/5)

  • This one is gorgeous.
  • Nice build to nothing in the middle.
  • Reminds me a bit of "Second Story Skyscraper" in terms of the dramatic arc.

"Superstitions in Travel" (4/5)

  • This is a track that probably could have been a radio hit with production that let it breathe a little more.
  • Dig the use of the acoustic guitar at the beginning, along with the naked drums.
  • Vocals…intelligible…blah blah blah…

"Carving Oswego" (4/5)

  • This one has kind of an 80’s sound. Almost like Heart.
  • I would have loved to get an updated cut of this on Photorecording.

"Lie Close" (3.5/5)

  • This reminds me of early Boy Sets Fire.
  • Yeesh – not too crazy about this one.
  • That last part – "you and I were meant for each other" – that’s kind of cheezy.

"Speed of Film" (4.5/5)

  • This one settles into a nice groove.
  • Also a track that, with a little more time and attention, might have made a bit more of an impact.
  • This one has a very nice melody.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Here’s the deal – some people swear by this album, but for me the production sucks the life out of it. Thankfully, they captured their sound better on Song In The Air and even got superior versions of some of these songs on Photorecording.
  • As problematic as the production is, I have to say that at least these songs can’t really be pigeon-holed into the late-90’s/early-2000’s emo scene. There’s something of the Chicago sound in these tunes, a little bit of Slint-itude if you will.
  • I can remember when this came out, Buddyhead posted perhaps the most hilarious short review of an album in the age of the internet: "This sounds like Bryan Adams." On that note, I bet Elliott would have done a killer cover of "Everything I Do" (which will eternally be a great song due to its cinematic affiliations in the same way as Peter Cetera’s "The Glory of Love"). But I digress…
  • I wonder if this is the first album review that has ever mentioned Slint, Sheryl Crow, and Peter Cetera in reference to the same album?

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.3/5)

Quick Review (LP): Bon Iver by Bon Iver

Bon Iver
Bon Iver
Jagjaguwar; 2011

My Ratings: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: "Perth", "Holocene", "Michicant", "Calgary",
"Beth/Rest"

Another Winter World.

TRACK NOTES

  • "Perth"
        • A strange hybrid of metal and soft rock.
    • Definitely something brilliant here.
    • Those drums are pretty great.
  • "Minnesota, WI"
    • Is that a banjo or a guitar?
    • Love the layers of instruments and voices.
    • His voice is really just another instrument, isn’t it?
  • "Holocene"
    • Gorgeous arpeggio.
    • "I could see for miles, miles, miles"
    • This one’s a big winner. Just really lovely.
  • "Towers"
    • I like the fact that he didn’t throw as much into this one.
    • Thank God those locomotive drums kick in, because I was going to have to do it if he didn’t.
  • "Michicant"
    • Waltzy.
    • Dreamy.
    • Hyper-nostalgic.
  • "Hinnom, TX"
    • This one’s sort of goofy.
  • "Wash."
    • Kind of reminds me of Rachel’s later work.
    • Hypnotic.
    • Excellent piano work.
    • Bears the nostalgic mark as well.
  • "Calgary"
    • The video is amazing.
    • I’m a sucker for those warm, mournful synths, so I love this track by default.
  • "Lisbon, OH"
    • Transitional. Not much to say about it.
  • "Beth/Rest"
    • Wow.
    • It’s ridiculous to me that in 2011, there are people arguing that the instrumentation is controversial because it is cheesy. That’s because it’s so wonderful.
    • This sounds like the soundtrack to Christopher Cross’ dreams.
    • This is hands down one of the best tracks of the year.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Impressionistic.
  • BTW, it should be against the law for bands to release self-titled albums, unless it is the debut. I think it’s such a cop out. Points docked on concept.
  • Surprised he released this in the summer. Would have made more sense as an early fall.
  • This reminds me of the Strands of Oaks’ Pope Kildragon, except all dolled up with special effects and such.
  • Reminds me of the Destroyer album that came out earlier this year as well.
  • He’s all about evoking a sense of location and space, eh? These songs are very personal in the sense that he is giving voice to specific locations.
  • Places and times, some fictional some real, some non-descript and other very specific, some ancient, some yesterday.
  • There’s a lot going on here. I’ve barely scratched the surface lyrically. I’d love to dive into this one a little more at some point.
  • Want to know what this sounds like? Imagine Brian Eno producing a Coldplay album. Oh, wait…
  • Except it’s like Eno’s Another Green World with Chris Martin singing in falsetto, and his Hobbit brothers nowhere to be found. Seriously, isn’t it funny how Chris’ bandmates all have Hobbit names?
  • Great cover art. Sort of naturalist and surrealist all at once.

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

Suspending Judgment: Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”

I’m not quite sure what to make of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I, like most everyone else, came to love the band for their incredible 2004 debut Funeral, and I stuck with Neon Bible long enough to realize that it’s actually a pretty decent album. But The Suburbs hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve heard it compared to London Calling in scope, but I’m not convinced.

I guess the most frustrating thing for me is that I feel like the band is stagnating in both sound and vision. While The Suburbs most definitely has some killer songs, I guess I was hoping for something more revolutionary and ambitious, something that would threaten to both alienate old fans and gain legions of new ones, a record we could really divide into camps over. Instead of going all Radiohead on us with a Kid A (and setting the tone for the decade to come), the band has delivered what, in my mind, is their X&Y. And by the way, I like Coldplay.

Anyway, here’s what I do like:

  • “The Suburbs” – Great lyrics – “I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before all this damage is done.”
  • “City With No Children In It” – Nifty sound. This is probably the most unique sounding track on the record, easily my favorite.
  • “Suburban War” – I love the stark, almost apocalyptic sound of this track. Very nice McGuinn-style guitar playing here.
  • “Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains)” – Makes a strong case that what this band needs more of is Regine on lead vocals. I thought the same thing when I heard Neon Bible‘s “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations.”

All in all, The Suburbs is a good, maybe even great third effort from The Arcade Fire. I just wish it was something I was breaking down doors to tell the uninitiated about.

Tracks of the Decade (so far)

1563_Pieter_Bruegel_the_elder_The_Tower_of_Babel-wl400There’s still more to come, but here’s a list of the Sweet Georgia Breezes’ Tracks of the Decade so far (in no particular order). What do you think of the list? What are your top 5 or 10 tracks of the decade?

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Wilco – I am trying to break your heart
The New Pornographers  – Myriad Harbour
M. Ward – Poison Cup
Kathleen Edwards – In State
Vampire Weekend – M79
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around
Built to Spill – The Weather
Neko Case – Star Witness
Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
Interpol – NYC
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Coldplay – Lost!
Ryan Adams – To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Fugazi – Cashout
Flaming Lips – Fight Test
Nathan – The Wind
Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place
Rachel’s – Water from the Same Source
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Bruce Springsteen – My City of Ruins
The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

Tracks of the Decade: “Lost!” by Coldplay

“Lost!”
by Coldplay
from VIVA LA VIDA OR DEATH AND ALL HIS FRIENDS (2008)
Coldplay shot to international super-stardom like no other band this decade, simultaneously wooing legions of adoring fans and generating scores of vitriolic detractors with the memorable and tuneful songs of Chris Martin. Most have cited the omnipresent “Clocks” as Coldplay’s contribution to the decade’s musical canon in a sort of cynical one-off (“Oh yeah, there’s Coldplay too”), grudgingly acknowledging its brilliance because even the losers get lucky sometimes. Me? I’ll go with “Lost!” The breathtaking spiritual center of the band’s masterwork VIVA LA VIDA, Martin scored an iconic hit with the track in the vein of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” U2-esque histrionics may abound in Coldplay’s catalog, but Martin’s pathos ring true in this case. The song can be construed at once as pleading denial, optimistic cry in the dark, or prophetic warning. For its universal grandeur, the lyrics are simply brilliant. Lines like “Just because I’m losing/Doesn’t mean that I’m lost” are simply spine-tingling, yet the one that sticks with you is the off-handed denouement “I’m just waiting til the shine wears off.” Conceptually, “Lost!” wins out over Arcade Fire’s “Intervention” for the use of church organ here, succeeding on the souls lifting to heaven front where “Intervention” succumbed to mockery. One of the most beautiful pop songs ever written, “Lost!” proves with finality that Chris Martin is a songwriting and conceptual force.

lost“Lost!”
by Coldplay
from VIVA LA VIDA OR DEATH AND ALL HIS FRIENDS (2008)

Coldplay shot to international super-stardom like no other band this decade, simultaneously wooing legions of adoring fans and generating scores of vitriolic detractors with the memorable and tuneful songs of Chris Martin. Most have cited the omnipresent “Clocks” as Coldplay’s contribution to the decade’s musical canon in a sort of cynical one-off (“Oh yeah, there’s Coldplay too”), grudgingly acknowledging its brilliance because even the losers get lucky sometimes. Me? I’ll go with “Lost!” The breathtaking spiritual center of the band’s masterwork VIVA LA VIDA, Martin scored an iconic hit with the track in the vein of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” U2-esque histrionics may abound in Coldplay’s catalog, but Martin’s pathos ring true in this case. The song can be construed at once as pleading denial, optimistic cry in the dark, or prophetic warning. For its universal grandeur, the lyrics are simply brilliant. Lines like “Just because I’m losing/Doesn’t mean that I’m lost” are simply spine-tingling, yet the one that sticks with you is the off-handed denouement “I’m just waiting til the shine wears off.” Conceptually, “Lost!” wins out over Arcade Fire’s “Intervention” for the use of church organ here, succeeding on the souls lifting to heaven front where “Intervention” succumbed to mockery. One of the most beautiful pop songs ever written, “Lost!” proves with finality that Chris Martin is a songwriting and conceptual force.