Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 30 Tracks of 2009

Last year I did top 30 tracks but I feel that I have not listened to as much music in 2009 as I did in 2008. Anyway, here are 25 great tracks from the year 2009 and a short description of each. Enjoy!

30. Matt Berry - "Take My Hand" - Funny that a song from one of Britain's finest comedic minds would land on a best tracks of 2009 list, but Matt Berry with his unique voice and knack for writing would be massive hits in another decade still succeeded with his record Witchazel. "Take My Hand" is a dreamy ode to 60's San Francisco pop that is undeniably catchy and melodically soothing.

29. Air - "You Can Tell It To Everybody" - Air's Love 2 may not have been the most memorable album of the year, but it is chock full of excellent tracks, especailly this one. Starting off like a fairy fountain in a Zelda game and slowly woozing in and out with loads of other sounds organic and synthetic, it's a perfect track for spacing out.

28. Fever Ray - "If I Had A Heart" - The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson produced a solo record that is brooding and sonically different then most anything else I've heard this year. The first single "If I Had A Heart" is indescribable but it's power is something all together intense and riveting over it's long, droning sound scape.

27. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - "Take Me With U" - Covers are rarely good enough to include on a list of favorite songs of the year, but when Spin Magazine gave a free Purple Rain tribute album out this year, I was delightuflly surprised with some of the tracks, mainly Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings 60's funk groove version of Prince's "Take Me With U." James Brown would be proud with just how groovy this track is. Loads of horns and enough soul care of Jones' fantastic voice. No MP3 here, but definitely look into it.

26. Julian Casablancas - "11th Dimension" - Julian Casablancas' first solo effort is a doozy of a record. The second half ventures into some uncharted territory and some riskier sounds, but what shines are the pop elements of the first half of the short record. "11th Dimension" is an anthem for 2009 with it's pepped up hooks and synth riffs. It's a dance track and a strange, introspective look into the singer's darker side. Catchy and comedic at times, it's a wonderful track.

25. Animal Collective - "Bluish" - Animal Collective at first was a strange release for the year to me. Loads of hype and when I listened to it at first, it caught me off gaurd. It wasn't until I got to "Bluish" that the album solidified for me. It's easily the most straightforward song with the most crossover appeal. A cute infatuation song that has plenty of catchy sounds and the same effervescent throb that the rest of the album has, just in a better hook. A beautiful track and one that I will associate with a time and place more so than any other.

24. The Flaming Lips - "See The Leaves" - Another difficult album from this year, The Flaming Lips Embryonic is a tough sell outside of the album experience. It is Floydian in that way as listening to single tracks is sometimes difficult. However, much like Pink Floyd, "See The Leaves" is a dynamic and acidic mantra of a track. Existential lyrics, throbbing and ear shattering rhythm sections make way for a organ infused outro that belongs on A Saucerful of Secrets. It's a trip and a half but one of the best take away tracks from the record.

23. Monsters of Folk - "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)" - Furthest from folk, "Dear God" is a well produced bedtime prayer and a brilliant album opener from the self titled super group record. Each singer takes a turn at existential questions to God while harps and arrpegioed guitars swirl around a sampled beat. It's beautiful and one of the best crafted tracks of the year.

22. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - "The Road" - From the titular film adaptation of the amazing novel, Cave & Ellis hit another soundtrack homerun with their score for The Road. Filled with beautifully stirring strings helmed by Ellis' beautiful violin work as well as a repeating and woeful piano line, "The Road" is a sitrring musical image as poetic as the verse the film is based on.

21. Antony & The Johnsons - "One Dove" - Antony Hagerty has a voice that is operatic and melancholy. On "One Dave", we get easily one of the best songs about longing and hoping, filled with beautiful imagery and some of the best piano work Antony has brought to his recordings.

20. The Raveonettes - "Gone Forever" - The Raveonettes have a knack for the sounds of the 50's via the sounds of the 80's. In what could easily have been a Ronnettes track by way of Jesus and Mary Chain, "Gone Forever" is a break-up song, even if sometimes a break-up is a hard decision. The guitars rock with less distortion then last years Lust Lust Lust but this record is more about the interplay between Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner.

19. Dinosaur Jr. - "Pieces" - Although Farm lacked the long playability that Beyond had, Dinosaur Jr. still had an incredible year and an album chock full of classic riffs and intense rocking. Album opener "Pieces" reminds me of the little brother of the epic "Pick Me Up." J Mascis still croons through a veil of unease and his guitar work is backed up with a phenomenal rhythm section.

18. Phoenix - "Lisztomania" - Phoenix's most dancey number from the excellent Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, "Lisztomania" is a fantastic pop record and one that will stick with you. The precision of the music makes the line between guitar and synthesizer very thin. Try to not bob your head, tap your feet or get up on your desk and kick off all the papers onto the ground when this track comes on.

17. Islands - "On Foreigner" - Islands have been a delightful band taking a page out of their former groups page and creating three different but solid pop albums in the latter half of the Aughts. From Vapours, "On Foreigner" is a dreamy track filled with swirling synthesizers, I fell in love with the track driving through a snow storm. It added a sense of wonderment to the environment around me and is a great soundtrack for any relaxation.

16. Grizzly Bear (feat. Michael McDonald) - While You Wait For the Others - Funny that I should include this version as opposed to the album cut, but what Michael McDonald brings to Grizzly Bear's art pop makes it all the more wonderful. A year of Yacht Rocking led to many more people discovering that when Michael McDonald doesn't butcher Motown favorites, he actually can do some great work. The song is a delightful chamber pop ballad with loads of crooning care of the smoothest Doobie.

15. M. Ward - Epistemology - M. Ward has been one of my favorite songwriters this past year. After getting down with She & Him and Monsters of Folk, I decided to check his solo stuff and his album Hold Time is chock full of great tracks. "Epistemology" hits home on many levels, lyrically and musically it's next to perfect and hits every dynamic I love in an introspective singer/songwriter track. Catchy and with loads of heart, it's a song that I will hold near and dear to my heart.

14. Mastodon - "Divinations" - Mastodon created something special with Crack the Skye. A bridge between their thrash metal and psych prog and a topic so convoluted that it works that a magic metal record came to fruition. It also has one of the fastest, most bad ass tracks in the bands catalog in "Divinations." With a surf guitar breakdown and loads of thrashing and heavy hooks that sink in deep, it's the kind of metal song that needs to be a huge hit.

13. Wilco - "Bull Black Nova" - Wilco (The Album) was nothing short of disappointing overall, but my word if there weren't a few moments. Wilco's own "Riders On the Storm" of sorts, "Bull Black Nova" is an acid washed static track about a serial killer and his titular car. It's a road song filled with loads of dread, which came as a dark surprise on the otherwise fairly bright and cheery record. It's this dark, droning stomp that stood out best among the other tracks.

12. Animal Collective - "My Girls" - It's hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of song "My Girls" actually is. It starts off as a arrpegied synth wave of otherworldly sounds, then adds harmonized vocals then kicks into a full on tribal dance sound. It's one of the most unique and dynamic songs I've ever heard and is definitely Animal Collective doing the best of their art pop. It's breathtaking.

11. Them Crooked Vultures - "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I" - Cryptic teasers and Google Earth shots were all we knew of Them Crooked Vultures just a few months ago, but now that their rollicking debut is out, it's no denying that a musical giant was created. On the albums opener, we get a bluesy first half that is shortly followed by a heavy and pummeling rock riff in it's second half. John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl churn out the sexy rhythm section while Josh Homme croons the lyrics and shreds the guitar. It's a perfect driving song.

10. Graham Coxon - "Tripping Over" - Graham Coxon's The Spinning Top may have some uneven moments, but in it's final third, it's heartbreakingly beautiful. With help from the track "Tripping Over", we get an elegiac track about the end of things. Filled with fluttering guitars and melancholy lyrics, it's one of the most beautiful tracks you'll hear from 2009.

9. Dirty Projectors - "Stillness is the Move" - Avante garde music is sometimes a bit to swallow, but Dirty Projectors track "Stillness is the Move" is noting short of one of the most infectious songs I've heard. The vocals are simmering with beauty and the intensely driving guitars that help the backbone of this song creates a lush pop track that is all at once engaging and difficult yet extremely catchy and relatable.

8. Pink Mountaintops - "Vampire" - There were a lot of excellent tunes on Pink Mountaintops Outside Love, but none so great as the love song "Vampire." Although I am no Twilight fan, this song would work perfectly for that romantic, vampire love. It's an psych pop sing-a-long filled with lyrics of longing and of acceptance. When the vocal chorus comes in at the end, my heart strings melt.

7. Phoenix - "Love Like a Sunset (Part 1 & 2)" - If Phoenix's album is chock full of catchy, radio ready hits, then why is the best song a two part trip into a strangely different sound then what the rest of the record offers? It's in "Love Like a Sunset" that we get the albums most intense musical diversion. Part 1 is a trippy, electro ballad that turns into the lush and shorter part 2 filled with tasty acoustic guitars and the lyrical end. It may be cheating having both parts together, but one without the other even if they are seperate tracks is not recommended.

6. Monsters of Folk - "Whole Lotta Losin'" - A groovy ode to the likes of Roy Orbison or Jerry Lee Lewis, the best Monsters of Folk track is a piano boogie that was made with "The Twist" in mind. Whether M. Ward took full credit for this track or he just excels over the other three members of the group is all speculation on my part, but M. Ward's soothing vocals takes full credit for the hook here. It's one of the danceist tracks of the year and takes all it's credit from the golden age of rock n roll.

5. Antony & The Johnsons - "The Crying Light" - Antony Hagerty crafted one of the best albums this year and the titular track is easily the most beautiful. It has some of the most romantically poetic lyrics he's written and has the slow build into a beautiful ending that takes the album to it's pinnacle in heartbreak.

4. Yo La Tengo - "Here to Fall" - Yo La Tengo excelled on Popular Songs whenever the topic was love. The love songs here are all gorgeous and in this one, even the dark times seem lovely. Sometimes things go wrong, but accepting the good with the bad is what a true relationship takes and "Here To Fall" is about being that crutch. It's a beautiful track and one of the most unique Yo La Tengo songs.

3. Julian Casablancas - "Left & Right in the Dark" - Julian Casablancas gets really introspective on Phrazes For the Young which is surprising as he was once a famous boozehound. His boozey voice still prevails on "Left & Right in the Dark" but it's the lyrical content and the catchiness of the hook that really sells it.

2. Franz Ferdinand - "Ulysses" - Surprisingly getting a #2 spot, Franz Ferdinand may have had a so-so record, but "Ulysses" is one of their finest songs, almost as good as "Do You Want To" and "Take Me Out." Something about Franz Ferdinand and their way to write a great single. A song about an overnight bender with plenty of sexy vocals care of Alex Kapranos and a guitar riff that savagely cuts into you, it's a track about partying for the sake of partying. It also has my favorite video of the year with it's Mean Streets vibe.

1. Mastodon - "The Last Baron" - A 13-minute prog epic isn't always likely to win the top spot, but 13 minutes seems too short for "The Last Baron." The finale of Crack the Skye is constantly changing and shifting track that goes through movements so fast it's hard to keep up. It's the perfect ending to one of the craziest concept albums ever. It has so many riffs it's hard to keep track of. That's whats good about it. Even at a long 13 minutes, you can't stop going back to it and picking apart all the layers. It's turly a masterpiece.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2009

10. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca It's an interesting turn of events that an album that was first hard for me to get into at all would land on a top ten list for this year in review of albums. However, Bitte Orca, as intense as it may be at times, is a fitfully beautiful record. The music is insanely orchestrated as well are the vocal arrangements. The flurry of female harmonies behind Dave Longstreth's trembling voice add an element of wonder and awe to the record. Album opener "Cannibal Resource" starts of as a standard pop track but quickly veers somewhere else into the world of avante garde. The whole album kind of reels you in back and forth in between traditional pop sounds and arrangements and then swirls in with interestingly structured vocals and off tempo drums or intricate guitars. A nice break from these intense tracks comes in the form of "Two Doves", a beautiful little song stripped down compared to the layers you will see on all other tracks. The closer, "Fluorescent Half Dome" is easily one of the strangest and most beguiling tracks of the year.

9. Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love - There is something to be said about the Canadian rock scene. It's been a refreshing escape at times from the artier stuff that prevails from places like Portland and NYC (and that isn't meant to sound like a cut.) Like it's doppelganger Black Mountain, Pink Mountaintops takes on a poppier element to the psych rock vibe. Mixing in "Wall of Sound" style reverb on tracks like "Axis: Thrones of Love" and with just as many voices layered like the Dirty Projectors record, the band creates a lush sound filled with sound. No empty spaces can be heard. Wether the droning guitars and fuzzed bass or the choir of vocals, there is no room for silence. Even on quieter tracks like "While You Were Dreaming" there is still a hum somewhere in the background to give the music depth of feel. Both Amber Webber and Stephen McBean take helm of the vocal work. Overall, Pink Mountaintops have found there sound after two experimental works. Outside Love is beautiful and shimmering with it's honest faithfullness to the rock of old.

8. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs - As Yo La Tengo albums go, Popular Songs has a distinctly nostalgic vibe to it. As I had said in an earlier post, this is the bands ode to pop music with a dash of their own sensibilities. From track one through nine, we get conventional pop songs. This doesn't take away from it as Yo La Tengo has reveled in 60's garage and psych pop for ages with their own unique twist (see "By Two's".) So a solid disc of 9 great pop songs and three experimental tracks (a droning raga of sorts in "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven", the ambient acoustic crackle of "The Fireside" and the noise guitar epic "And the Glitter is Gone.") These are fun diversions from the record but the best moments lie in the sunny side of tracks like the syrupy sweet love song "I'm On My Way" or the psychedelic ballad "Here To Fall." It's a solid outing that works best as a collection of what Tengo has done best over the past two decades.

7. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion - The more I go back to listening to this record the more I get it. At first I was just like "what?" But it captivated me enough to keep coming back. And the more and more I spun it, Merriweather Post Pavilion is truly a fantastic disc to listen to. I may be a flip-flopper to some going from not enjoying it to loving it but sometimes music has to grow on you. Where I was first truly captivated by this record was the song "Bluish." It's a cutesy song lyrically and musically it is a bubbly trip through a neon landscape. Something about this album is constantly percolating and warming. "Summertime Clothes" is a futuristic beach blanket jam and "My Girls" is a hypnotic travel through a grown up landscape filled with foreign and tribal sounds as well as an echoey Brian Wilson choir. The churning sway of Merriweather Post Pavilion may be the ingredient Animal Collective needed to get their strange avante pop music. They definitely caught my attention and now my admiration.

6. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic - Strange enough that this album also garnered the same reaction that Merriweather Post Pavilion did. The Flaming Lips last two efforts are glossy, well produced pysch rock with a sweet edge to them. Yoshimi will forever stand as one of the best albums I've ever heard so when I first put Embryonic on, it's abrasive Brillo pad edge threw me for a loop. Once I got over that I found the ridiculously great nature of this record. "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine" may be an update of "One More Robot/ Sympathy 3000-21" but that is not to say it isn't something new as well. The hypnotic blips and bloops, the intensely fuzzed bass and drums constantly battling your ears and Wayne Coyne's signature existential lyrics in a haze of echo, this is the perfect space traveling acid rock track. "See The Leaves" starts as a similarly droning rocker and slips into a full on tribute to Saucerful of Secrets era Floyd. Something is much more dire and serious about this music and for that reason it makes it one of The Flaming Lips finest records. It may be a long daunting listen, but this double album has less lag moments then At War With the Mystics which I also love. That being said, Embryonic isn't as immediately catchy as other Flaming Lips records, but the process of it taking over your listening docket is inevitable. It's just a more harrowing experience and one that is likely to accompany many an acid trip for fans in the future.

5. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young - In a surprising twist, The Strokes main man's first solo output, well belated after other members of the band tried their best at solo outings, comes a a sweet victory. As far as The Strokes go, it seemed as if they were unable to change or do something different with their sound on the last album. It turned out to just be a parody of their first two solid records. Thankfully Julian Casablancas finally dropped Phrazes for the Young and it is a refreshing piece of pop music mastery. Rather then the gritty CBGB influenced Is This It, Casablancas brings in synths and drum machines giving his solo stuff a different sound. Even if the first three tracks sound like Strokes songs, they sound like they were processed through a different lens giving the record a refreshing sound. Whether it be the extremely poppy "11th Dimension" or the brooding organ opening into guitar splashes on "4 Chords of the Apocalypse," we are treated to the same boozey goodness that Casablancas is known for. The stellar and introspective track "Left & Right In the Dark" is a fantastic song, if not one of the best tracks you will hear from 2009. It may be a paltry 8 tracks, but Phrazes For The Young never seems to lull and sometimes brevity is the way to go on an album.

4. Monsters of Folk - After a lot of debate, the triumphant super group from 2009 is the 4 headed beast of Monsters of Folk. Hardly a folk album, this collection of deliscious tracks takes the best of what M. Ward, Jim James, Connor Oberst and Mike Mogis can do in the studio. Songs like "Losing Yo Head" and "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F)" could easily be heard as a My Morning Jacket track. "Sandman, Brakeman and Me" and "Slow Down Jo" is fresh off of an M. Ward disc and "Man Named Truth" drips of Bright Eyes. Although this sounds like it's a fruitless collaboration and more just a smattering of what each of these guys do on their own, there is a sense of magic and charm on the disc. The three voices come together and the insanely talented Mogis' production and guitar work make it something slightly different. Track highlights abound making Monsters of Folk easily one of the most fun listens of the year. Dare to not twist to "Whole Lotta Losin'" and try not to whistle along with Mogis' slide guitar on "The Right Place." It's infectiously good rock and roll that deserves it's constant rotation on your record player.

3. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - It's hard for me to detach the next three records as not deserving the top spot, but in any list there has to be some semblance of order. Phoenix, a band whose been at it for almost ten years, has finally been given their due time in the sun. From first listen of this record to now, there was no doubt it was the kind of album that would capture the hearts of many. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix may not be baroque like the titular composer, but it's beautiful music nonetheless. What Phoenix accomplishes with their instruments is fantastic. Try to discern the difference from a swirling synth line or just a completely effects driven guitar. It's not easy to do. "Listzomania" and "1901" are two fantastic pop songs that will probably be on rotation for some while. The trippy and utterly breathtaking "Love Like a Sunset (Parts 1 & 2)" are the pinnacle of experimentation with pop music. The first half being reminiscent of M83 and the second half being a short little appendage that ads an element of euphoria to the trip before makes it a stellar 1-2 Punch. "Rome" and "Girlfriend" will also find themselves lodged into the part of your brain that will never forget. A fantastic album that deserves listening on a summers day or in the dead cold of winter to warm your bones and put a smile on your face, Phoenix deserve much praise for the delightful album they've unleashed this year.

2. Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light - Antony and the Johnsons have easily made one of the most beautiful albums this year. The Crying Light is easily the best work Antony Hagerty has done on his own. It's a beautifully heartbreaking record to listen to. Themes of death, fragility of humanity and bodily deterrence is just fantastic. The lovely opener "Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground" sends chills down my spine with each listen. "Epilepsy is Dancing" shows the both sides of the beauty of humanity, all at once fragile and beautiful. "Another World" laments the loss of reality and pining for a better place. "The Crying Light" oozes with beauty and heartbreak. All throughout, Antony Heagerty's trembling voice seems like it's about to fall apart at the seams at any time yet it stays strong from start to finish. Antony and the Johnsons have explored themes of loss and love and romantic visions of a better place before but never so heart shattering. When "Everglade" hits at the end of the album, we get one last feeling of an atrophied body but a beautiful spirit that remains. It's utterly gorgeous. I haven't even mentioned how beautifully orchestrated this record is with it's sweeping strings, heartfelt woodwinds and gentle piano. The Crying Light is a treasure.

1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye - It should come as no surprise since I basically showed my hand with this record getting high marks on the Decade in Review section of this blog. And after reviewing this record several times, Crack the Skye is still the best thing I've heard all year, even if the margin between the lat two records is small. Mastodon went from a straight up hardcore thrash metal band on Remission and the brilliant Leviathan, moved to a more experimental bridge between both thrash metal and prog on Blood Mountain and created one of the best, no matter how convoluted, concept albums yet here on Ctrack the Skye. Hell, the band even managed to make a metal track bittersweet as the album is highly influenced by Brann Dailor's loss of a sister (named Skye) to the tragedy of suicide. Beyond those crazy plot lines of golden umbillical chords and Rasputin, the music explodes with precision on fury. Many fans were turned off by the different direction, but I applaud the band for doing something different. All to often in the realm of Metal music, bands get stuck in their ways or just play the same shit over and over. When you hear the surf rock soloing on "Divinations" or have your mind exploded through each movement of "The Last Baron," Crack the Skye is an intense sonic journey. "Ghost of Karelia" is reminiscent of Tool while the titular track thrashes with the best in the Mastodon catalog. It's an undeniable masterpiece and an album that has a power and might all its own.

This was an interesting year. Usual stand-by favorites either lacked the ability to spark my listening (Wilco, Franz Ferdinand) or just barely missed this list (The Raveonettes, Dinosaur Jr., Air, Islands are all runners up.) Regardless, it seemd like a year of artists or bands that at first seemed unlikeable or just too strange slowly grew on me. Regardless, 2009 was a tasty year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Post Apocalyptic Parable

When I first read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the two words that best described my experience was both harrowing and hopeful. It's a tough job to do when the story is about society completely being shut down and it seems that there is no hope for humanity. When I heard there was a film version in the works, I immediately wondered how the sparse novel with intense imagery and a very thin story arc would transfer to film. After much reading and over a year and a half of waiting, John Hillcoat's adaptation of The Road is a fantastic adaptation; one filled with dedication to the novel's heart and it's extreme attention to detail. After delay's in production, we finally get a chance to see the story come to life. The two most important parts of this film is the portrayal of a landscape scorched by unknown forces and to get across the relationship between father and son. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe capture the essence of the scorched Earth that is so integral to the story. Only for a few minutes do we get a glimpse of the world we once knew filled with greenery, flowers and animals, but those flashbacks are fleeting and the gray and brown world filled with haggard faces and even worse environmental damage prevails. The dreariness is tiring putting the viewer in the shoes of the man and his son. It's a difficult film to watch but it all lends itself to the deeper meaning

The visuals are extremely important to this film, but the real heart and the story revolves around the relationship of father and son. Viggo Mortensen in easily the role of his career plays the Man who is guiding his son, newcomer Codi Smitt McPhee, to find a safer and happier tomorrow. Day after day the scavenge for whatever possible food might be lying in abandoned homes and farms. These possible places for food are also possible traps and many times the two will find more than what they asked for. Mortensen plays his father figure with a very stoic yet heartfelt demeanor. When it comes down to survival or even possibly having to take his and his son's life, you see every ounce of his being on his face. His bedraggled hair, emaciated body and constant hacking cough are the physical attributes that he brings to the character but it's in the crackle in his voice and the drive to succeed in his eyes that makes the performance have some more depth. McPhee also tends to steal the show at times. His naive nature and innocence brings the ray of light to an otherwise bleak story. Having only known a world of chaos and destruction, his knowledge of the world is narrow and shows even more so in scenes where artifacts from a long ago lost time come creeping up and then disappearing. A can of soda is a hoyl grail in his eyes, even if he will only have just one Coke for his whole life. The acting goes further in two extremely intense and eye popping cameos. Robert Duvall may have earned himself an Oscar as the Old Man wandering the road. His few minutes on the screen are filled with brilliant observations of society and life and yet we can barely tell udner the glassy blinded eyes and completely worn face that it's even Duvall. The other best cameo is delivered by Michael K. Williams from The Wire. As the theif, we see one of the most intense moments in the film. Not in action but in reaction to what has happened. It's a beautiful site to see the small child sympathize with even a common criminal, but in desperate times you can't be sure what is right and wrong. It's an incredible lesson and one of the best scenes in the film.

The Road doesn't follow traditional story arcs and doesn't have a clear set plotline. The conflict arises in each characters destiny and decisions in a world completely in ruins. The conflict is situational and the end result much more realistic then anything Hollywood can conjoure up. And thankfully from transfer to page to film was smooth with very little liberties taken minus a few that enhanced the emotional attachment of the characters. John Hillcoat is far and away one of the best directors to watch in the future. With just The Proposition and The Road in his catalog, he has done nothing short of brilliant work.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I love making mixes. Of an kind. Whether it's just for someones birthday or it's a heady complex alternate universe where Y2K has destroyed the world. I enjoy the process and the end result as well as input from others. Recently a few of my friends, all bored and complacent at our respective jobs, have started a Fantasy Mix Making draft. We will pick a topic and then draft artists/songs and develop a mix based around those parameters. I have been pleased with all my entries so far and thought I'd share them with you along with my mission statements of each. The most recent mix won't have any description as voting is still in play and I do not want to sway the opinion of my mix to those involved in case they read this. Here goes the past three mixes.

Draft: British Invasion (only bands hailing from the British Isles were allowed)

The Xenophobic Limey

1. Depeche Mode - The World in My Eyes
2. David Bowie - I'm Afraid of Americans
3. The Prodigy - Firestarter
4. Brian Eno - Baby's On Fire
5. Goldfrapp - Lovely Head
6. Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers
7. Portishead - Small

The mission of this mix was to paint a picture of a lonely Brit who has fallen away from society. Main motif's, songs with whistling, lyric themes of fire and loneliness.

Draft: States (Instead of drafting bands or songs we drafted State from the USA and could use any band hailing from that state. We drafted without any research as well. A tough draft indeed.)

My Decent Into Madness

1. Thurston Moore - The Shape is in A Trance (Connecticut)
2. Smashing Orange - Flower Kisses (Delaware)
3. Throwing Muses - Bright Yellow Gun (Rhode Island)
4. Dreadnaught - R. Daneel Oilvaw (New Hampshire)
5. The Black Angels - Doves (Texas)
6. Secret Machines - The Walls Are Starting to Crack (New York)
7. Mastodon - The Last Baron (Georgia)

This mix documents someone slowly being driven to madness. Themes include lost love, poison, fire and musical themes include shoegze/shimmering guitars and loads of tambourine.

Draft: Robocalypse (Drafted songs and crafted a soundtrack to the impending Robot Apocalypse)

Ja tvoi sluga, Ja tvoi rabotnik

1. Kraftwerk - The Robots
2. Battles - Atlas
3. King Crimson - 21st Century Schizoid Man
4. Nine Inch Nails - The Day The World Went Away
5. Gary Numan - M.E.
6. Vangelis - Tears in Rain (Blade Runner Soundtrack)

More info to come.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Definitive Beck/ 10 Years of Midnite Vultures

Beck is coming up a lot lately this year and has been getting more buzz then if he had a proper album being released. Between his Record Club series through his new and revamped website to his working with Charlotte Gainsbourg, their has been no creative shortage from one of the best musical minds of our generation. That being said, this post serves a two fold purpose. First to chronicle the 25 Definitive Beck Tracks as well as to say Happy Birthday to Midnite Vultures.

Recently, a few friends of mine gathered around and surprisingly banged out a fantastic 25 Best Beck Songs spanning his entire career. For those who only know Beck's big hits, the man is more prolific than some give him credit. With over 400 different songs, Beck has pounded out some of the most intriguing tracks be his big hits or his rare, B-sides. This list takes into consideration all of Beck's catalog. IT was chosen by four people by casting votes on their 25 favorite Beck tracks. After arbitration, intensive listening and lots of beer and whiskey, this is the list. If you want to set this list up and listen, it flows really well from 25 - 1. Somehow the fates steered us to a Definitive Beck list that works as a listenable mix as well. Enjoy!

{Editor's Note} - The other three goons involved in making this great list were Daniel Somavilla, Ryan P. Carey and Steven Lipenta.

25. Earthquake Weather - Guero - 2005
24. Missing - Guero - 2005
23. Ship in a Bottle - Sea Change Japanese Import - 2002
22. Cold Brains - Mutations - 1998
21. Devil's Haircut - Odelay - 1996
20. Lord Only Knows - Odelay - 1996
19. Feather In Your Cap - Sissyneck Single - 1997
18. Ramshackle - Odelay - 1996
17. Hell Yes - Guero - 2005
16. Tropicalia - Mutations - 1998
15. Sexx Laws - Midnite Vultures - 1999
14. Where It's At - Odelay -1996
13. The New Pollution - Odelay -1996
12. Debra - Midnite Vultures - 1999
11. Novacane - Odealy - 1996
10. Hotwax - Odelay - 1996
9. Soul Suckin' Jerk - Mellow Gold - 1994
8. Nicotine & Gravy - Midnite Vultures - 1999
7. Paper Tiger - Sea Change - 2002
6. Lonesome Tears - Sea Change - 2002
5. Hollywood Freaks - Midnite Vultures - 1999
4. Diamond Bollocks - Mutations (secret track) 1998
3. Loser - Mellow Gold - 1994
2. Nobody's Fault But My Own - Mutations - 1998
1. Chemtrails - Modern Guilt - 2008

It was much a surprise how this played out. Some of it is obvious (7 out of 13 tracks from Odelay, most major radio hits appear) but some things didn't work out as planned. The top 5 alone sits as a testament to the different styles Beck would tackle. "Loser" is where it began, "Hollywood Freaks" is like "Loser" on ecstasy, "Diamond Bollocks" took a trash pilke of song ideas and crammed them into one glorious track, "Nobody's Fault But My Own" is poetry and melancholy and "Chemtrails" sounds like a throwback to 60's psychedelia with a modern twist. It's no surprise that this list careens from dance floor exagerations to relationship lamentations. Only Beck could do an album like Midnite Vultures and follow it up with Sea Change. To those who don't understand the Beck mythos, I suggest you give this 25 song listening experience a whirl.

Now, it seems odd to me that after 10 years, Midnite Vultures has yet to get old or dated. Maybe because the album is an homage to Young Americans era Bowie and 80's Prince or maybe because it's such a frenzy of different sounds, I still see myself coming back to it for many reasons. First and foremost, this album will pump you up. It's party aesthetics and it's overall dedication to groove is incredible. As much as it seems odd, Midnite Vultures may be Beck's biggest departure. You can compare most of his other albums to each other to some extent, but nowhere else in his catalog can you say he has done Midnite Vultures again. Beyond the albums overall vibe, it has turned into a veritable memory explosion. Nostalgia comes oozing forth from each song with sign-a-long memories of drunken parties to still having the urge to play it at midnight during any given late night event. From the opening horn exultation on"Sexx Laws" to the lulling post sex euphoria of "Debra," Midnite Vultures never stops slaying. Even when the lull of "Beautiful Way" comes on, the only downfall to the record, we are spit right back into the maelstrom. If you look at the record as a party concept record, only then can we see "Beautiful Way" as that time when you steal away from the party with a close friend or two and complain about the bad things that are going on over a smoke, but then you crack the door to your bedroom back open and into the "Pressure Zone" ready to burn those last few hours of partying off. Beck was relentlessly fruitful around this time. Just a year after Mutations and with loads of B-Sides attached to the Vultures sessions, it's no surprise it took a few years for Beck to return to the studio in 2002. If there were to be a deluxe edition release of Midnite Vultures, it would be worth picking up for insane B-Sides like "This is My Crew" or "Arabian Nights" to make you wiggle and giggle. Beck is an absurdly brilliant guy and it's no surprise that Midnite Vultures has endured. It's 10 years young.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tengo's Ode to Pop Music

Yo La Tengo has always had a penchant for the classic age of pop music. Mainly the garage rock of bands like The Kinks, The Zombies and the art pop of John Cale to name a few. Their latest record aptly titled Popular Songs enlists the sounds of these old school pop artists and puts the usual Tengo Twist into the formula. Album opener and stellar psych pop track "Here To Fall" is a beautifully adult love song about the trials and tirbulations of a relationship but in the end you just have to be there together. It's devastatingly beautiful and the epic strings over a droning bass and constant splash of drums really makes it something special. Then there is the Booker T & the MG's style jam of "Periodically Double or Triple" with it's funky organ breakdown and groovy tones. James McNew shines on this album not only as the groovy bass master but on his own poignantly beautiful love song "I'm On My Way." When McNew softly says "Baby that's all" after saying simply that he's on his way to be with his loved one is so minimally romantic. The guitar work is swooping and simple but buttery and sweet. Over the span of the very dreamy album, which seems would be best listened to on a weekend getaway at a bread and breakfast, we don't see the many faces of Yo La Tengo that other albums sometimes have, but it's in the simple beauty that makes Popular Songs so great. The album never picks up too much. The final three tracks, of all decent length, are sprawling space jams. "The Fireside" especially is a minimal instrumental but the shimmering guitars and swoops of ambience paint a picture words could never tell. The only freak jam really comes in the guitar noise jam of "And The Glitter is Gone" at first seems like an odd choice but the glitter and shimmer of the past 11 songs is no longer present during the loud drones and waves of noise. It's a statement that although happiness can sometimes come in, there are dark times that you have to get through. It's the perfect coda to "Here to Fall." It may not come off as the most fun or memroable album Yo La Tengo has done, but there is nothing with creating solid pop songs that set a mood perfectly. In fact, that is exactly what I like about this record. Simplicity never hurts and easy beat pop songs are a welcome addition to a year of all over the map styles and sounds of music.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Supergroups Ahoy!

I forgot to add to the catch up reviews one album review and one show review, but since both are Super groups, I will devote a new post to them.

Monsters of Folk - Traveling Wilburies blah blah blah... ok beyond that comparison, Monsters of Folk have put together one of the most interesting albums of the year. M Ward, Conner Oberst, Jim James and Mike Mogis are the four headed monster but what is intriguing is the lack of straightforward folk music the album actually has. This isn't to say that is a bad thing, in fact it's welcomed. Jim James clearly shines on the tracks he masterminded. "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)" is the furthest from folk on the album with it's drum machine sample, harps and strings and falsetto love groove vocals careening into the three contemplative versus from the three main voices of the bunch. Popier tracks like "Say Please" and "Goodway" are campground sing-a-longs that are best accompanied by friends. One of the highlights comes straight out of the Jeff Lyne/Roy Orbison songbook. The track "Whole Lotta Losin'" has M. Ward crooning over a funky struming guitar and a most infectious hook. Somber moments ushc as "Slow Down Jo" and "The Sandman, The Brakeman and Me" may be the folkiest and their riff on "Battle of Evermore" style Zeppelin comes forth on the epic Oberst penned "A Man Named Truth." Overall, the album has a disjointed feel but each song in random order or just plucked from the disc is delightful enough. It's hard when a huge collective effort comes together. The band may not be cohesive as a band as much as elements coming together and their own voices shining through more on different moments, but it's definitely a refreshing one off album.

Them Crooked Vultures - The other side of the super group coin comes in the three headed beast of Them Crooked Vultures. Their debut record has yet to drop, but thanks to a live tour I have a pretty damn good idea of how this will play out. Josh Homme takes lead guitar and vocals, Dave Grohl smashes his drum set to death and John Paul Jones looked cool, calm and collected doing various roles in bass, piano, keytar and mandolin. From what I remember at the show, their were ferocious riffs, fantastic guitar solos and bone crushing ryhthm that was even more intense than one would gather Grohl and JPJ would bring to the table. The first song of the night "Elephants" came out like gangbusters and did not hold back over the course of it's rocking. With several defining parts including some groovy breakdowns, it's definitely one of the best. "Gunman" stood out as one of the best rock churners. The final rocking epic "Warsaw or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up" which blistered on for what seemed to be a good 10 minutes was chock full of different rock landscapes and movements. "New Fang" is your standard radio rocker and "Caligulove" is a crooner love anthem with a heavy twist. Needless to say, I'm not sure the world is ready for the rock beat that is going to be unleashed soon. I know I'm anticipating it big time, but even that anticipation is not prepared for the studio version of what was easily one of the most mind numbing concert events of the year. Can't wait.

Catch Up Reviews

After all the decade in reviews, lets look at this last year for a second and at some of the albums I have been listening to (or trying to.) Lord knows I have some catching up to do for a 2009 Year in Review!

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca I first heard of Dirty Projectors through the song they did with David Byrne called "Knotty Pine." It's an art rock track that goes in all sorts of musical directions and at first glance put me off a bit. But I was intrigued enough to pick up their latest and what has been touted as "most approachable" record Bitte Orca. What I can gather from that comment is that previous Dirty Projectors albums must be insane. Bitte Orca is a good listen when you are interested in something with a lot of intense mood shifts, unique vocal arrangements and a skewed sense of melody. This is not a record you just throw on in the background or would go driving somewhere to. No, this album demands your constant attention and as it took me about 5 months to finally say "Alright, I am ready for you!" And it was quite the experience. First track "Cannibal Resource" starts off with a pretty decent guitar riff but when the multitudes of backing vocals kick in, it shifts gears. The whole album has this controlled chaos vibe and reminds me of an art rock/post punk version of Captain Beefheart. It all sounds like a din of chaos at times, but you can tell all the intricacies of the music. This stuff was planned. It's really nutty and hard for me to fully grasp. More listens will have to ensue and that is good news for the record. It's not just slapdash weirdness, it's calculated brilliance. It does, however, make it a very intense listen.

Electric Six - Kill - Although it lacks the wow factor that last years Flashy gave fans, Electric Six's latest album Kill has some memorable moments but is more along the lines of their overblown record ...The Master. Don't get me wrong, when E6 does overblown stuff, it's still delightfully enjoyable. Songs like "Body Shot" and "Steal Your Bones" fall in the category of Electric Six expanding their sound a little bit. But most of the rest of the album just relies on your usual heavy power chords and synthy bleeps and bloops to add some fun to the mix. It's not an immediate love like Flashy or Senor Smoke but it has some splendid moments and has easily some of the most ridiculous lyrics yet. Example: "Come a little bit closer... Be my Kenny Rogers Roaster!" For a band who has put an album out every year for the past 5 years, it's no surprise that Kill lacks a little authority.

Air - Love 2 - I guess because I am in such an Air phase (not to mention the French have been killing it this year with good tunes,) but I am really digging this new record. It may be a poor man's Talkie Walkie, but it still has some stellar musical moments and overall enjoyable songs. Nothing stuns, but everything soothes. It's a perfect record for background music or meditation. Songs like "Be a Bee" have a churning back bone behind their smoothness while a track like "You Can Tell It To Everybody" has a more mystical quietude with it's Zelda like chimes in the intro. Air has a knack for making damn good music. Nothing extraordinary but at the same time, the backgroundy elements to the music doesn't make it boring. If you need a good soundtrack to relax to and still have it be a little more than background noise, Love 2 hits the spot.

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic - Ok, where do I start? Well I can first is that this is only a partial review. Let me back up a second. I have only listened to about 1/3rd of the record so this is less a review and more of a commentary on how music can effect mood and reflect mood. Embryonic from what I have gathered with my few false starts sounds much like the usual Flaming Lips record but churned through a meat processor. The ryhthm section is the true hero here, but the recording is extremely abrasive. Hidden beneath the build up of this grating sound is the usual Lips soaring space age prog rock, but the veneer of distortion really hides it. Songs like "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine" lends itself to Yoshimi's "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" but where that song is a lush paranoia, "Sparrow" is a grating and dark paranoia. Anyway, I digress from the object at hand. Embryonic so far is a really daunting listen. It's intensity matched by it's complexity and abrasiveness. My mind does not comprehend these sounds right now. But when I am in the mood for a brood fest, I can tell Embryonic will turn out to be one of their best records.

Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young - The Strokes may have been a one trick pony looking back at their three recrods. Is This It was captivating, Room on Fire was a supposed sophmore slump with lots of repeat sounds albeit good songs and First Impressions of Earth just fell flat. It's no surprise after such a forgettable record that the band members would look forward on solo pojects, but it took from 2006 to 2009 for the supposed brain behind the Strokes to drop his first solo output. What we get is Julian Casablancas' What everyone will gather from this record is that Casablancas has taken the sound of the Strokes and fed it into a synthesizer. New Order becomes the muse more so than Television, but the bratty lyrics and overall swagger is still ever present. The real dynamite tracks come in the 1-2-3 punch of "Out of the Blue" , "Left & Right in the Dark" and the superb "11th Dimension." It may be the most Strokesy, but it also turns out to be the most catchy tunes on the album. Altho Casablancas is still hsi sneering self lyrically, he gets introspective and realizes some of his faults that in the past he has basically told the naysayers to "fuck off." This time he's finding time to contemplate his actions. The rest of the short album veers into different territory but it's all welcome. Phrazes is a refreshing twist on the Strokes sound and maybe if they get together again this new sound will come into paly with all the players involved.

Looking ahead: Them Crooked Vultures, Built to Spill, The Raveonettes, A complete review for The Flaming Lips, Reigning Sound and hopefully more! 2009 has been interesting to say the least.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Decade In Review: Top Ten Albums of 2000 - 2009

Here it is! The ten best records of the past ten years. It has been a wild ride. Comment away and enjoy. I will throw in a live cut and or music video for each album so you can taste this...

#10. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights (2002) "I know you've supported me for a long time, somehow I'm not impressed." What I gather from Interpol's first record is a jaded band looking to find some feeling in a completely drained and paranoid New York City. To me, this is the best post 9/11 album that deals with what happened to New Yorkers and to everyone in the country after it took the downward spin after that fateful day. Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights was a request to get back to the brighter more innocent days, but those prayers were never answered. So it's no surprise how dark and dismal the record seems. It creaks through the opener "Untitled." Even the apathy of just naming a song "Untitled" goes to show you the prevailing feelings of the world. The anthem "NYC" is about as close to many feelings in New York as you can get in a track. The more classic rockers like "PDA" and "Obstacle 1" bring in an element of danceability but even in their catchiness is a deep seed of regret and darkness. Interpol would never be able to completely tap into this feeling with such sheer precision on their next few albums, but it goes to show just how drained they were after creating the brooding Turn On the Bright Lights. It's hard to keep writing about such themes before you run yourself into the ground.

#9. Beck - Sea Change (2002) Break-up albums are always moody but when Beck is helming it you would think you'd get some strange freak-outs or weird brooding electro songs. Instead, Beck sticks to his Mutations basics and expounds upon the broken heart with beautiful poetics and gentle guitar folk. Beck sheds every last drop of his broken heart onto this record and for that, Sea Change is a very mood driven record. Unlike Odelay or Guero which are built to be listened to anytime, Sea Change is so melancholy that it sometimes doesn't work when you are in a good mood. A song like "Lonesome Tears," easily one of the best tracks Beck has to offer, would sound downright terrible when you are in a good mood. It's heartbreaking stuff. "Lost Cause" seems to be about moving on but there is always that last bit of sadness when a relationship comes to an end. "Round the Bend" hearkens to Nick Drake's "River Man" and there is no denying Drake's influence on this album. Instead of it becoming a weak rip-off, Beck's own feelings and sentiments are easily discernible. It may be Beck's most straight from the heart record, but that's what makes it stand a part from others. It may not have the fun of Odelay or Midnite Vultures, but Beck's just as human as the rest of us and is obviously susceptible to pain and misery as anyone else.

#8. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Pig Lib (2003) Post Pavement, Malkmus has been trying to get his footing with what his solo career may sound like. It really has yet to solidify, but even with Pavement they seemed to by trying to define a sound. Malkmus now seems to be leaning towards the long, drawn out Television style guitar jams, but on his second record, a moody mixture of these jams and what his first self titled record of pop songs would blend to make Pig Lib. It's been hard to touch the greatness of this record on further efforts, although Face the Truth comes very close. But when off kilter tracks like "Water and a Seat" first hit you, their complexity doesn't yet shine. "Animal Midnight" and "Witch Mountain Bridge" are two tracks that blend the jammy atmosphere and more deep seated pop sensibilities perfectly. Then there are the polar opposite tracks "Craw Song" and "1% of One." The former is a cute little pop ditty with plenty of hum along melody and cutesy harmonium where as the latter is a sprawling rocker of an epic. The beauty of this record comes to me in the form of searching for a sound. Since there is no clear definition, the boundries between free form sprawl and concise pop writing takes perfect form on Pib Lib. It's a sound that has been hard to re-create with each consecutive album losing one half of these two sides. Here is where you'll find it perfectly executed.

#7. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born (2004) - Wilco is lauded for their brilliant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but for some reason, my personal favorite Wilco disc from the past ten years. It may because it defined a year in my life or it may have just been sheer excellence, but the grittier and trippier A Ghost is Born has a selection of great tracks... all of which take me back to one of the best times in my life. Driving down to the shore on a dark night while blasting "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is a trip to be had. The pulsating and looping guitar sounds and drum beat are hypnotic before they explode into one of the best riffs the album has to offer. "Hell is Chrome" and "Handshake Drugs" are more nihilistic in their approach with dark imagery and quieter instrumentation. "Hummingbird" comes amid a lot of the darker tracks hovering forth over with it's beautiful but melancholy message. Overall, the album has many overarching ambient effects, howling guitars, especially in the album opener "At Least That's What You Said" and many other things that were apparent on YHT and all in all, it fits together nice and sloppily over the albums entirety. Sometimes the sloppy more free ranging younger brother can outshine the superstar and that younger brother for Wilco is A Ghost is Born.

#6. Portishead - Third (2008) Out of all the comebacks, the best came through Portishead's fitfully brilliant Third. An 11 year absence from music, Portishead returned to form... sort of. The band's first two releases were melancholy melodic and heartbreaking but the music was much more trip-hop centric. A melange of Massie Attack style orchestrations with Beth Gibbons sorrowful cantor like voice. On Third, the music is still trippy but instead of hip-hop style sequencing, it turned out to be more like a psych rock record. And for my dime, it made a huge leap forward. It's a menacing record. Their are dark moments hidden amidst beauty, especially in"The Rip" which starts as a gorgeous acoustic guitar plucking ditty that turns into an eerie drum and deep bass synth jam and the Ukelele driven "Deep Water" but these brightest moments are still melancholy thanks to Gibbons deep and beautifully toned voice. Darker moments are brooding deep on the record, especially in the mechanical and harrowing "Machine Gun." It's a song that will leave a mark on your subconscious. "Small" and the closer "Threads" are equally dark and daunting with the guitar effects and synthesizers taking on beastly sizes. It's hard to not describe every song as they are all cogs in the overall dark and menacing machine. But what Third boils down to is a record that will leave an imprint on your mind from first listen on.

#5. Queens of the Stoneage - Songs for the Deaf (2002) A supergroup of sorts, Queens of the Stoneage came together via 90's stoner rock Kyuss and a special guest in Dave Grohl going back to the drum set for one record of Queens heavy rocking. What we got is the eras best balls to the wall rock album. Nothing is held back. It became the stoner rock equivilant of The Who Sell Out with it's radio station narrative, but the similarities end there. The decades best riffs are all over this record. Even the decades best rhythm section is found here. The trio of Homme, Oliveiri and Grohl are a force only to be possibly matched by Homme, Grohl and John Paul Jones once the first Them Crooked Vultures disc drops. Until then, this album reigns supreme. "No One Knows" may be the catchiest hard rock song I've ever heard with it's thumping bass, precision drums and howlingly catchy riff. "Song for the Dead" has a bone crushing intro and outro with back and forth guitar slaying and vocals care of the Screaming Trees Mark Lanegan. Lanegan woudl shine on other tracks such as the intense "Hangin' Tree" and the brooding "God Is In the Radio." Other stunners come in the boogie piano infused "Go With the Flow" and the surf freak out of "Another Love Song." What keeps Songs for the Deaf moving is the amount of sound coming forth, blasting through your stereo. It's a rock and roll juggernaut that has yet to stop.

#4. The Raveonettes - Pretty In Black (2005) The feeling I get when I listen to any Raveonettes album is a sort of nostalgia. It's of a decade long past that has no discernible time period attached to it. Yes you can say that the album Pretty in Black has its roots in either 50's rock and roll, 60's girl groups and surf guitar or 80's shoegaze and noise, but it's not definable. There are country rockers and Wall of Sound sing-a-longs. Garage classics and paranoid road tracks. It goes everywhere and yet it's decidedly fresh and new. The Raveonettes are best known for their loud shimmering guitars and sugary sweet dueling vocals and on Pretty in Black these two things take flight with some of the best rock and roll music I've heard. "Love in a Trashcan" is their take on the Kinks while "Red Tan" is a summer time Velvets track (punctuated by Maureen Tucker on drums.) "Sleepwalking" has a sprawling sound while "Seductress of Bums" has Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo exchanging lines over two paralleled and distinct musical structures built around each others vocal qualities. Underneath every track is a centimeter of filth and depravity but it's very hard to see sometimes through the shinning light of the duo's bright vocals. Whether this album sounds like a John Cassavetes directed western or the dark musings of the Ronnettes unleashed is besides the point. It's the Raveonettes nailing the sounds of the past with a touch of their own.

#3. Black Mountain - In The Future (2008) Contrary to the album title, Black Mountain's second LP In The Future takes nothing from a futurisitc sound, but rather falls back on the rock of old. Infused with the epicness of King Crimson, the bluesiness of Led Zeppelin and the psychedelia of Jefferson Airplane, Black Mountain made a name for themselves be taking stoner rock and psych rock and rebuilding it for new generations. It's an ensemble record with all of it's five members taking massive leaps forward to make straight up classic rocking music. The howling and impending maelstrom of sound kicks off with "Stormy High." The song will dig it's hooks into you as Amber Webber's howling gale of a voice will chill you to the bone. "Tyrants" is the first of two epics with it's sprawling churn of riffage into a slow building midsection before the clamourous ending. It's a breathtaking track. "Wucan" and "Queens Will Play" hark back to Houses of the Holy era Zeppelin with their spaced guitar antics and foreboding organs. It's no wonder that this band has such amazing scope as each member has gone on to several solo projects of equal value, but it's when all the elements amass to create the craggy Black Mountain that we see memorable music. The songs seem to solidify better on In the Future as the band fully emerges through the haze to have a monolithic sound. If only it were 1972. Black Mountain would be the best band of all time.

#2. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) Yoshimi shaped most of my musical leanings for the past decade. Before this album I was knee deep in classic rock research. Jaded by what music sounded like from about 1997 too 2002, I pretty much turned my musical radar off to the new. With The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, I found the perfect bridge from the classic rock I was listening to at the time to something new and exciting. It had the feel of a lot of the psych rock I was delving into with influences from Pink Floyd and Yes seen on some angles but it had a taste of the futuristic. Songs like "Fight Test" and "Do You Realize??" were more traditional pop songs with a gloss of sweetness and futurism that sounded both distant and contemporary. "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" is a brooding track filled with all sorts of swirling drones and sounds. "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" is a bouncing delight of a pop song and leads into the extra terrestrial space age rock of "Are You A Hypnotist??" The Flaming Lips concocted something that sounds utterly artificial. It's a futuristic record that still owes debt to traditional pop music with it's strum-along chords and beautiful harmonies. The music is utterly beautiful and captivating and Wayne Coyne's lyrics are poignant and touching. It's the perfect album.

#1. Arcade Fire - Funeral (2005) - So here it is, the best album of the past ten years. Canadian band Arcade Fire came out of nowhere to bring a record unlike anything I had heard at the time. Funeral is baroque in its orchestration and punky in it's angular guitars and searing vocals. It sways with the tide and swirls in the air like a light breeze at times. It made the whistling of the tea pot a mournful sound and the disco beats of police lights every ready for a dance party. All in all it was an album about coping with death and loss and done so in a beautiful way. Where Sea Change is a share in your misery kind of thing, Funeral is a unique way to mourn. As I have stated before on this blog, any music lover will someday come to embrace Funeral as one of those great accomplishments in music. It becomes an almost religious event. Whether it's the booming and glooming of "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" with it's shimmering guitars, deep bass rhythm and it's gentle xylophone or if it's the wailing chant over the epic "Wake Up", you are going to be in for a musical experience unlike any other. The amount of sound and isntrumentation that the group brigns to the table, with accordians, violins, synthesizers and other so much more is utterly beautiful. The heartbreak and loss that anyone feels can be really hard, but for the members of Arcade Fire, they turned that sadness into sheer beauty, even if it's melencholic beauty. It stands as a testament of our generation dealing with the loss of all innocence and Arcade Fire's Funeral is the perfect soundtrack for such loss.

Well that's it for the decade in review. Be sure to come on back for all sorts of other end of 2009 shite.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Decade in Review: Top 100 Albums of 2000 - 2009: #20 - 11

#20. Radiohead - In Rainbows (2008) If anyone would have told me Radiohead's In Rainbows would slowly become my favorite of their albums back when I received the Deluxe Box Set back in December of '07, I would have laughed in your face. But it's funny how as time goes by, certain albums just change and grow and reveal themselves to you. I still listen to this more than any other Radiohead record since I first got it. The album is a sort of return to their OK Computer sound but the darkness of Kid A and forth still heavily prevails over in some form. Jilted love songs like "Nude" and "All I Need" are punctuated by the paranoid tracks like "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers." The two stand-outs that really are breathtaking is the woozy "House of Cards" and the devastating and jarring "Videotape." Yorke laments on "House of Cards" about a baseless relationship and on "Videotape," not only is Yorke's trembling voice mournful but the music slowly sounds like it's falling a part at the seams. Radiohead seems to be able to do nothing short of great and on In Rainbows, the band have all come together to bring something beautiful and well composed.

#19. The Postal Service - Give Up (2003) A combination of two brilliant forms came together to create The Postal Service's only album (and most likely to stay that way.) Give Up is both musically challenging and emotional lyrically. Jimmy Tamborello's electro orchestrations paired up with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard's timid voice and honest lyrics was a perfect combo. The big hits like "Such Great Heights" and "We Will Become Silhouettes" showed just how sensible the duo's pop prowess but attention to artistic detail was still important. Even tracks like the duet "Nothing Better" or the romantic "Clark Gable" ooze with the same beauty. It's a heartbreaking work for a distant age. The synths sound less like a new wave throwback and more like a futuristic romanticism that just has the listener begging for more. Sadly the possibility of another Postal Service record seems less and less likely every year, but that might make Give Up that much more special.

#18. The Fever - Red Bedroom (2004) The best way I can describe the sadly defunct New York band The Fever is Halloweencore. Their songs are deeply seeded in both dance and punk rock music with swirling synths, super fast and bone crushing disco drums and jangly guitar theatrics prevail over strange lyrics about androids and diamonds and other eerie but fun imagery. Red Bedroom is their magnum opus. Only two albums and an EP worth of tracks available, The Fever blasted through Red Bedroom with some of the best songs I've heard. "Gray Ghost" was the albums stellar single but songs like "Artificial Heart" and "Put It On You" are stand out rockers. The more subtle tracks like "Dream Machine" and "Diamond Days" will take you for a loop after all the fast paced dancey punk has treated you to a dance party of epic proportions. Either way, whether it's the more fast paced tracks or the dreamy, ethereal ones, The Fever wrote one of the catchiest records of the decade that went virtually unnoticed.

#17. Autolux - Future Perfect (2004) It's strange to think that Autolux's first and only album (luckily this time there will be another one) was way back in 2004. A band as knife-edge sharp and precise as Autolux, it comes as no surprise. But the matter at hand is how amazing Future Perfect is. What it comes down to is pure atmosphere. A prevailing doom hangs over songs like "Turnstile Blues" or "Subzero Fun" have their traditional rock elements, but taking a page out of Sonic Youth's catalog are filled with all kinds of fuzz and haze. "Sugarless" is my personal favorite track with dual vocals between drummer Carla Azar and bassist Eugene Goreshter and a sound that is complex and compelling, it takes the listener on a sonic journey. The album takes shape over it's tracks as one of those stand out indie rockers that is filled with enough haze and fog of noise as it does melodies and catchy hooks.

#16. Secret Machines - Now Here Is Nowhere (2004) After a fantastic EP, Secret Machines came rolling in like war heroes on Now Here is Nowhere. The power of the band increased quite a bit from the brooding space epic of September 000. They wanted to become bonafied arena space rockers. And they could have if enough ears gave themselves up to the power of this record. "First Wave Intact" is by far one of the best album openers I've heard in ages, maybe since "Devil's Haircut" off of Beck's Odelay. It kicks in with Josh Garza's insanely loud drums, Brandon Curtis' thumping bass and Benjamin Curtis' howling single note. This sound can be seen on all songs, especially the singles "Sad and Lonely", "Nowhere Again" and "The Road Leads Where It's Led." The band puts so much power and fury into these riffs and leave plenty of room for space travelling heights. "The Pharaoh's Daughter" is the perfect manifestation of Pink Floydian spaciness in their sound but with a touch of their own. It's one of the rock albums from the 00's that will skate along without proper recognition for it's fantastic selections.

#15. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond (2007) There were many comebacks in the 00's. But my favorite was breaking Dinosaur Jr.s' original line-up from their amber casings to unleash everything they did so well back on the listeners who missed the sound of good hard grunge. Beyond was what they bestowed upon us after waiting so long and it was not disappointing on any level whatsoever. "Almost Ready" is a great first track and shows the the listener may think they are ready but they are only slightly there. The riffs keep coming and coming. "Pick Me Up" is a fantastic epic building over different movements and ending with one of J Mascis best guitar solos. Lou Barlow brings his A game on "Back To Your Heart." It's pounding riff is intoxicating and his poetic lyrics stand out among many tracks. It's a rock album in the old tradition and Dinosaur Jr. may have topped themselves, even after close to 20 years of absence from playing together. Impressive that their chemistry could live up to there past greatness. And I'd safely say surpasses it.

#14. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow (2003) - The Shins have appeared before with their debut Oh, Inverted World. What that album did was show that a band could do a lot with a little. They polished their sound and got out into the studio for their sophomore release Chutes Too Narrow and they showed that they could improve upon their pop sensibilities. "Kissing the Lipless" starts off with some hand claps before it begins it's subtle strum. It then goes further and picks up the pace making it one of the happiest little pop songs I've heard. "Turn a Square" is a classic catchy riff with some of my favorite Shins lyrics. "Gone For Good (A Call To Apathy)" is one of my personal favorite kiss off songs as anyone who has had a relationship turn into a listing ship can relate to. The fast peppy tracks are mirrored with "Those To Come" or the acoustic wonder "Young Pilgrims" giving the album depth and worthy reason for repeat listens. The Shins may not "change your life" but they will certainly make a dull day brighter with some of the best pop music around.

#13. Mastodon - Crack the Skye (2009) In what is easily one of the best prog-metal albums I have ever heard, Mastodon went beyond their usual thrash and burn to create Crack the Skye, a personal album of sorts even if it's still brutally hard rocking. A tribute to Brann Dailor's late sister Skye, the album takes on a strange twist of a story that would take to long to describe. Astral travel, golden umbilical chords, Rasputin and all sorts of intense themes come into the lyrical qualities. "Oblivion" launches us into space immediately before the surf rock banjo intro on "Diviniations" launches us back into an ancient ritual. The soloing on this track is fast and loud and unlike anything else Mastodon has done up to this point. The two epics, "The Czar" and "The Last Baron" are both fitfully brilliant with changes a plenty. Especially in "The Last Baron," we see Mastodon not holding anything back. Riff after riff comes over the 13 minute stretch and the listeners ears will not be spared. Over it's course, many new sounds come forth making Crack the Skye a leap forward and in a different direction of sorts for Mastodon. Some old fans may miss the straight up thrashing, but new fans will come along on this spacey magnum opus.

#12. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (2006) Yo La Tengo surprisingly didn't make this list very often. I believe only one other album hit the charts. It's hard being Yo La Tengo. They have lasted longer than many of their late 80's indie rockers and they tend to do what they want. And on I Am Not Afraid Of You... they tend to jump from genre to genre. And that can sometimes mean a disjointed album. However, the bookended by guitar epics disc is enhanced by this variety. "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" is a pulsating guitar scorcher that leads directly into the horns driven pop of "Beenbag Chair." The two tracks couldn't be more not alike, but yet they sound great next to each other. That's because the quality of effort that Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew shines. "Black Flowers" is a McNew composition that oozes with sentiment and beautiful strings, "The Room Got Heavy" is a trippy bongo infused island hop and "Watch Out For Me Ronnie" is a garage rock throwback scorcher. "Mr. Tough" may be the single best track on the record with it's falsetto sing-a-long structure and copious horns. But with so many to choose from, it's decidedly hard to pick one stand out. With the variety, every listen can be different.

#11. Justice - - (2007) Ripping the page out of Daft Punk's playbook, translating it into space age rock and roll and then back into their native French, Justice turned the French dance music scene and dipped it in a vat of hard rock and roll. So for those who decided to write off Justice as a hipster dance group with no value should go back and listen to how gritty yet lushly produced and danceable their debut album "Cross" would turn out to be. Album opener "Genesis" sounds like the kind of music that would come along with opening an ancient tomb and expecting something epic to be found behind the doors. What we find laying in wait is a dance party of epic proportions that doesn't stop from after that doorway is opened. "D.A.N.C.E." is now even more poignant as it is a song about the late legend Michael Jackson. Both "Phantom"s are fantastic disco infused rockers and the bludgeoning "Waters of Nazareth" and "Stress" take so much distortion that the dance beats fall second place only to crunchy guitar sounding effects. So there is much more to Justice than some hipster moniker. It's a dance record that has roots in extremely heavy and distorted rhythms.

EDITORS NOTE: Sorry for the massive text. Blogger has decided they want it to make Justice's article in huge font.