Archive for December, 2010

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2010: 15 of the Best. #1 . . .

December 17, 2010


#1: Belle & Sebastian – I Didn’t See it Coming

From: Write About Love
Released: October 12, 2010
Label: Rough Trade/Matador
Buy it: Here.

I suppose it’s kind of funny that while I like Write About Love, I don’t think it holds together as cohesively as their previous effort, 2006’s The Life Pursuit. This year’s model is a fine album, to be sure, but the thing is it blows its best minute right from the get-go, with the soaring opener, “I Didn’t See it Coming.” Belle & Sebastian albums — particularly those since the move to Rough Trade/Matador — seem to have been increasingly dominated by Stuart Murdoch material, so to see Murdoch defer the album opener to Sarah Martin is a bit of a curveball, but one that pays off in dividends. The best thing about the song is that it sinks its claws deeper and deeper into you as it goes, and when the fade-out finally occurs at the 5-minute mark, you’re still wanting more. The song’s lyrical hook — “Make me dance, I want to surrender” is a sweet request when Martin sings it in the verses, but it’s one of the most impassioned pleas for love when Murdoch repeats it again and again in the outro. And it’s for that outro that this song gets #1 recognition this year — the first time I heard it, a huge smile broke out on my face and I realized it was the best thing I’d heard all year.  Anyone who’s ever had a hint of romanticism in their lives should be able to identify … even those who can’t dance particularly well.

As per tradition, here’s the video for the #1 song, although I don’t know that it’s a video proper inasmuch as a mimed performance from a net special done to promote Write About Love. Still conveys the slow-bubbling energy magnificently.

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2010: 15 of the Best. #2 . . .

December 16, 2010

#2: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Just War (feat. Gruff Rhys)

From: Dark Night of the Soul
Released: July 12, 2010
Label: Capitol/EMI
Buy it: Here.

Dark Night of the Soul, which was conceived not so much as an album, but more of an art project that involved corresponding visuals by David Lynch, a who’s-who of collaborators (Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Wayne Coyne and Julian Casablancas among them), and finely tuned collaboration between Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. A leaked version of the album appeared in 2009 when it looked as though a legal wrangle with Capitol/EMI might permanently leave the album on the shelves, but following Linkous’ tragic suicide earlier this year, the album got its proper release. For as busy as the album is, it’s a surprisingly cohesive and extremely listenable set of songs, but the far and away best moment bats in the #2 spot when lead Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys takes vocal duties for the heartbreaking “Just War.” It comes off like a cousin to one of the Furries’ finest moments, “It’s Not the End of the World?” and features all the gorgeous melody and affected singing you’d expect from Mr. Rhys. Something about the line “You said it wouldn’t hurt” just seemed to resonate all the more given this album’s history and that of one of its primary architects. Simply beautiful.

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2010: 15 of the Best. #3 . . .

December 15, 2010


#3: The Rolling Stones – Plundered My Soul

From: “Plundered My Soul” 7″
Released: April 17, 2010
Label: Universal
Buy it: Here.

Is it fair to include a song originally written and (in some parts) recorded almost 40 years ago? Well, here’s the thing about “Plundered My Soul”: a lot of what you’re hearing is actually fresh addition to a basic track purported to have been done during the Stones’ original Exile on Main St. sessions. Whether or not that’s actually the case is up for argument — Mick and Keef don’t have the sharpest of memories these days, but the surprise of the song is that vaulted or not, this is the best thing the Stones have put out since Some Girls. Apparently the drum, bass and some of the guitar tracks date back to French villa days, but the song features a fresh vocal from Mick (who sounds better than he has in ages), some new guitar parts from Keef and likely (the boys are being coy about this) some fresh new leads from Mick Taylor. Why this sat unfinished as the Stones released stuff like “Anybody Seen My Baby?” or “Sweet Neo Con” is far beyond me, but kudos to the boys for dusting it off and giving a fans a legitimate reason to buy yet another version of Exile on Main St. This is a huge treat and actually stands proudly alongside the best stuff on Exile.

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2010: 15 of the Best. #4 . . .

December 14, 2010

#4: Kula Shaker – Ophelia

From: Pilgrim’s Progress
Released: June 28, 2010
Label: StrangeF.O.L.K.
Buy it: Here.

Speaking of 1990s survivors who can still knock one out of the park every so often, Kula Shaker returned with their fourth full length LP, Pilgrims Progress, this year. Although the record wasn’t a huge departure from their previous effort, 2007’s Strangefolk, people who lost track after K might have been a bit surprised to find the ragas on Marshalls ethic of “Govinda” and “Tattva” traded in for more pastoral and orchestrated compositions. While it seems true that most artists go this route in their advancing years (only Paul Weller seems consistently interested in bucking the trend), the thing that saves Kula Shaker from the pitfalls so many others stumble into is the boys’ continuing knack for finding a good hook. Structurally, “Ophelia” seems almost like a rip-off. Two quick verses, a chorus that repeats two words and a harmonica solo basically constitutes everything. Ah, but the hooks that hold it together are quite strong indeed. And even in the quick verses, who among you would roll their eyes at a line like: “Doubt the stars are on fire and doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt that I love you until the day I die.” I submit it would only be those of you lacking a certain romantic flare in the heart chambers. And if that’s the case, well … don’t you need somebody to love?

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2010: 15 of the Best. #5 . . .

December 13, 2010

#5: Ocean Colour Scene – Magic Carpet Days

From: Saturday
Released: February 1, 2010
Label: Cooking Vinyl
Buy it: Here.

I’ve long since admitted to myself that the days of thoroughly consistent albums such as Moseley Shoals, Marchin’ Already and One From the Modern are behind Ocean Colour Scene now. They’ve aged. We’ve aged. We go forward in time peacefully and while they still release albums (that make as little of a splash stateside as ever), they just don’t pack the same punch they did in the late 1990s. But to discount them entirely is the idea of a fool, because even as the band expands and the Mod hairdos thin out a little, every once in awhile, they put out a stomper that reminds you what made you love them in the first place. And so it is with “Magic Carpet Days,” the runaway favorite from this year’s Saturday and easily one of the best songs in their 21-year history. The simple 4/4 beat guarantees a bit of movement on the part of the listener, but Simon’s lyrics are quite affecting in their simplicity. “I can’t back off and be quiet, but I’ll never leave you standing in the rain …” Frankly, I think this would’ve worked a hell of a lot better in “Aladdin” than “A Whole New World.” And now that you think about it, you probably do too. Gotta love seeing bands I adored a decade ago still hitting it out of the park every so often.

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2010: 15 of the Best. #6 . . .

December 10, 2010

#6: The Clientele – As the World Rises and Falls

From: Minotaur
Released: August 31, 2010
Label: Merge
Buy it: Here.

The Clientele are an exquisite little group that’s been hovering in the zone of “Lennon-in-Rubber Soul-era via an even icier delivery” since the relatively forgotten movie “The Lake House” included their “(I Can’t Seem To) Make You  Mine” on its soundtrack. I’ve listened to a lot of Clientele in the last few years and found a lot of Clientele to be sounding very similar to what came before it. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing–they are good at what they do, but the problem is I have difficulty differentiating songs and from which albums/releases they come. There’s a very unique Clientele sound, you see, and I think it’s starting to wear a bit thin on their originals, even if their originals are lovely pieces. So when the band took their talents upon the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s 1968 tune “As the World Rises and Falls,” we got an interesting treat. Another band’s song Clientele-ized, which suited the tune exceedingly well. Alasdair MacLean’s beguiling delivery carries all the pangs of nervous forewarning delivered in the original but against a pastoral backdrop that can’t help but calm you down despite the tension in the lyrics. When I moved into my new place in September I listened to this song over and over and over again as I unpacked. It’s really quite hypnotizing, and it’s a pleasure for me to be able to include a band I’ve appreciated for some time in this list–even if it is them doing somebody else’s tune.

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2010: 15 of the Best. #7 . . .

December 9, 2010

#7: Gorillaz – Some Kind of Nature (feat. Lou Reed)

From: Plastic Beach
Released: March 9, 2010
Label: Parlophone/Virgin
Buy it: Here.

That damned Damon Albarn. He has a way of making you like him, doesn’t he? Whether it’s resurrecting Shaun Ryder, employing half of the Clash in his touring group or continuing to find some annoyingly catchy hooks for a cartoon band, it’s never that easy to just ignore the smarmy little Colchester native. On the whole, I figure Plastic Beach is just about as uneven as any Gorillaz album, but when it’s good, it sure as hell is stick-in-your-head-for-months-on-end good. While “Rhinestone Eyes” has proved to be the best sounding track from the album when played live, the album’s best moment in itself is “Some Kind of Nature” which features a bedraggled little Lou Reed pontification on all kinds of somethings. It’s a midtempo little muse, but the Albarn-sung chorus is hooky as hell and all the little synth effects just sound fabulous. Curse you, Albarn. Try as I might to disavow you, you just make it continually impossible.

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2010: 15 of the Best. #8 . . .

December 8, 2010

#8: Old 97’s – Let the Whiskey Take the Reins

From: The Grand Theatre, Volume One
Released: October 12, 2010
Label: New West
Buy it: Here.

In the summer of 2009, I caught “An Evening with Old 97’s” up in Madison. It was a phenomenal idea for a show — the band’s openers were two band members. You got a solo set from Murry Hammond, a solo set from Rhett Miller, and then a full on show by the Old 97’s. I was down in the front row during that show, and there’s something I’ll always remember about it. While Murry was doing his opening bit — very old, almost haunting country/folk ballads and near-ancient Carter family material, I saw Rhett Miller sitting in the wings watching his bandmate intently. Rhett was touting his 3rd solo album at the time, and he’d spent the better part of the aughts establishing himself as a fiery solo act to match his fiery frontman status, but here he was seemingly transfixed by his bandmate’s very quiet approach. I fully believe this translated onto the Old 97’s latest in the form of “Let the Whiskey Take the Reins.” Whereas Rhett’s material over the years has been of the shouty and more impassioned variety (even ballads like “Your Nervous Heart” see him going for the jugular vocally), Murry’s always been content with a near-whisper sigh delivery on the bulk of his material. Rhett goes for a Murry-style delivery here and the result is pretty stunning. Not only does he come off like a pained-almost-threatening guy who may have had too many at the local, he sounds really affecting. It’s a nice change of pace from the typical Rhett-led Old 97’s song, but a big reason it works is because it’s such a noticeable change of pace. If this were to become the norm, well, methinks it might lose a bit of its charm. And besides, we fans can’t scream along to this like we can “Big Brown Eyes.” Nevertheless, this is a welcome surprise for an established band that’s pretty comfortable in its ways.

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2010: 15 of the Best. #9 . . .

December 7, 2010


#9: Paul Weller – No Tears To Cry

From: Wake Up the Nation
Released: April 19, 2010
Label: Island/Yep Roc
Buy it: Here.

I’m not a big fan of Wake Up the Nation in the same way that I’m not a big fan of 22 Dreams. While I applaud the Modfather’s prolificacy over the past few years (and into the future it seems, with a new album apparently already being readied for an April release), I feel that the product of keeping busy as of late is a lot of wayward songwriting. I don’t mind the odd soundscape or musical doodle, but I appreciate it a lot more if it leads to something instead of a 2-minute, stream of conscious meditation. I like structured songs, and that’s something that’s been in short supply on Weller’s last two records. The kicker is that the structured ones that do show up — such as “No Tears To Cry” — are among the finest of Weller’s career. This is what I envisioned Simon Dine-produced Weller albums to be when they started collaborating (the fabulous “It’s Written in the Stars,” or Weller’s contributions to Noonday Underground’s Surface Noise) — vintage soul through Modern framing. “No Tears To Cry” sounds cut right from a classic Tamla cloth. I love it. I can take or leave the rest of the album, of course, but does Weller care? I doubt it. And nor should he. Since when has he ever done anything besides follow his own muse?

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2010: 15 of the Best. #10 . . .

December 6, 2010

#10: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – You Won’t Let Me Down Again

From: Hawk
Released: August 24, 2010
Label: Vanguard
Buy it: Here.

I was a huge fan of Isobel’s first release post Belle & Sebastian, the gorgeously pastoral Amorino, which gave the perfect musical accompaniment to her airy vocals. When the collaborations with Screaming Trees-man Mark Lanegan started a few years back, I paid a little less attention. Not so much because the music was worse, but because maybe a bit selfishly, I was more interested in hearing Isobel on her own rather than accompanied by a growly rocker. Nevertheless, Isobel persisted and two Lanegan collaboration albums later, Hawk has me fully appreciating their pairing. Any quick review I could give would mirror anyone else’s for Ballad of the Broken Seas, Sunday at Devil Dirt or this album in saying that while it’s strange that two polar opposite voices should sound so fabulous together, they nevertheless do. So instead of saying that (even though I already did), I’ll say this: The set of songs this time around is every bit as fantastic as their previous ones, and “You Won’t Let Me Down Again” is a brilliant earthy blues song that verges on becoming a complete shambles but maintains beautifully. If you get the chance, see Isobel and Mark live. As menacing as Mark can sound on record, it’s nothing as when he’s singing to a room full of people that seem scared sh*tless to sing along for fear that it might upset him, while Isobel almost coos along, looking innocent and angelic as you like. They put on an incredibly powerful performance, and here’s hoping to many more albums in this vein that lead to many more tours.