Archive for December, 2011


2011: 15 of the Best. #1…

December 16, 2011

01. Beady Eye – World Outside My Room

From: “Four Letter Word” 7”
Released: January 27, 2011
Label: Beady Eye/Dangerbird
Buy it: Here.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Noel goes number 2 to Liam? What?! Short answer: Yes. People probably could’ve written the Beady Eye reviews without listening to the album (“It rocks OK, but it lacks the big choruses that Noel can put into a song”), and they probably could’ve done the Different Gear, Still Speeding vs. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds comparisons without listening to either (“Liam needs Noel’s songs, Noel needs Liam’s voice”). Blah, blah, f*cking blah. What everyone missed after dismissing “The Roller” as an oh-so-predictable Lennon ripoff and “Bring the Light” as different (for better or worse) is that under the surface, Beady Eye were doing something that Oasis was adored for by its legions of fans in the 1990s, and that’s rewarding those fans’ loyalty. On the B-sides of Beady Eye’s 5 singles were songs that made it more than worth the investment of buying an A-side you already had. The most surprising song of the lot (and by that, I mean every damn thing they’ve released) is “World Outside My Room.” Liam hasn’t sung so plainly and sweetly since “Married With Children” and the lyrics go three steps beyond anything Noel Gallagher’s ever put his name to. As big a fan I am of Oasis, Noel’s penned good lines here and there, but never a song that kept me entranced by what he would say next. This song had me hanging on every line. “Did he just ask who’s been smoking cherry cola?! What the hell does that mean? It sounds cool though …” The real sticking point, though is that if you listen to Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, you can see that Noel’s in a Ray Davies fit of late. He’s trying to capture “Dead End Street,” “Big Black Smoke” and the whole of The Village Green Preservation Society in his songs now instead of just swiping Beatles riffs. “World Outside My Room” does the Kinks better than anything on High Flying Birds and it sounds like Liam, Andy, Gem and Chris aren’t even trying to do so. This song could’ve been on Face to Face, Something Else, Village Green Preservation Society or even Muswell Hillbillies (how far away is it from “Holiday” after all?) This is a song from a band that’s a sh*tload more talented than your average critic wants to believe and a band that’s at its best when it’s just writing something for the fun of it. This is the best song of 2011 as far as I’m concerned. Better still, as Liam said about “The Masterplan” in 1995, “and it’s a f*cking B-side. How top is that?!”


2011: 15 of the Best. #2…

December 15, 2011

02. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – If I Had a Gun…

From: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Released: November 8, 2011
Label: Sour Mash/Mercury
Buy it: Here.

Oasis fans got pretty excited when someone managed to capture a recording of this song in its formative stages during a soundcheck on the band’s final tour. I don’t know that the hunger was that rampant for new Oasis material at the time—Dig Out Your Soul was less than a year old, although it did lack the flag-waving staple Noel delivered on previous records (“Let There Be Love,” “Stop Crying Your Heart Out,” “Sunday Morning Call,” etc.)—the only real contender for the candlelight was Liam’s “I’m Outta Time.” But certainly after Oasis split and Noel went into a 2-year-long radio silence, fans’ need for this song quickly turned from hunger into bloodthirsty starvation. Why? Well, my theory is that even in that soundcheck recording, Noel’s sketches of lyrics displayed a vulnerability and hymn-like quality that he rarely shows, but when he does (“Talk Tonight,” “Slide Away”), the songs are usually considered among his best. Noel chose to go with a muscular backing for the song on his debut solo album, and while some of the words changed between the 2009 soundcheck and the 2011 release, the heart and intent remained intact. By the time of the final chorus that begins “Let me fly you to the moon …” every girl with a heart within earshot should be head over heels. If some teen drama injected this song into an episode, I’d bet chances are high that Noel would feel a surge of “Wonderwall”-like popularity again, but it’d probably be a little shorter lived than it was in the 1990s. Which is OK, as Noel seems to be in no hurry to recapture that. At best, Oasis fans got the song they’d waiting so long for and detractors got all the ammo they needed to pen their “All this guy does is rewrite ‘Wonderwall’” critiques. I would say those people are missing the point (of course I would). What we have here is as direct a love song from Noel Gallagher as we’re ever going to get, and it’s appropriate that (without reducing myself to hyperbole) it’s one for the ages.


2011: 15 of the Best. #3…

December 14, 2011

03. Alex Turner – Stuck on the Puzzle

From: Submarine
Released: March 18, 2011
Label: Domino
Buy it: Here.

Last year was the first time in this blog’s history that an Alex Turner composition failed to make my year-end best-of list. He must have noted this, releasing a solo EP, Arctic Monkeys album and appearing on Miles Kane’s solo debut all within the course of 2011’s 12 months. But while the Arctic Monkeys album failed to hold my attention as their previous efforts had, I was stunned by the lad’s original songs for Richard Ayoade’s first foray into feature films, in particular “Stuck on the Puzzle.” It’s got all the great hallmarks of early Arctic Monkeys B-sides—the melancholy but gorgeous melody, the swelling musical backdrop, and the surprisingly-tricky skill of using 5 big words to say something that can be said with 2 small ones. Few people can make a line such as “Something in your magnetism must’ve pissed them off, forcing them to get an early night” (aimed at stars, no less) sound regal and beautiful as opposed to pretentious and begging-for-an-ass-kicking. I don’t know how he does it or why he should be able to when others can’t, but Turner pulls it off. Again. Welcome back, Al.


2011: 15 of the Best. #4…

December 13, 2011

04. Liam Finn – Cold Feet

From: FOMO
Released: June 21, 2011
Label: Yep Roc
Buy it: Here.

Liam released his first solo album, I’ll Be Lighting, a few years ago and it was good in the same way that Julian Lennon’s Valotte was good—genuinely cool songs on it, but at the same time, I’m probably going to end up keeping his dad’s music in the car or on my playlist for the longer run. So when FOMO came out this summer, I noted it but never even bothered to check, because well … do you still listen to The Secret Value of Daydreaming? But then an old friend of mine (and fellow Neil-phile) pretty much demanded I listen to FOMO and “Cold Feet” in particular and … well, I owe Liam an apology for not caring earlier. “Cold Feet” is not only one of the finest pop songs of the year, but it stands right along side his father’s (and his uncle’s) best stuff. Sun-kissed but tinged with heartbreak, always the perfect balance. You’ll be singing along by the second chorus. Now I just find it categorically unfair that one family should have the write-catchy-songs gene pumping so prominently throughout its bloodstream. On a semi-related note, my girlfriend would like me to point out to readers that anyone with an affinity to stuffed toy seals (as in children’s toys), don’t watch the video.


2011: 15 of the Best. #5…

December 12, 2011

05. Gruff Rhys – Sensations in the Dark

From: Hotel Shampoo
Released: February 14, 2011
Label: Ovni/Wichita
Buy it: Here.

I freely admit I didn’t find much to like in the Super Furry Animals’ 2009 LP, Dark Days/Light Years. I must be the only one, because I know it was one of the best reviewed albums of that year. I dunno, to me it just seemed like a lot of big noise you had to dig through to find those lovely hooks that are always liberally scattered around their albums. At this point, SFA have gained a well-deserved reputation as masters of their form, so they can probably release bad albums and still have residual acclaim blanketing them for years. Still, it kind of disheartened me that for the first time I’d walked away from an album by an always-consistent band that I felt had, on the whole, let me down (see also: Spoon’s Transference). Fortunately, Gruff pulled me right back on board this year with his solo album Hotel Shampoo, which I actually rate alongside my favorite SFA album, Rings Around the World. It’s not anywhere near a Super Furries work in terms of scope, but the little vignettes are well-played and exquisitely written. “Sensations in the Dark” is the song that pulled me in and I’m a sucker for the mariachi-horn breakdown each and every time, but tomorrow I’ll argue for “If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)” as my favorite. The day after that it will be “Shark Ridden Waters.” The day after that it will be “At the Heart of Love.” And then “Sensations in the Dark” will come on again and I’ll have a boogie and exclaim to anyone within earshot: “HOW GREAT IS THIS?!”


2011: 15 of the Best. #6…

December 9, 2011

06. Wilco – I Might

From: The Whole Love
Released: September 27, 2011
Label: dBpm/ANTI
Buy it: Here.

I was ruminating on it recently and if I may be completely honest, I believe that spending 5 years in Madison, Wisconsin and not calling myself a Wilco fan made me as much (if not more) of an outcast than being a Marquette graduate, a Cubs fan and a Bears fan in that city. Wilco owns Madison, and you’d think that coming from Chicago myself, I’d have been a little more reverent throughout the years, but even when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was dominating the college charts when I was in Milwaukee, something about the obsessive fandom made me not trust them. I never doubted they had good songs (I’ve been a fan of “Can’t Stand It” and, to a lesser extent, Summerteeth since 1999), my sister likes them, my oldest friend adores them, my former boss revered them and it all seemed to be a bit much for me. Maybe I was just a prick who wanted to reserve that kind of devotion for the Kinks, but alas, Tweedy & Co. caught me this year. I heard a quick segment about the album on NPR (man, it sounds a tad pretentions when you type it, too) back in September, and what grabbed me was this song’s organ part. I bought the album and it hasn’t left my car since. It’s a warm, lovely hug of a record and even with a threat to set children on fire in this song, you can’t help but bust out your best go-go dance moves when that organ kicks in. There are quite a few special songs on the album, but they don’t build enough singles like this anymore. When these kinds of songs come around, they need to be celebrated. Plus now all my friends get to say, “About f*ckin’ time” to me.


2011: 15 of the Best. #7…

December 8, 2011

07. Adele – Rolling in the Deep

From: 21
Released: February 22, 2011
Label: Columbia
Buy it: Here.

There’s not much left for me to say about “Rolling in the Deep.” You’ve heard it. It could very well be the most ubiquitous song of 2011, but it’s nice for once that that title can be bestowed upon a well-written and expertly-performed song instead of some pop slop squeezed out of bar rags after closing time that became viral just because of some silly accompanying dance. Right? Anyway, the first time I heard it I listened intently and began moving a little. I still do if it comes on these days. Cheers to Adele for bringing some great singing and R&B power to the top of the charts. Now figure out what the hell’s up with your voice and how to manage it and stop cancelling shows. You can lose fans quicker than one song will gain them these days …


2011: 15 of the Best. #8…

December 7, 2011

08. Miles Kane – My Fantasy

From: Colour of the Trap
Released: May 6, 2011
Label: Columbia
Buy it: Here.

Miles (or, as you may vaguely know him: the other one out of that Last Shadow Puppets thing with the Arctic Monkeys guy) deserves the acclaim he’s getting for this one. I’m not going to lie, I preferred the Alex Turner-led numbers on the Last Shadow Puppets’ LP and although I tried to listen to some of Kane’s work with the Rascals, there was not one song that caught me. So when news started coming for that Mr. Kane was working on a solo record, well, it didn’t really tickle me as any great shakes. When word came forth that some tracks would feature Gruff Rhys, another would feature Noel Gallagher and another still Alex Turner, that got me a little more interested, but despite some of my friends’ early cheerleading for singles like “Come Closer,” I didn’t feel it. Then I heard “My Fantasy.” Maybe I was a bit Noel-starved, having heard nothing new from his mouth since the time of Oasis’ 2009 demise, but to be completely honest, the first version of this song was on a YouTube video of Miles performing it alone on an acoustic in a backstage area somewhere. What struck me was just the simple beauty of the song … something that Lennon or McCartney would’ve been proud to call their own circa 1965. Sure, hearing Noel’s top harmony on the final version was nice and all, but that was just dressing by that point. This song had won me over and made me check out the rest of Colour of the Trap. It’s quite good, actually. Much better than I expected and I do reverently doff my cap. Still, though—the three aforementioned collaborators each take a higher spot on this rundown, so you’ve still got some work to do, la!


2011: 15 of the Best. #9…

December 6, 2011

09. Raphael Saadiq – Movin’ Down the Line

From: Stone Rollin’
Released: May 10, 2011
Label: Columbia
Buy it: Here.

I got on the Raphael Saadiq train a little late in the game. My buddy Umaar tried to push The Way I See It on me a couple years ago, insisting that it was right up my alley and that I would love it. As I’ve noted on this blog before, that’s a bad way to get me to try something, even if you are one of my best friends. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally got around to listening to The Way I See It and (you were right, Umaar) falling head over heels for it. This was also well timed because he released his follow-up, Stone Rollin’ , just a couple months later. Where The Way I See It banked more on mid-1960s soul grooves (with an affinity to Motown worn on its sleeve), Stone Rollin’ pushed Saadiq forward a few years into late 1960s/early 1970s soul and R&B territory. Great stuff to be sure, but I still prefer the early-to-mid 1960s callbacks, simply for their style and to-the-point attacks. Maybe no surprise then that I immediately called out “Movin’ Down the Line” as my favorite on this record as it bears more of a reference to The Way I See It’s vibe, albeit likely extended about 1:30 beyond what it would’ve been had it been included on the last album. Does that make sense? Whatever. It will make you dance and also wonder why more R&B artists don’t doff their cap to forebearers in this manner. I mean, why not? It’s so damn good.


2011: 15 of the Best. #10…

December 5, 2011

10. Old 97’s – Bright Spark (See What I Mean)

From: The Grand Theatre Vol. 2
Released: July 5, 2011
Label: New West
Buy it: Here.

The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 went a little too unnoticed this year because even longtime-Old 97’s fans got into a habit of waiting 2 to 3 years between releases. With Volume One in stores for less than a year, I suppose folks can be forgiven for scratching their heads and not perking up when the words “Grand Theatre” appeared for the second time in the new release lists in 9 months. Originally the whole thing was supposed to be a double, but even major labels think that’s akin to suicide in this day and age of flagging sales, so an indie label’s probably less likely to take up the cause. Going the Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 route can be an OK compromise, but at the same time, it can also end up looking like you’re clearing the decks of castoff or not-good-enough-the-first-time-around songs. In actuality, both volumes are pretty even—Vol. 1 intersperses its lesser cuts between its better cuts and Vol. 2 crests for a healthy stretch in the middle, but both have a pretty equal balance between great and throwaway tracks. This hard-charging tune reminds you that even though the Old 97’s have staked a career on songs of bad love and booze over some explosive backing tracks, they can still celebrate good lovin’ with the same amount of verve and fire. This is the sound of love and excitement on a perfect summer day. It’s harder to capture than you think.