Monday, August 30, 2010

Best Music of the First Half of 2010: Pt. III

Albums That Surpassed My Expecations

Admittedly, many of the albums below fell into this category because I had pretty low expectations for them. Nevertheless, these are all pretty high quality and I would recommend any of them.

Clem Snide - The Meat of Life: Clem Snide's last album, Hungry Bird, was a huge let-down for me. But Eef Barzelay followed up with an album I can totally get behind. It may not be as high quality as some of the earlier Clem Snide albums, but the wry humor is still there in tracks like "Walmart Parking Lot"; and the heartbreak is there in tracks like "Denver". Barzelay also tends to name drop other musicians in his songs, and there's a nice nod to Sufjan Stevens (or at least his fans) in "I Got High."

Tunng - ...And Then We Saw Land: Tunng is, in my opinion, and incredibly underrated band. At least in this country...I don't know if they're any more popular in their native UK. I got this album hoping it would be as good as their last effort, Broken Arrows. It's a very different album, but I like it as much, if not more. The opening single, "Hustle", is the song that got me hooked:

Tunng - Hustle from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

The Bouncing Souls - Ghosts on the Boardwalk: A number of things surprise me about The Bouncing Souls. First and foremost, the fact that they're still around and making new albums. These guys have been kicking around for a good 12 years or so. Their albums may have matured somewhat, but unlike some of their peers (lookin' at Green Day here), they don't aspire to anything too fancy. They just want to make fun music. They also often have a song on each album that borders on novelty, and "Badass" easily fits that bill. It's basically the band reeling off one "badass" thing after another for a few minutes, and it is awesome.

The Black Keys - Brothers : Simply put, the best Black Keys album in ages. I've felt like they were on a bit of a downward spiral the last few years, but this is an amazingly accessible album, but it somehow it still sounds like The Black Keys. I'd be very surprise if this one didn't end up in my top 10 of the year.

The Black Keys "Tighten Up"

The Black Keys | MySpace Music Videos

Black Francis-Nonstoperotik: I don't really care what Charles Thompson wants to call himself these days, but starting with last year's Grand Duchy (a collaboration with his wife), he seems to be in an upward spiral. After several years of stuff that was barely passable, one of my favorite musicians is finally making good albums again.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Brutalist Bricks: I have no idea how these guys started an album with an opener as explosive and energetic as "The Mighty Sparrow" and follow it up with a bunch of songs that are equally as good. Brutalist Bricks is, hands down, my new favorite Ted Leo album.

Vampire Weekend - Contra: I was pretty much convinced that lightning would not strike twice for this band. Their self-titled debut was unfollowuppable, or so I thought. But I'm still playing this album, which came out the second week of the year, on a fairly regular basis, and still finding new things to like about it. Never has a sophomore slump been so utterly and completely avoided.

Cornershop - Judy Sucks A Lemon for Breakfast: It has been 8 years since Cornershop's Handcream for a Generation came out, and I was utterly convinced I would never see another album from Tjinder Singh's band again. And even when I found that they were releasing a new album, I was skeptical. Eight years is a long time...if and when bands come back from a break that long, they...well, they often kind of suck. Cornershop came back with not only a strong album, but one of my favorite albums of the year. Some songs are political, some are nonsensical. There are multiple styles of music, from straight up anthemic rock, to a little calypso, to gospel, to bizarre mixes of many other genres. There are quite a few albums I like this year so far...some that I like a lot. This may be the only one so far that I really love.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Best Music of the First Half of 2010: Pt. II

OK, the next category does not count as "Best Music", because these are some...

Albums That Failed to Meet My Expectations

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can: I enjoyed Marling's 2008 debut, Alas I Cannot Swim, immensely. Her follow-up is OK, but not great by any means.

Hot Chip - One Life Stand: An underwhelming effort from a usually fun band.

The Magnetic Fields - Realism: Normally I worship a
t the alter of Stephen Merritt, but this latest effort didn't do much for me. "We Are Having a Hootenanny" is sort of a fun novelty song, but for the most part I expect better from this usually peerless group of musicians.

Spoon - Transference: I heard the the phrase "best Spoon album ever" tossed around by a number of critics, but I was less than impressed. I'll
probably listen to Girls Can Tell or Kill the Moonlight 10 times each before I listen to this again.

Didn't Know Enough to Have Expectations

These are albums I've really been enjoying by either new bands or bands I'd never really listened to before. Broken Bells would have been on this list if I hadn't given them their own post yesterday...

Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks: This band's been around for a few years, but this was my introduction to them. As I explained when I wrote about We Were Promised Jet Packs last year, I guess I just like Scottish guys singing rock anthems.

Black Prairie - Feast of the Hunter's Moon: Comprised of 3/5 of The Decemberists (Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, and, um, the bassist), and a few other Portland musicians, I expected some high quality musicianship, but I didn't really know what form it would take. If you have ever watched the defunct HBO series Deadwood and enjoyed the background music, that's pretty much Black Prairie's music to a note. It defies genre to some extent, but it's kinda old-timey and very much American.

Freelance Whales - Weathervanes: This band has been getting plenty of support from the blogosphere, and as far as I'm concerned, they're just about worthy of the hype. I've been listening to this album a lot.

Let's Wrestle - In the Court of the Wrestling Let's: I can't even remember why I bought this album, other than that it was released by Merge, who I generally trust to release great albums. I can't even really explain why I've been listening to it so much. There are plenty of dirty garage rock bands out there that are borderline ridiculous. I think that maybe since Let's Wrestle saunters across that border and revels in their own ridiculousness, I have embraced them. I'm also a sucker for choruses that fall back on "ba ba ba ba ba....":

Drive-By Truckers - Big To-Do: These guys have been around for nigh on a decade, but this is the first album of theirs I've ever heard. I can't remember exactly why I picked it up, but I'm glad I did.

Fang Island - Fang Island: This bizarre band will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I personally think this is a helluva fun album. If you're at all familiar with Ponytail, this is sort of a toned down version of them. There's less screaming, but you're still not listening to Fang Island for insightful lyrics (if a song has lyrics at all). There's just a joyfulness to the music that one doesn't hear much these days. Sadly, it's kind of rare to listen to a group and think "Hey, they sound like they're having a really good time." This band, on the other hand, is having a blast.

Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM: I initially picked this up because I knew Beck was involved, and I've honestly enjoyed it more than any of Beck's own recent albums. The trippy video below is for my favorite song off IRM, "Heaven Can Wait", but there are plenty of other excellent tracks that make this whole album worth a listen.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Broken Bells and Their Trippy "Video"

I was going to talk briefly about Broken Bells briefly in Part II of my first half of 2010 music review anyway, but then I stumbled upon this. It's an interactive video for their song "October", and it's pretty damn clever. Clever enough to warrant it's own post, I reckon. Make sure you move your mouse around the screen lots and lots.

The band is comprised of James Mercer (of The Shins) and Danger Mouse. Both great artists, but not necessarily two people I pictured together as a band. They sort of pull it off though. The self-titled album sneaks up on you. I wasn't impressed on the first listen (which was several months ago now), but after a few more spins it really started to grow on me. It's good wind-down music...not so good pump-up music. But winding down is good, too, ya know?

Friday, August 13, 2010

(A Very Late) Best Music of the First Half of 2010: Part I

After post #300, I took a hiatus from this got busy. It still is, but I'm feeling like writing about stuff again. I've been listening to a lot of music this year, and my ego compels me to share my opinions with the internets.

The albums mentioned below and in the forthcoming posts all came out before July (I think). There are plenty of good albums that have come out since then, but I'm sticking to the first half of the year for now. Instead of a standard top 10, I've split everything up into 4 categories and things are in no particular order. Category 1 sounds boring, but it includes some great albums:

Albums that Met My Expectations

The National - High Violet:
Didn't think it would be as good as Boxer, and it's not. But it's still a great album by nearly any other standard.

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach: Expected good, got good.

The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever:
The Hold Steady know how to put out an album around the beginning of the summer that begs to be played loud in the car with the windows rolled down. That's what I wanted and that's what I got.

She & Him - Volume Two: I won't claim to like this album as much as Volume One,
but that was a hard debut to follow. It was as much as I could have hoped for from a pretty actress with a pretty voice and an indie star who has been, arguably, a little too prolific as of late. I guess that makes it sound like I didn't like this album, but I do. I expected fun, light pop and that's what Zooey and Matt brought.

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening: Everything I could have hoped for from a group that's just getting better. Video for my favorite song off the album, "Drunk Girls":

The New Pornographers - Together:
This band has set such a high standard for themselves over the years, it's hard not to worry about a dud coming along. But I didn't, and it hasn't. A.C., Neko, Dan, and the rest of the gang can make albums forever as far as I'm concerned.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - I Learned The Hard Way: Exactly what I wanted from a band that offers a nice change of pace from pretty much everything else I listen to.

Robyn Hitchcock - Propellor Time
Laura Viers - July Flame
Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame
These are all artists that I like, but seldom love. They tend to put out albums with several OK songs and a few greats songs, and their latest efforts did just that, no more and no less.