Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top 10 of 2010: The Roots–How I Got Over


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The fantastic title track

I would put side A of How I Got Over up against the first half of any record released this year. This is an album with a great deal of purpose and the first few tracks establish that immediately. In the words of Spin Magazine”s Charles Aaron - "You'd have to rewind early-'90s Scarface or Wu-Tang for such convincingly cold-eyed hip-hop existentialism.”

The guest appearances on this album take it to another level. Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, members of the Dirty Projectors and even John Ledged all make incredible contributions. My favorite guest spot though, belongs to STS who lays down an incredible flow on “Right On” – coincidentally my favorite song on this record. Some critics have likened this record to Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and Maybe that’s why I love this album so much. I think the comparison dead is on in terms of the urban alienation that is at the heart of both albums. Like Superfly this is an album that no serious music fan should be without.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top 10 of 2010: Shout Out Louds–Work


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This is actually a pretty fun video

This was one of the first 2010 releases I listened to and its managed to stick with me since I first heard it. Similar to last year’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix it can sometimes take a foreign band to remind you about what makes the American institution of Rock and Roll great. Work is certainly nothing groundbreaking. Just great songs, great production and fantastic sequencing.

There is a kind of wistful melancholy that makes it resonate with me so deeply. If you’re having an off year this album is like a warm hug. “1999” typifies the “how can I feel so nostalgic about something that wasn’t that long ago? Or was it that long ago?” feeling that I and many of my peers have experienced after college. So if you’re finding yourself in a mid-twenties malaise, give it a listen. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Top 10 of 2010: Superchunk–Majesty Shredding


Not many recent Superchunk videos on YouTube. This is pretty great though….

After watching artists like Ryan Adams and the Drive-By Truckers complete their slow slides into mediocrity this year the fact that Superchunk – one of the most consistent and influential bands of the nineties - can release one of the best albums of their career in 2010 seems particularly astounding. All reputations aside, if this album doesn’t grab you during the first four songs I don’t understand how you can call yourself a rock fan. This is inspired stuff.

And that what makes Majesty Shredding so different from so many other artists with similar careers. Everything that made Superchunk great from the epic hooks, the crunchy riffs and the punk attitude are all here and miraculously they still sound fresh today. I can’t say theres anything on here as inspiring as “Slack Motherfucker”……

But man does it come close.

Just for the uninitiated…

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top 10 of 2010: Ted Leo–The Brutalist Bricks


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This is the first “Bricks” song that I heard–back in 2008 on my honeymoon in NYC.

My admiration of Ted Leo is well documented and The Brutalist Bricks was more than enough for me to keep believing in the supreme talent of Ted Leo and the musicians he surrounds himself with. Aside from the excellent “Bottle in Cork” and its accompanying video this album didn’t seem to get much attention and that’s a damn shame.

This album is the perfect distillation of everything that makes Ted Leo great. Influences ranging from Curtis Mayfield to The Jam mingle comfortably. Ted’s lyrics continue to be concise and speak not just to the world we live in but his struggle to find a place in it. I was lucky to see him play several times this year and am thrilled that I’ll get to see him play a solo show this February (interestingly enough I first saw him play as a solo performer).

These six top records were hard to sequence. On any given day any one of these could be named my favorite record of this year. To put it another way: for me – The Brutalist Bricks is as good as it gets.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Top 10 of 2010: The National–High Violet


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The National always release top notch music videos. It’s a shame there isn’t a TV station that plays them.

High Violet marks the third entry in a very impressive hat trick by The National. While it doesn’t have the “instant classic” designation that Boxer had seemingly on arrival  it makes the run of albums from Alligator to High Violet the greatest 1-2-3 punch since Elvis Costello’s first albums.

Another collection of ballads of white collar malaise High Violet builds on fantastic production that made Boxer such a classic. That fantastic drum sound and instrument separation are still there and Matt Berninger continues to expand his range. There are some more tender and intimate moments on this record like “Afraid of Everyone” and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks". I strongly recommend getting your hands on the newly released expanded edition and giving the alternate version of “Terrible Love” a spin. It has the extra teeth that all of their songs seem to acquire in a live setting. Seeing them play at Pioneer Courthouse Square on a September evening may have been the highlight of Musicfest Northwest.  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top 10 of 2010: CR Avery–The Great Canadian Novel


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My love of CR Avery is deep and well documented. His short set opening up for Billy Bragg at the PNCA in 2008 is still seared in my memory and remains the best opening set I have ever seen.

CR comes as close as any performer I’m aware of to channel Tom Waits during his beat poet phase. On top of that - he’s also a killer pop songwriter.

His latest release The Great Canadian Novel is his best album yet (although his best song is still “Disclosure” from Chainsmoking Blues). It begins with the punchy guitar riffs of the hilarious and sardonic “Folk Singer” and transitions seamlessly to the bluegrass-meets-hip-hop of “Town to Town”. The record hits a soaring high with the epic track “Channeling Frustrated Energy” - a torrent of verse poetry cascading over a Crazy Horse style riff interrupted by a blistering harmonica solo. The record ends with portrait of Pierre Trudeau and CR asserting his identity as a Canadian progressive.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Top 10 of 2010–#9 Typhoon–Hunger and Thirst


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Typhoon - Starting Over (Live at OPB) from on Vimeo.

I bought this album from the Tender Loving Empire store before meeting my cousin for lunch one day. After listening to it for the first time when I got home it became clear to me that Typhoon is the best thing to happen to this city since the food cart explosion. Having first heard of this band in our local alt-weeklies I knew I had to check them out when I listened to a full song during a Sound Opinions spotlight on Portland's music scene.

This is probably the most cohesive album on my list. The band may be comparable in size to Arcade Fire but they bring soul and discipline to the table instead of the bloat and dourness that makes The Suburbs my pick for most overrated album of the year. Hunger and Thirst runs like a very structured song cycle with each song being essential to overall work. Simply put – this is all killer no filler stuff. Even the “intermission” track serves a purpose.

Everything about this album from the poignant and haunting lyrics to the powerful horn and string arrangements makes it an instant classic. Portlanders should take a trip to the Tender Loving Empire store and pick it up as a gorgeous white vinyl set (that I would love for Christmas by the way) or on CD (which I uncharacteristically went with that day).