Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the year in music - odds & ends

Here are the odds and ends for the year in music that was 2010. A few salutes, a couple middle fingers, and a big ol' Happy New Year from all of me at mclunch would like to have a word with you. Here's to hoping 2011 can live up to it's predecessor.

Breakout Artist of 2010:
J Roddy Walston & the Business
You expected Mumford & Sons, perhaps?

Flop of 2010:
M.I.A., Maya
Maya wins out over STP because she's, well, relevant. STP's new album (below) is a pile of 90s grunge. But they're a 90s grunge band. M.I.A.'s album is pretty offensively bad, and she's a talented artist. Like, now.

Other candidates:
Stone Temple Pilots, Stone Temple Pilots
Hooray for grunge! Am I right folks?

MGMT, Congratulations
I get it. MGMT didn't want to be pigeonholed as a fun, dance band. But the thing is, that's precisely what I liked about the amazing Oracular Spectacular. It was fun and you could dance to it. When you remove those two things, you get... well, this album.

Interpol, Interpol
I love Interpol. They're not here because their latest (and apparently last) album is that bad, but because it's the way they wanted to leave things. It's like if Seinfeld did a three-hour stand-up set and brought down the house. Then he told the standing ovation-giving crowd one last thing: "Be sure to use condoms because you don't want to get AIDS. Goodnight!"

Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown
All pigeon poop joking aside, this is not a shitty album. It it's not even bad. I determined this by listening to these tracks mixed in with the rest of their catalogue, and the mix held up as a whole. The only real difference is the production value. Sundown is the musical equivalent of Avatar, so much production overshadowing any substance, passion or "true rock moments". So it isn't a bad album. It just happens to be KoL's worst. But for me, the whole album was saved by the last 10 seconds of "No Money". When I heard that little flourish, I heard Kings of Leon.

Instrumental Track of 2010:
"Fot I Hose" by Casiokids, Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar
After glancing at the song and album name by this Norwegian outfit, it was a huge relief that this is an instrumental track. It's part reckless road trip anthem and part 8-bit Nintendo theme, but with the pace and fine-tuning worthy of fellow Scandinavians The Hives.

Oddball Track of 2010:
"When the Levee Breaks" by Bonerama, Hard Times
Pretty cool rendition of the Zeppelin tune. Pretty meaningful too, since these guys are from New Orleans, and they recorded this as a tribute to the city. But c'mon guys. Bonerama? That's your band's name?

A close second goes to:
Dirty Projectors + Bjork = Mount Wittenberg Orca
(pick any song) by Dirty Projectors + Björk, Mount Wittenberg Orca

Cover of 2010:
GAYNGS Go To “The Gaudy Side Of Town” With Fallon, Daytrotter
"One More Try" by GAYNGS (feat. Har Mar Superstar), One More Try (single)
It takes balls to release a single covering one of George Michael's gayest songs, especially when "GAY" is right there in your band name. But if there's anyone with balls enough to simultaneously conquer and embrace this challenge, it's Har Mar Superstar. And GAYNGS, the cross-pollenated indie collective, treat this truly classic tune with genuine care, and without an ounce of irony. Ballsy move, guys.

Other candidates:
"When the Levee Breaks" by Bonerama, Hard Times

"No One's Gonna Love You" by Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer
Beautiful cover of a Band of Horses mainstay.

Best Sexual Innuendo of 2010:
"Used to Did" by J Roddy Walston & the Business, J Roddy Walston & the Business
("How bout this / Give us a kiss, uh-huh / I got this gun / And girl, it don't miss / It makes babies / It makes that rock n' roll")

Worst Sexual Innuendo of 2010:
"Mi Amigo" by Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown
("I've got a friend / Tells me to get up again / Showers me in bruises / Tells me I got a big ol' dick / And she wants my ass home")

New To Me in 2010 (tracks I missed in '09):
"Julia" by The Very Best, Warm Heart of Africa
Amazing afro-pop (with real Africans!) with a twisting vocal harmony to die for and a beat to dance for.

"Ruby" by Dave Rawlings Maching, A Friend of a Friend
Know who would've been proud of this tune? America (the band), Neil Young, and America (the country).

"She Came Along" by Sharam & Patsy Cline, Presents: The '09 Mix
My favorite song from last year. It's exactly what every rapper tries to do and ultimately fails at: dropping their beat carefully around a classic song without ruining the intent of that song. This is an absolutely perfect remix. Such a pleasure to listen to. Hopefully Ms. Cline would agree.

Revisits of 2010 (albums & songs that just felt good again):
Paul Simon, Graceland
Always great, but this album felt even more relevant after Vampire Weekend sorta kinda stole the hook.

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
I revisited Highway 61 Revisited this year. The songs cut like a knife, and the message feels like it could've been written this year. Or any election year.

Queens of the Stone Age, R (the 10-year anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Excellent re-release with some bonus tracks and live versions.

"In the Meantime" by Space Hog, Resident Alien
Give this song a listen again. It holds up. I swear.

Video of 2010:
Some bands' real talent lies not in the music itself (and that's okay), but in their expression of it, and how that expression makes people feel. OK Go is not the best pop band today. Not even close (and that's okay). But they are one of the most memorable and easily one of the most likable. And this is an impressive video with no budget.

Yep. The official video is second only to the live version. A Rube Goldberg chain-reaction gone horribly right, and in step with the song. Amazing. So much fun to watch.

An interactive video for the Net-Genners. Yes, you should be impressed. The URL is

Sort of a 'fuck you' to Green Day's new Broadway musical, featuring the hilarious Paul F. Tompkins and John Hodgman.

I just can't stop smiling. The dogs in the video are great little actors. And wouldn't you know it? The band attached a nice pro-dog-adoption message to the video. What good guys.

Totally bizarre video directed by the talented Malloys, who I had the pleasure of working with on a commercial last year. Jake Gyllenhaal and Joe Jonas play tennis drunk and stuck up, respectively, while RZA referees and Lil' Jon coaches (in French). What fun!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the year in music - best albums

Again, an uneven number here. So sue me. Actually, don't. Just read these, and think to yourself, "Damn, I love music. Even if I don't agree with this list of best albums, which is just one man's opinion after all, and made painstakingly and carefully, each choice with a clear rationale, there's no reason for me to be upset at his choices, even if they're not the top 13 I'd choose... damn, I still love music."

Top 13 Albums of the 2010:

13) J Roddy Walston & the Business, J Roddy Walston & the Business
One or two (or if you're me, four or five) standout tracks do not a great record make. But while Rod's self-titled album will not go down as a classic as an album, this collection of world-conquering-blues-rock-ballistic-missles is truly remarkable. So it's in 13th, okay?

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12) Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye has done an amazing job focusing on his art as his public image nosedives. One of the most hated recording artists does in the studio what he could never do spontaneously: keep it real. He exposes himself as a terrible person, a cheater and a bad singer, all to create a deeply personal and beautiful record about, well, an artist creating art. Nice work, asshole.

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11) Robert Randolph & the Family Band, We Walk This Road
These guys just edged out Cee Lo for the most likable band on this list. They're a real family, you see. And unlike the collection of catchy songs that was 2006's Colorblind, this feels like a fully-formed album, each track superglued to the ones before and after it. The segues are a smart touch too.

10) Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer
"Fuck You" is such a powerful single, there's a danger it could've overshadowed any other songs on the album. And while there isn't another "Fuck You" on this record, it's a marvelous hip hop/soul package. And Cee Lo spreads the love like so much butter on his already rotund catalogue with each delightfully danceable number, "Fool For You" and "No One's Gonna Love You", a Band of Horses cover, in particular. In other news, Danger Mouse has signaled he isn't quite ready to get Gnarls Barkley back together. And really, what's the rush?

The Suburbs
9) Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
I can't illuminate any more the creativity, skill, promise or Canadian-ness Arcade Fire has brought us with this album. The greatness of The Suburbs has been well documented. But... Remember the first time you saw their web video thing for "We Used To Wait"? First there was just one window, then bam! bam! bam! there were like ten! Man, that was rad, right? In conclusion, great album. Probably deserved better than #9. But no, I'm not moving it.

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8) Surfer Blood, Astro Coast
Initially dismissed by my weary ears as just another of the soulless lo-fi punk records that've been raining down lately (see Wavves, Vivian Girls, Times New Viking, et al), this album has since become a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine. I turn to it anytime I want heart-thumping, apparently genuine California surf-rock. Not since The Beach Boys have I seen a band stick to their theme so well. Surfing. It isn't just a texture upon which their rock music is laid. No, no, no. Pretty much every song is about moving to the west coast, ridin' waves, avoiding sharks and the like. Even the album cover stays frighteningly true. And I for one have come around.

Broken Bells
7) Broken Bells, Broken Bells
We all waited in anticipation as Danger Mouse left Cee Lo Green for former Shins vocalist James Mercer. Green recovered just fine as a Lady Killer, and with the Bells, DM got to explore some deeper themes. Mercer, meanwhile, finally got some much needed backbone, after being left for dead, repeating on Natalie Portman's Discman™ from Garden State. This album soothes as it cools, reminding us that we can still dance in this cold, cold world. The good news? DM and Mercer announced they'll team up for another album soon.

6) Yeasayer, Odd Blood
I don't know if I've seen a band take such a hard left turn from one album to the next with such enthusiasm and success, and without seeming to notice the change. It would be interesting to see fans of All Hour Cymbals who hadn't heard this album yet show up to a concert. The expressions on their faces would tell the whole story: "Oh shit. I'm at the wrong show. I knew I should've waited to get stoned. Who are these guys? They're amazing."

5) Junip, Fields
How this album didn't finish toward the top of the big lists I just can't figure. Spin, was it too subtle? NPR's All Songs Considered, was it too immature? Pitchfork, too mature? All I can say is it was dead-on for me. Sweetly sublime, like a wet breeze through pine needles, on a day you wore a parka when a cardigan would've sufficed, but you know deep down it's better to be too warm than too cold this time of year. Yeah, that's the stuff.

4) The Black Keys, Brothers
Right from the get go, Brothers explodes, detonating the eardrum the same way The Big Come Up muscled its way into the ear canal eight years ago, refusing to budge. The latest Keys release feels like a unique experience, separate from other albums, yet inextricably linked to the overall catalogue. Brothers, this is the blues rock standard to which all contemporaries will be held.

3) Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore, Dear Companion
There's something deeply troubling about Kid Rock's music being identified as "All-American". The same way a Sarah Palin tweet is troubling. But to find
true All-American musicians, we need only peer at
Sollee and Moore. They demonstrate a clear respect for this country's roots in folk, country and blues music, and with a little help from producer Jim James, rock n' roll.

2) Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
I feel like Damon Albarn just wanted to see if his band could put together a winner even after starting with a bizarre thud: an opening 20 seconds in which Snoop (sigh, nice to see you again D-O-double-jizzle, how's PepsiCo treating you?) mutters the band's name, then his own nickname, then inexplicably the name of a cult-classic film from the 60s ("Gorillaz and the Boss Dawg / Planet of the Apes"). But Gorillaz did create a winner. An A-list cast of featured performers (yes, even Snoop) once again added their accents to the growing paragraph from one of hip-hop's most fascinating ensembles.

1) Spoon, Transference
Front to back. Top to bottom. Impreccabe. (Impressively impeccable? Hello?) No other release this year, for me, had so few holes in it, so little room for improvement. This album has the depth Dark Side of the Moon, the precision of In Rainbows, with the energy of London Calling. Or something like that. It's none of those albums of course, but it's an outstanding record, eminently listenable, smooth, surprising, powerful, challenging, possibly cancer-curing, expertly crafted from both 40,000ft and under a microscope, and my pick for effort of the year.

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Other 2010 favorites that just missed the list:

Eyelid Movies
Phantogram, Eyelid Movies

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Band of Horses, Infinite Arms

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Jeff Bridges, et al, Crazy Heart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, I Learned the Hard Way

Suckers, Wild Smile

Moondoggies, Tidelands

The New Pornographers, Together

Cotton Jones, Tall Hours in the Glowstream

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Brutalist Bricks

The National, High Violet

Stornoway, Beachcomber's Windowsill

GAYNGS, Relayted

She & Him, Volume Two

Sleigh Bells, Treats

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz

Vampire Weekend, Contra

The Hold Steady, Heaven Is Whenever

Portugal. The Man, American Ghetto

The Roots, How I Got Over

Brooklyn Rider, Dominant Curve

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More

Jukebox the Ghost, Everything Under the Sun

The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come