I know we're still pretty early in the year, but there's been some damned good music released so far, and I need something to get me back into writing/blogging mode. So I figured I'd share some of my favorite 2010 releases with y'all. In alphabetical order:
Honorable Mentions: Broken Bells - Broken Bells (Shins + Danger Mouse = good), Cold War Kids - Behave Yourself [EP] (if only for the song "Audience of One"), Four Year Strong - Enemy of the World (good, balls-out pop-punk), MGMT - Congratulations (need to spend a little more time with this one, but I like what I hear), Brendan Kelly/Joe McMahon - Wasted Potential (my second favorite Larry Arms singer goes acoustic... and so does some other guy).
Against Me! - White Crosses
Produced by: Butch Vig
Standout tracks: "White Crosses," "High Pressure Low," "Spanish Moss," "Rapid Decompression"
Tom Gabel has always reminded me of Tom Petty a little bit. They're both named Tom, they're both from Gainesville, and they both have the same utter disdain for the music industry. But whereas Petty railed against record prices and recording contracts, Gabel gripes about the corporatization of rebellion ("Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners" from Searching for a Former Clarity), grapples with questions about the digital age of music ("Up the Cuts" from New Wave), and, now, grumbles about the hypocrisy of the "scene" that he came from on "I Was a Teenage Anarchist," the lead single from White Crosses. Yes, Gabel seems to be leaving his anarcho-punk roots behind, both philosophically and musically. On their second tour of duty with Garbage-man producer Butch Vig, the band explores a much more polished sound than even New Wave hinted at. There's keyboards, bouncy hooks, anthemic choruses -- I mean, listen to the opening riff of "High Pressure Low" and tell me it doesn't sound like a Cheap Trick outtake. There's this whole '70s glam/punk thing going on with this album that I just love. Those expecting a balls-out punk record will be disappointed, but they clearly didn't listen to New Wave. It's a huge step away from their roots, but a welcome one. This album isn't officially released until June, but, somehow, I doubt that Tom Gabel cares that it's been leaked.
Here's the video for "I Was A Teenage Anarchist":
Produced by: Mark Hoppus
Standout tracks: "Disappear," "Stand Too Close," "Pulp Fiction"
If I wasn't exactly expecting a pop-tinged masterpiece from a Butch Vig-produced Against Me! album, I would've been disappointed with anything less from a Mark Hoppus-produced MCS album. And disappointed I was not. From the first few tracks that leaked -- "Disappear," "Her Words Destroyed My Planet" -- I knew I was in for more pop than a bunch of Midwesterners in a soda shop. (Get it?? ...because they call soda "pop.") While I enjoy the work of The Cars and Fountains of Wayne, the band made the right decision bringing blink-182 frontman Hoppus back into the studio rather than another go-'round with Ric Ocasek and Adam Schlesinger. In many ways, My Dinosaur Life feels like a sequel to the last Hoppus-produced MCS record, Commit This to Memory -- it has the same combination of lively synth lines, pop culture-junkie lyrics, and just enough earnestness to keep the record grounded. Definitely an impressive major-label debut, if only because they've been making music worth of wider release for years.
"Her Words Destroyed My Planet":
Produced by: M. Ward
Standout tracks: "In the Sun," ""Ridin' in My Car," "Over It Over Again"
I'll be honest -- I didn't listen to the first She & Him record (Volume One, obviously). I dunno... it just seemed like a novelty act or something. You know, like Scarlet Johanssen's singing "career" or Britney Spears's acting "career." Little did I know that Zooey Deschanel -- long a favorite actress of mine (and I'm going all the way back to Big Trouble here) -- can actually carry a tune. And write a song. And play a keyboard. She's actually a talented musician! I had no idea. So, long story short, after I fell in love with this album, I acquired Volume One and fell in love with it as well. The song that got me hooked was "In the Sun" -- a strong early contender for song of the year (Against Me!'s "Spanish Moss" is the main competition right now). I think that song -- and this album -- was written to be played in a convertible on California State Route 1 on a beautiful summer day. Or maybe it's the other way around -- they bottled that shit up and distilled it into music. I tend to think the former is easier. So yeah. Summer road trip music for sure. California, here I come! (At some point.)
"In the Sun":
Produced by: Streetlight Manifesto
Standout tracks: "Just," "Skyscraper," "Punk Rock Girl," "Such Great Heights"
If some of those song titles look familiar... it's a coincidence. No, I'm just kidding -- 99 Songs is a cover album. Or, rather, the first in a series of eight planned cover albums. Whatever, Tomas (Kalnoky, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist/procrastinator) -- I'll believe it when I see it. (Or, like I said about Somewhere in the Between, "I'll believe it after I've listened to it ten times.") Anyway, Streetlight does the whole upstrokes-and-horns thing on eleven tracks, ranging from Radiohead to Bad Religion to the Squirrel Nut Zippers (remember them? Didn't think so) to Paul Simon. Their bombastic horn section is disappointingly restrained this time around, as the band opts for a more straight-ahead style of cover. They make up for it with some inspired selections (definitely didn't see the Radiohead cover coming) and the fact that this actually came out. Now, if we could just get that BOTAR album, or the 99 Songs project finished before 2050, I'd be a little less bitter at Tomas for the ill-advised (and even iller-executed) Keasbey Knights rerecording. (Ska rant/namedropfest over.)
"Such Great Heights" (no video):
Standout tracks: "Mourning in America," "Even Heroes Have to Die," "Bottled in Cork," "Gimme the Wire"
I haven't listened to the album closely enough to figure out why it's called what it's called, but it's the perfect title -- The Brutalist Bricks. What else to call a record built from the ground up with perfect 3-4 minute guitar rock gems? Ted Leo's latest spends a brisk 41 minutes pummeling the listener with riff after riff, punctuated with Leo's trademark vitriol. Just try to keep up with tracks like "Mourning," "Wire," "The Stick" or "Where Was My Brain?" All in all, Bricks is a much more taut effort than 2007's sprawling, loosey-goosey (but still excellent) Living with the Living. He doesn't explore much new musical territory here, but, like Buster Bluth's cartography classes, "It never hurts to double-check," and Leo treads the same tracks with vim and vigor (I apparently have a thing for alliteration tonight... just go with it). Compact, concise, and other c-words (yup, another AD reference), The Brutalist Bricks is built like a brick shithouse (never understood that saying, but I'm using it anyway). Also, it's got a bee on the cover, and bees are badass.
Ted covering Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps" :
Standout tracks: "Thing of the Past," "Prosser's Gabriel," "With Ease I Leave," "(Memento Mori)"
I know next to nothing about Tim Barry. Apparently, he was the singer for a punk band called Avail that I've vaguely heard of but never heard. His first album was recommended to me by last.fm, I was bored, so I checked it out. It was pretty good, so I downloaded his next record. It was even better. So I downloaded this. It was excellent. Sometimes, it's just that simple, people. I've always liked the "punk rocker goes folk" angle (see: Kensrue, Dustin and Ragan, Chuck and Kelly, Brendan). Mr. Barry does it with just as much aplomb as any of those guys, if not a fuckton more irony. His songs range from the serious ("Gabriel," "With Ease") to the silly ("Bus Driver") to a bit of both ("Thing of the Past"), which is when he's at his best. Probably my favorite line of the year (from "Thing of the Past"): "Money is a thing of the past / You spend it once and it don't come back." That sort of devil-may-care, DIY spirit permeates all his records and makes me feel less bad about stealing his music. Don't worry, Mr. Barry, I'll see you when you come to Tempe!
"Thing of the Past":
Produced by: T-Bone Burnett
Standout tracks: "Somebody Else," "Fallin' and Flyin'," "Gone, Gone, Gone," "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"
I know, it surprised me too -- a country album. But this one has a few things going for it: 1) The film's star, Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges, can actually sing (and so can co-star Colin Farrell -- I'm sensing a theme here...); 2) The record (and film) is more focused on older country music, rather than the pop-masquerading-as-country crap that everyone is referring to when they say "I like everything except country" on their facebook profile; and 3) It's produced by T-Bone Burnett. I mean, the dude's name is T-Bone Burnett. That, and he's probably the preeminent authority on film soundtracks (remember a little film called O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- same guy). The standouts here are definitely the Bridges songs, especially "Fallin' and Flyin'" -- I really thought the wrong song was nominated (and won) at the Oscars. However, a lot of the non-originals are excellent as well -- see the Waylon Jennings track ("Are You Sure...") and the Townes Van Zandt track. Just a well put-together album, and one that is making me rethink my stance on "country." So if any of y'all have any suggestions, feel free to let me know!
"Fallin' and Flyin'" (no video):
Well, there's still most of 2010 left, and a lot more good music to come. Here are a few that I'm looking forward to just around the corner (physical release date in parentheses):
The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever (5/4)
Minus the Bear - Omni (5/4)
Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away (5/4)
The New Pornographers - Together (5/4 -- a big day, apparently)
The Black Keys - Brothers (5/18)
The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (6/14)
That's all she wrote. Except I'm a he. Anyway. If anyone likes what they see/read/hear/etc., just let me know -- I can get you a link for any of these albums. But remember -- support live music if you're gonna steal the recorded stuff! Or at least buy a t-shirt or whatever. Thanks for reading, and until next time... whenever that may be.