Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best Tracks of 2010

I've decided to start a new year-end tradition.  I'm going to count down the top tracks from the previous year.  Let me be clear.  I'm reviewing the year that ended a full year ago.  I'm not counting down the just-completed year.  It's too soon, and everybody's doing the current year.  They have editors and deadlines.  I don't.  I'm going with the previous year.  I will have had time to catch up and reflect.

So, without further ado, here are the top 40 best tracks of 2010 counted down from #40 to #1:

40) Uneven Light of Day - Howe Gelb & A Band of Gypsies (from Alegrías)
39) We Want War - These New Puritans (from Hidden)
38) From The Mouth Of Gabriel - Sufjan Stevens (from All Delighted People EP)
37) When Will the Sun Shine - Blue Giant (from Blue Giant)
36) Black Venom - The Budos Band (from The Budos Band III)
35) Wagner At The Opera - Chumbawamba (from ABCDEFG)
34) No More Excuses - The Bees (from Every Step's A Yes)
33) Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) - Arcade Fire (from The Suburbs)
32) Alike - Efterklang (from Magic Chairs)
31) Here To Fall (rjd2 Remix) - Yo La Tengo (from Here To Fall Remixes)
30) Bright Lit Blue Skies - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (from Before Today)
29) Duet - Gonjasufi (from A Sufi And A Killer)
28) Tagger - Bizingas (from Bizingas)
27) October - Broken Bells (from Broken Bells)
26) Daisy - Fang Island (from Fang Island)
25) Summer Mood - Best Coast (from Crazy For You)
24) Mossy Woodland - Javelin (from No Más)
23) Tightrope (feat. Big Boi) - Janelle Monáe (from The ArchAndroid)
22) Stranger - Dr. Dog (from Shame, Shame)
21) Rill Rill - Sleigh Bells (from Treats)
20) The Cave - Mumford & Sons (from Sigh No More)
19) I Need A Dollar - Aloe Blacc (from Good Things)
18) Swim Until You Can't See Land - Frightened Rabbit (from The Winter of Mixed Drinks)
17) El Mensajero - Gotan Project (from Tango 3.0)
16) Money - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (from I Learned The Hard Way)
15) Brightest Minds - Department of Eagles (from Brightest Minds)
14) Dust Devil - School of Seven Bells (from Disconnect From Desire)
13) Monkees '67 - Gazetteers (from We Are Here)
12) He's Not A Boy - The Like (from Release Me)
11) Wor - Django Django (from Wor / Skies Over Cairo Single)
10) It Is Not Meant To Be - Tame Impala (from InnerSpeaker)
9) Barely Breathing - The Hold Steady (from Heaven Is Whenever)
8) Marz - John Grant (from Queen of Denmark)
7) King of Spain - The Tallest Man On Earth (from The Wild Hunt)
6) The Polaroid Song - Allo Darlin' (from Allo Darlin')
5) Your Hands (Together) - The New Pornographers (from Together)
4) Back Of My Mind - The Autumn Defense (from Once Around)
3) The Mountain - Wooden Wand (from Death Seat)
2) It Was Easy - Title Tracks (from It Was Easy)
1) Waterfall - The Fresh & Onlys (from Play It Strange)

Check this space in one year to see if the new tradition continues.  Honorable mentions for 2010 go to Deerhunter for "Revival, Caribou for "Jamelia", The Books for "I Didn't Know That", Let's Wrestle for "Song for Old People", and Radio Dept. for "Heaven's On Fire".

Friday, December 23, 2011

Paste Top Songs of 2011

Paste Magazine has released their top 50 songs of 2011.  I really appreciate their willingness to make it a list of songs instead of CDs.  I just downloaded the top 20 (or at least the portion of the top 20 that I didn't already have), and I'm enjoying making my own decisions about their worthiness for the list.

Follow the link for the whole list, but the top 5 are:
1) Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
2) M83 - Midnight City
3) Typhoon - The Honest Truth
4) tUnE-yArDs - Powa
5) Phantogram - Don't Move

None of these were 5 star songs on my iPod, but the Generationals, who came in at #6, do make my short list of 2011 releases with personal 5-star ratings.  Fleet Foxes has 5-star songs too, but not from 2011.  I do see the appeal of their new release, but it's just a bit bland in a late 70s CSN-ish way as opposed to the more interesting CSNY-ish vibe of their first EP.

I'm going to keep M83 and Phantogram on at least medium rotation on the iPod for a while.  I can see how their indie-oriented pop confections could grow on me, but they also might be no better than Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, just with a different target audience.  OK - I paused for a few minutes to watch a few Katy Perry and Lady Gaga videos.  I was unfair to M83 and Phantogram.  They're better than that, but I'm still not sure they belong in a top 5.

I wasn't familiar with tUnE-yArDs, even though it's music tailor-made for former free form DJs (and of course current free form DJs, but I don't know any of them).  I'm on the fence about the 2011 tracks, but I also downloaded some 2009 tUnE-yArDs tracks and I think "Sunlight" may have been one of the many late-decade omissions from my best songs of the 2000s list.  I think I may also like the older Typhoon song I downloaded better than the newer one.  Sometimes I think bands make these lists with their second best records because of critics regrets about omitting their earlier releases which were discovered too late to make any year-end lists.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011 Year-end Best-of Lists

I feel like the best-of lists are showing up early this year.  I prefer to read them while relaxing after having finished all my Christmas shopping for others while contemplating a post-Christmas record shopping outing on my own.  No such luck this year.  I could only skim the NY Times in a fatigued and harried state before rushing off to a Chuck E Cheese birthday party this morning, but there was at least one new discovery for me.

Like most of blue-state America, I'm pretty oblivious to current country music.  I sit comfortably distant from red states listening to alt-country, but the chasm between commercial-radio country and alt-country is still something I find astounding.  There's virtually no cross-over in either direction.  I think the Pistol Annies could be an exception.  Miranda Lambert is a huge country star, and if she's ever shown up on any NY Times year-end lists, I've certainly missed it.  Her side project, however, showed up on a couple of lists this year, including Ben Ratliff's.

I was intrigued by the write-up and figured it wouldn't be too hard to find a video, and it wasn't.  I hope things slow down enough during the holidays that I can explore the rest of the list and many others as well.  I was very happy with this first discovery.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Zagat's Top 12 Punk Records

Zagat's, the restuarant guide folks, decided to do a music guide a number of years ago.  The copy I have is from 2003.  I don't know if it was ever updated, but this list is from the original 2003 guide.  The guide has the Zagat voters' top 1000 albums of all time, and, like the restaurant guide, there are also lists of the best in various categories.  Here's the top 12 for punk.

The Clash - London Calling
The Ramones - Ramones Mania
The Ramones - Ramones
Patti Smith - Horses
The Clash - The Clash
Television - Marquee Moon
Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady
X - Wild Gift
The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks
MC5 - Kick Out the Jams
Bad Brains - I Against I
Patty Smith - Easter

The misspelling of Patti on that last one is a direct transcription from the guide.  I decided to retain it.  It's a good list, but it's also a kind of bland list.  The two surprises were "I Against I" and "Singles Going Steady".  Most of the list is from the late 70s.  The Bad Brains "I Against I" from 1986 is 5 years less old than anything else on the list.  I agree it's their best album, and has a legit claim to be on this list, but it's often overlooked in favor of their earlier records.

I was disappointed, but unsurprised, to find Husker Du, the Minutemen, and Pere Ubu missing from the list.  The Bad Brains were the only inclusion on the punk list who weren't on a major label.  Husker Du's "New Day Rising" is in the top 12 on Zagat's Garage/Underground list.  Production values were one of 3 Zagat's ratings categories, which had to really hurt the earlier Husker Du records.

The other record that surprised me was "Singles Going Steady".  Compilations are mostly ignored on critics lists.  This one is unique because this is the only full-length LP that included most of these singles, but it's still a compilation.  There are a lot of other less ambiguous compilations that show up on the Zagat's best of lists.  The Jam's "The Jam Collection" is, for instance, #3 on the list of top 12 new wave records.  Bo Diddley's "The Chess Box" is #2 on the oldies list behind Elvis's 1968 TV Special.

Like the restaurant guide, there are pithy comments from the vast pool of raters.  One of my favorite comments describes The Jam as "perhaps the greatest British band to completely strike out in the U.S."  So true, so true.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

100 Greatest Rock Guitarists

Rolling Stone magazine is out with a list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  I saw the issue in the 7-11 the other day, but I bought some beer instead.  Listology is a site I have not explored, but I think I should.  Here's some commentary somebody posted on the 100 guitarist list, and I expect it may be at least as interesting as whatever Rolling Stone had to say.

I agree with the commentator that Rolling Stone put Kurt Cobain too high and put Eddie Van Halen too low.  It's a list of best guitarists, not a list of which band put out more schlock.  I was a little disappointed that the commentator didn't have more to say about Link Wray at #67.  I think that's too low.  I also agree that David Gilmour is too low at #82.

It's interesting that Greg Ginn and D. Boon make the list, but Bob Mould does not.  This was not noticed by the commentator, who did not know who D. Boon was.  I think it's quite magnanimous of me, really, to be saying so many nice things about a commentator who doesn't know D. Boon, but indie credibility is pretty unimportant for evaluating a list of rock guitarists.  I could make a case for Nick Salamon (Bevis Frond) being on the list or maybe Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo) or Doug Martsch (Built to Spill), but I don't feel all that strongly about it.  Fred Frith and Gary Lucas should both be there, but you can't fault a mainstream publication for ignoring the avant-garde.

Oops - just did a bit more exploring and I find that the commentary on listology is from 2003.  The new 2011 Rolling Stone list appears to be pretty different from the 2003 list.  I'll need to come back to this with more commentary later.