Sunday, December 26, 2010

The 2010 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 20-11

Getting near the top now! This year I added 1,290 songs to my collection and I listened to a great number more than that I didn’t allow onto my iPod. So this represents the first part of the top 1.5% of the songs I’ve heard this year. Enjoy!

20) Regina Spektor – “Calculation”

In case that last song got you down, here’s one to pick the mood up. Regina is the queen of bubbly, artsy, fantastic indie girl-with-her-piano gems. In essence, she’s who all the Sara Bareilles, Colbie Caillat, and Vanessa Carlton fans SHOULD be listening too, if they aren’t already. “Calculation” is the best off her great album “Far” and is definitely worth a try.


19) Minus the Bear – “My Time”

Expectations were high after Minus the Bear released one of my all-time favorite albums “Planet of Ice”. Of course, high expectations can lead to disappointment, as their newest album was just “good”. “My Time”, though, is better than good, slowly building and then bursting forth into Minus the Bear unique brand synth-laden alternative rock.


18) Band of Horses – “Factory”

If Minus the Bear had a challenge to follow up their last album, try being Band of Horses following up “Cease to Begin”, one of the greatest albums I’ve ever laid my ears on (FOUR five-stars!!). I’d say they did an admirable job, getting a Grammy nod for Best Alternative Album in the process. And the best song of the bunch? The imagery-heavy “Factory” (“The elevator in the hotel lobby has a lazy doo”), complete with swooning strings, is a fantastic opener to a great album.

17) Jimmy Eat World – “Littlething”

I’ve probably never heard a powerful Jimmy Eat World ballad I didn’t like, and on their newest album that gem is the turn-it-up-and-sing-it-loud force that is “Littlething”. For anyone who fell in love with “23” or “Dizzy” (and seemingly every J.E.W. fan has…), “Littlething” is the next song to add to your collection.


16) The Hold Steady – “The Sweet Part of the City”

Craig Finn is the best storyteller in music today, and on this track he turns his abilities on, nostalgically looking back on his early days “living up in Hennepin”. And where is Hennepin? It’s in “the sweet part of the city….the part with the bars and restaurants”. Some may have issue with The Hold Steady’s new bent towards singing rather than barking their stories, but the truth is, The Hold Steady have never been more listenable.


15) Avi Buffalo – “What’s It in For?”

Watching Avi Buffalo perform this year had the appearances of watching high school friends put on a show, except for two things: 1) They were already playing a major American festival and 2) they were really good. The best of the bunch is this Shins-meets-Beach Boys shimmery summer jam called “What’s It In For?”.


14) Deerhunter – “Helicopter”

Want a lesson on a how a song can sound simultaneously deep, detailed, and perfectly listenable? Give this one a lesson. Experimental indie doesn’t have to directly conflict with lush, beautiful pop music. On “Helicopter” Deerhunter channel their inner Radiohead and Grizzly Bear, and that’s a huge compliment.


13) Lifehouse – “It Is What It Is”

I may not have cared for their album, but “It Is What It is” is nothing short of fantastic. It’s hard to believe Lifehouse has now been doing this for a decade, and as long as they keep writing songs as good as this one, they’ll be around for another decade.


12) Broken Bells – “The High Road”

I miss The Shins. It’s been nearly four years since their last album. But when lead singer James Mercer split onto a solo gig I had hope, and that hope was realized when I first heard “High Road”, my first true song obsession of 2010.


11) Spoon – “Who Makes Your Money?”

Spoon holds a high place of regard in my mind, locked in a permanent fight with a couple other bands to be the answer to the “who is your favorite band” question. This track is everything I love about Spoon, who know how to be interesting and experimental without sacrificing pure listening enjoyment. Give it a listen and you’ll be singing it all day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 2010 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 30-21

We’re starting to get into the meat of the list now, and I’m energized by my other posts getting double the page views as anything I’ve ever written. It’s like I’m becoming a real semi-decent amateur music critic! *tear*/*sniffle* Enjoy!

30) Band of Horses – “Infinite Arms”

Band of Horses excel at creating a mood, and that mood is at the forefront of “Infinite Arms”, the title track from their Grammy nominated album. “Infinite Arms” creates a sense of longing and will make you close your eyes and just listen when Ben Bridwell sings “when my thoughts drift to you…”.


29) The National – “England”

Truth is I could put almost every song off The National album here, but I’ll focus on this one and one that is much, much higher on the list. “England” combines The National’s ability to create sorrowful tones with beautiful instrumentation. The album hits its peak when the horns come in right after the two minute mark.


28) Broken Bells – “Trap Doors”

Here to give me my fix of The Shins are Broken Bells, now with lead singer James Mercer teaming with Danger Mouse. “Trap Doors” is the second best track on an album full of winners.


27) Spoon – “Out Go the Lights”

It’s possible there’s no better band consistently making outstanding music in relatively obscurity than Spoon. “Out Go the Lights” is a perfect example of what Spoon does best: create listenable pop songs with a creative depth that emerges more and more with each listen.

26) Sufjan Stevens – “Heirloom”

This one is off his EP rather than his full length, but in my opinion it’s his best. Sufjan has always had the ability to sound loving wounded and timid, but he has never sounded more fragile than when he apologetically sings “oh I never meant to be a pest to anyone this time/no I only meant to be a friend to everyone this time”.

25) S. Carey – “In the Dirt”

We didn’t get any new Bon Iver this year, but we did get the indie debut of Bon Iver’s drummer, S. Carey. “In the Dirt” is good enough to be a standout out on a Bon Iver album in itself, and shows that there’s more talent rolling through that band that you may have imagined.


24) Menomena – “Five Little Rooms”

This free online download turned into a couple weeks of repeated play. Between the horns at the beginning and the small dose of piano combined with the striking storytelling, this song takes off.


23) Vampire Weekend – “White Sky”

I’ve never been Vampire Weekend’s biggest fan, having not truly liked any song off their ballyhooed debut other than “M79”. But now we have “White Sky”, and this might change everything. The song is impossible not to sing and bounce along too. It’s a little taste of joy wedged in between a song of social commentary and one about a broken horse.


22) Freelance Whales – “Broken Horse”

This song is beautiful in its simplicity, using nothing much more than an acoustic guitar, xylophone, soft drums, and vocals to create this gem. This one is full to the brim with moving imagery.


21) William Fitzsimmons – “Just Not Each Other”

Heartbreak is his specialty, and it’s quite clear that Fitzsimmons went through something pretty terrible before creating this album. “Just Not Each Other” is the second best track on the album and it’s good enough to be ranked this high. Your heart will break right with his when he muses “we’ll love again/just not each other”.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The 2010 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 40-31

Here is the next batch of songs, which features a diverse collection ranging from the psychedelic alt rock of MGMT to the soft coffee shop indie of Mimicking Birds, with a stop for some southern arena rock courtesy of Kings of Leon along the way.


40) MGMT – “Someone’s Missing”

Was there a more disappointing album this year? MGMT set out to make a record completely opposite of Oracular Spectacular. The problem? Oracular Spectacular was an all-time great, and this its opposite was not all that good. Not so with “Someone’s Missing”, a slow burner with a breakout piece of musicianship tucked away at the end.

39) The Naked & Famous – “Young Blood”

Perhaps the least likely sounding song on this least. It’s full-up revved synth and drum machine, like the rockier version of some dreamy, emo M83 song. But it’s better the louder it gets and I dare you not to like it.


38) Kings of Leon – “Pickup Truck”

Kings of Leon may have changed their sound up a whole lot since they started, but they have never lost their ability to paint a good, gritty story. In the mold of “Knocked Up”, KoL return with a southern-tinged track about jealousy.


37) Mimicking Birds – “10 Percent”

This song gave me goosebumps the first time. How’s that for high praise? The song is chill and stripped down as all get out, but at just about the one minute mark when that soft, haunting piano tip-toes its way in, it’s a beautiful moment of songsmanship.


36) Caribou – “Odessa”

Caribou mix the alternative rock with the electronic adeptly, and while I’m sure they please many of their fans with the all electronic material, it’s songs like “Odessa”, “Jamelia”, and “Kaili” that show me that if Caribou ever make an album focused around the very best of their pop/electronic/vocal-based tracks, they could make an all-time great.

35) The Arcade Fire – “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”

“Sprawl II” is the culmination of another fantastic album from The Arcade Fire album. And you’d have won the bet if you told me my favorite song off the album would be an 80’s synth rocker fronted by RĂ©gine Chassagne, and not Win Butler.


34) LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”

This song takes some commitment, but if you take the time, there’s a big payoff. A slow churner, “Dance Yrself Clean” bursts forth around the 3 minute mark and makes way for their best overall effort to date.

33) Yeasayer – “Madder Red”

They might just be the best band you’ve never heard of, storming onto the scene in 2010 to prove their promising debut album was just a tease. “Madder Red” is irresistible from the first “oooo oooo ooos”.

32) Local Natives – “Airplanes”

I’ve always been more of a sucker for piano and guitar than percussion, but it’s hard not to notice the fantastic percussion put forth by the endlessly likeable Local Natives on this fantastic track.

31) Miniature Tigers – “Gold Skull”

In a busy life there’s something resonating when Miniature Tigers calmly sing “Think I’ll stay home and chill out here tonight…I need to take a break.” But push past the lyrics and look at the details: the electronic opening invokes thoughts of The Postal Service, the background vocals hint of The Beach Boys, and the oww-oooohs remind of Bon Iver.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The 2010 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 50-41

I hereby present the first ten songs. Hope you find something you like!

50) Surfer Blood – “Swim”

A pure blend of guitar and catchiness right up front for you as we start the list. “Swim” is irresistible, packed full of reverb, guitar licks, and sing-along-at-the-top-of-your-lungs fun. The track is rousing and—although it’s December so you might just have to trust me—it’s the perfect Summer jam.


49) Cee Lo Green – “Bright Lights Bigger City”

Cee Lo Green might just be the hardest nut to crack in music today. Mostly known for his breakout hit as the voice portion behind Gnarls Barkley (even your mom knows “Crazy”, more than likely), Cee Lo boasts an incredibly distinct voice, unique style, and a pension for making the unexpected. “Bright Lights Bigger City” invokes 80’s synth and Michael Jackson and channels livin’ it up through and through.

48) Brandon Flowers – “Only the Young”

It’s been a little bit of rough sailing for Brandon Flowers since the release of The Killers’ monumentally fantastic Hot Fuss record, with each new effort coming up a step short of the previous one. Now Brandon Flowers inevitably goes solo, and the result is the fully Vegas-ed “Flamingo”, with was disappointing overall in its mediocrity. But “Only the Young” is the gem of the bunch, riding the back of a pensive electronic portion, a sweet guitar groove, and Flowers’ emotive voice. It’s a welcome addition for both Killers fan and more.


47) My Chemical Romance – “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W”

Following up album’s like The Black Parade is no easy task, so it’s no surprise that #47 is as high as a MCR song clocks in this year after I couldn’t help but put three of their songs in the top 50 in 2007. But the list is about tracks, not albums, so all due praise goes to the outstanding yet annoyingly-titled “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W”, the best track on their newest effort.


46) Mumford & Sons – “Thistle and Weeds”

Mumford & Sons stormed onto the scene this year, and their tour is one big long list of sold out shows. Personally I feel similar about them as I do Vampire Weekend: I like them, but not nearly as much as everyone else. They certainly bring a flair and passion to rock meets folk, though, and do it no better on their smash debut album than in this gem, where the song builds and builds until it breaks forth in a crescendo of guitars, piano, and horns.


45) J.R. Richards – “A Beautiful End”

A throwback to the high school days, when J.R. Richards fronted a band called “Dishwalla”, famous mostly for “Counting Blue Cars”, and made a living using his powerful voice to carry adult contemporary pop ballads. A guilty pleasure, you could call it. He returns with this sad and beautiful song, but rife with sincerity when he sings “Your body failed your bones/but not the love of your soul/your love goes on and on/its a beau­ti­ful end to a beau­ti­ful life.”


44) Tame Impala – “Solitude is Bliss”

These psychedelic rock upstarts from Australia sure know how to start a song, beginning this one with one of the most irresistible guitar hooks of the year, and the rest isn’t so bad either!


43) Phosphorescent – “Mermaid Parade”

Some songs just nail a mood. In this one the mood is wistful, thoughtful, and disappointed, though hardly angry. “I came back to this city and you stayed home in LA/and then our two years of marriage/In two short weeks somehow just slipped away” is sung woundedly over a country vibe.


42) The Black Keys – “Never Gonna Give You Up”

They hit mainstream gold with “Tighten Up” (also a fantastic song), but the album’s very best is a remake of Jerry Butler’s 1968 hit. The Black Keys specialize in blues rock and create an addictive mix of dirty tones and slick guitar chords that mixes perfectly with Dan Auerbach’s distinctive vocals. Definitely worth a listen.


41) The Middle East – “Blood”

I blame a sunburn on these guys, who took advantage of a sleepy me with their chilled-out jams and helped soothe me to sleep in a field at Sasquatch Festival. Luckily for me I woke in time to hear their best track, the whistle-tinged “Blood”. Give it a listen and you might not know you like it till you catch yourself whistling along two hours later.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 2010 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 15 Albums of the Year

A new feature this year! Click this link below to listen a pre-built playlist featuring a song from every album, in order, in the top 15! Think of it as your mix for the day, or maybe even longer. :-)

15) Miniature Tigers – “F O R T R E S S”

This is a very new addition to the collection, so only time will tell how much I come to like this album. But the verdict now? Better with every listen. They’re like a fun diet-psychedelic garage band. There’s something undeniably fun about these guys (see “Japanese Woman Living in My Closet”), yet they aren’t without musicianship or lyrical abilities (see “Goldskull”). Check back with me in a couple months to find out whether I regret putting them only at #15. Best track: “Goldskull”

14) Jimmy Eat World – “Invented”

You’d be right if you reminded me that I called this album Jimmy Eat World’s weakest of the last decade, but I also hold Jimmy Eat World in such regard that a weak Jimmy Eat World album is not really weak at all. They still tap emotion about as good as any band out there and they display this in full force on songs like “Coffee and Cigarettes”, “Heart is Hard to Find”, and “Littlething”. Best track: “Littlething”

13) Caribou – “Swim”

The term “electro experimentation” must just sound awful to most people, and Caribou certainly are an acquired taste. But Caribou aren’t without their pop sensibilities, which is what makes them good. Caribou prove on this album that when they are their best they might just make some of the best music in the world right now. Best track: “Jamelia”

12) The Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”

The Arcade Fire may be the best reviewed band of the last six years, but I still never thought they’d get a Grammy nod in the overall best album category rather than the alternative sub category that my bands usually populate. So I guess I’m forced to give the Grammy’s props? The album nominated is the introspective concept album “The Suburbs”, which quite possibly has no bad tracks. New fans may find the style slightly more digestible, and old fans will find it to have all the flair that makes Arcade Fire so great. Best track: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”

11) Mimicking Birds – “Mimicking Birds”

Mimicking Birds make the kind of music that can draw you in, chill you out, and yet never bore you. The album is decidedly soft and low key, featuring hushed vocals in the mold of Iron & Wine, but don’t mistake soft for being without lush details. And that’s why the album is fantastic: what on first listen seems like an acoustic softy better left as background music turns out to be one of the deeper and most gratifying listens of 2010. Best track: “The Loop”

10) LCD Soundsystem – “This is Happening”

On their third album, LCD Soundsystem provide their best overall effort yet. While they still provide typical fare of two or three epic songs surrounded by long, meandering dance songs that are better live than in your car, they do it better here than ever. Best track: “I Can Change”

9) Interpol – “Interpol”

Welcome back, Interpol! Second album “Antics” was an all time fave, but their third album was the kind of dud that’s make you wonder if you’ve lost the band forever. After this stellar return to form, I’m happy to say this is not so. Best track: “Memory Serves”

8) Broken Bells – “Broken Bells”

One part Shins, one part Gnarls Barkley. Two parts awesome. The collaboration from an indie superstar in The Shins’ James Mercer and Dangermouse, producer-extraordinaire, was every bit as weird, cool, and listenable as you could hope. Best Track: “The High Road”

7) Band of Horses – “Infinite Arms”

There’s no track as good as “Funeral” from their debut album or “Detlef Schrempf” from their sophomore effort, but their third release shows that Band of Horses may be incapable of writing a bad song. Best track: “Factory”

6) Local Natives – “Gorilla Manor”

One of the newcomers of the year, says I. Hard to believe this is their first cd. They are polished, interested, peppy, and full on enjoyable. Somewhere in here you can hear just a hint of Beach Boys with just a touch of Northwest indie flair. Best track: “World News”

5) The Hold Steady – “Heaven is Whenever”

Music’s best storytellers hit back with yet another exceptional album, back to front. Craig Finn, my music hero, moves away from the talking and more towards the singing, meaning there’s no better chance for the casual fan to try this band than with this album. Best track: “The Sweet Part of the City”

4) Freelance Whales – “Weathervanes”

I continue to steal the phrase “your little sister’s Arcade Fire” when I describe this band. The album is a full on experimental and randomly-instrumented as it is poppy and refreshing. Good enough for the critics and the people who hate critics simultaneously. Best track: “Generator ^ Second Floor”

3) Spoon – “Transference”

Following up my #1 best album of the decade ain’t easy, but Spoon do plenty well with their newest album. And what’s better is that the album grows on you. It’s another gem from the band that toes that line between indie and pop so spectacularly. Best track: “Who Makes Your Money?”

2) Yeasayer – “Odd Blood”

Coming into the year I’d never even heard of Yeasayer. As 2010 comes near its end, I’ve listened to this one on repeat and done the same to their first album. Somehow they make music that’s alternatingly weird, melodic, Middle Eastern, and poppy. As the year went on and on, this was the album that stuck in my cd player the second most. Best track: “Strange Reunions”

1) The National – “High Violet”

Back in May I bought this album as a throw-in with releases by some of my favorite bands. I never would have guessed it would be my favorite album of the year. But it’s just an out and out masterpiece from start to finish, as rich with feeling and sincerity as it is with melody. This album is a keeper. Best track: “Conversation 16”


Just Missed:

Deerhunter – “Halycon Digest”

Avi Buffalo – “Avi Buffalo”

Sufjan Stevens – “All Delighted People EP”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The 2010 Ultimate Music Megapost: An Introduction


Hello friends and random internet readers, and welcome to the 2010 edition of the now fourth annual Ultimate Music Megapost! As you can see I’ve got my Critic Face on, so let’s get to it. Every year I view this post as the ultimate culmination of my hobby, where I pull together every Saturday morning spent pouring through music blogs, every long drive soundtracked to my current favorite songs, and every excited purchase of a new album. Each year I highlight what I feel was the best music of that year in a broad range of categories and then open it up for what I hope will be spirited discussion.

As with every year, I must start with a disclaimer. I’m a big fan of music but by no means is this a profession, which means that I don’t get free music sent to me by bands. This means primarily two things: 1) I haven’t heard EVERYTHING, though I venture to say I’ve heard quite a bit and 2) there are sometimes things that get released in the year prior that don’t make it to my collection until the next year, meaning I’m pretty liberal about allowing 2009 songs into the 2010 list, but try to avoid going too far back. If the point is to highlight good new music to the casual fan, then I do not want to leave off a solid track. I also try not to get carried away with single bands, so even if I might feel like one album was so good it might justify having seven songs on the list, I’ll leave that commentary for the Best Albums section and diversify the Top 50.

As always, I welcome any and all commentary, both positive or negative. This is a massive project to undertake, and although I have fun with it even if barely anyone reads it, it’s always nice to know that people are giving it a try. It would make my day to know that I helped someone find a new band that they love.

Over the next few days and weeks I will be posting different categories, from albums to songs to lyrics. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Music Review: My Chemical Romance –“Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys”


I always say that I’m open to any song in any genre no matter what, because good is good and every genre has their artists who are talented and every genre has their artists that are, well, sub-par. So even as an indie/alternative fan I like that hip hop has Kid Cudi and Girl Talk and I like that country has Nickel Creek and Lady Antebellum. Does the same go for pop punk/emo? Yes, it even goes for emo. In a genre where copycatting is basically all there is—each four piece pop punk band following the same screaming-followed-by-a-sensitive-piano-piece script—My Chemical Romance has stood just above the rest. Their last album, “The Black Parade”, may have just been the masterpiece of the genre, somehow weaving a sort of quirky concept album into an emo rock opera.

Can they strike gold twice? I always assumed not, since you got the feeling listening to “Black Parade” that they had hit their peak. Their newest album, the verbosely titled “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous KIlljoys”, henceforth referred to as “Danger Days”, can only be summarized as an aptly over-the-top valiant effort, that despite it’s solid tracks falls short of sky high expectations set by their last album. That doesn’t mean the album is bad—it’s not—it’s just still a significant step down, unfortunately. Part of the problem is the album’s frontloading, which bursts forth with the unashamed “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”, the equally energetic “Bulletproof Heart”, the melodic crowd-pleaser “Sing”, and the roaring synth rocker “Planetary (GO!)”. It’s a bruising start, but it’s unsustainable as the album drifts into forgettability during the middle portion. Challenging “Planetary (GO!)” for the album’s best track is the much more ear-friendly “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W”, which is followed by positively un-punkish sounds of “The Kids from Yesterday” and “Summertime”.

All in all it’s a decent showing full of about seven real solid tracks. But in between those seven tracks are a half-cracked attempt at a post-apocalyptic theme (complete with a fictional radio broadcaster pretending to playlist you through the apocalypse) and five real dud songs. “Black Parade” this is not, but there’s no reason to avoid it completely. It’s a solid three-star effort and MCR are still probably the best the genre has to offer.