Sunday, February 20, 2011

Best of 2010

Best of 2010

Welcome to the 2010 edition. While this is claimed the "best," the decisions to make it are pretty arbitrary, constrained by time, exposure and events. My guess is the rejects would be a pretty good set of songs. Likewise, I've seen 2010 lists with songs I never heard that I enjoyed. So all I promise is a list of songs that will hold up pretty well over time. S0 if you're just here for the music, you can skip to the bottom and download (if you prefer, I can send you a CD or you can get it at You can read my comments or just the list. I look forward to every one's comments.

Random thoughts

If you're read this before, these should sound familiar.

(1) There is plenty of good music out there. Check out this video:

These guys don't even have a record contract so you wont find them on itunes or anywhere else. Going through the blogs, amazon or youtubes (I read a note today from a band saying that they make almost as much from youtube streaming as itunes), it's easier to find new music than ever before. The hard part if taking time to sort through it. Its why putting this list together takes so long. But in the same vein, check out I've been on it for a couple of weeks now, but have become a fast convert (thanks to Jessica and Mike). For $5 a month, you can stream any song, any album, any time. ($10 monthly allows you to download mp3's to your iphone, touch or android.) You can create and share playlists. You can do pretty much anything you want except burn cd's. It doesn't have everything and seems slow to add new releases, but covers 98% of what I'm looking for. Ive been waiting for Spotify (European version of mog) to arrive in the US,
but thrilled to have mog. The only problem it adds a huge library of music at your fingertips. Back in the day, you read about a band in the paper or a magazine or if you were really lucky heard it on the radio, then you would have to hunt it down at the right price point - remember the endless flipping through cd racks? Then you could hunt it down on blogs or itunes, which might get you a song or tune until the cd showed up on or the zon or wait for it to show up at the library. Now I go right to mog and in ten minutes have listened and judged. And if I didn't like it, I haven't shelled out $5 or $10 bucks. This is just expanding the exposure and access to music. There is too much good music out there and things like is just accelerating the pace we can get exposed to it.

(2) The music business. I've read a lot this year about what this. We have a lot of currents here: digital revolution, live nation/ticketmaster and EMI LBO. Bob Lefsetz has frequently had insightful and thought provoking emails/posts (the discovery of Good Old War along warrants a shout out and I apologize for anything I rip off from him in the next few sentences). I would go so far to call 2010 the year of Bob for me. I don't have any answers for the music business. I know the labels dragged their feet and got destroyed for it. Steve Jobs tried to get control in the Apple manner, but blogs have stolen share and I think mog will definitely break the hold of itunes (I am not predicting the end of itunes, at least as long as there are ipods). Apple did prove that people love music and it is important to people. I can tell you don't become a musician to get rich - the odds are against it already and the best you can hope for is a steady paycheck. And its going to take a lot of practice (gladwell's 10k hours) because if you fail to deliver, people will quickly move on (see number 1). And now to make it, you going to have to work harder: more live shows, multiple revenue streams, work the web/social media, sign at the merch table after the show. One guy suggested that "being a musician is something you do before you get a real job like the social service, the Peace Corps or Teach for America." Its a new world out there.

Ben Nichols of Lucero might have it right: "My dad sells furniture in Little Rock and it’s the same as it is with him. He’s just like “if I can get a few more people through the door, sell a few more things, then we’ll be okay.” And I see it the same way, if we can get a few more people through the door and just make a little more money and everybody could be a little more comfortable. Because now there are kids being born and families kind of coming together. So now my main concern is how do I keep this going– to make sure that everybody in the band is taken care of, what do we have to do take care of everybody." Now they got dropped by their major label last year and have been at it for twelve years.

(2b) Old guys (and gals) rock. This is really a corollary to the Leftsetz philosophy. Or just the Gladwell 10,000 hours. Either way practice and experience leads to better music and better shows. Maybe its Woody Allen's "showing up is 90% of success" and if you keep doing it long enough. Nothing worse than buying an album after hearing a great single and being disappointed. Or going to a show after hearing a great album and the band not delivering. But the older you are, the more proactive you have, the better your edge. Look at the Rolling Stones; if you've ever been to one of their shows, you know its worth a $200 ticket. Why? They put on two plus hours where all the songs are great and you will be entertained. Rhett Miller (40+) tweeted that songwriting is easy after your first 100 songs." Now some of guys just start mailing it in. But if ever once awhile you get a gem. The last Stones album or some of the Bob Dylan's recent stuff jump to mind. But someone like Alejandro Escevedo's album this year really stands out. I don't think this is a conterversial view but I'm amazed by how little the media pays attention to quality works because its not from the right demographic or the next "new thing." Sometimes "new to you" like a used car is the best thing.

(3) The death of alt-country. The reality is the term really applied to one good band (uncle t) that ultimately became two really good bands (son volt/wilco..or so I'm told). But every band that has a little twang or harmonies or is a bit throw back gets thrown in this category. Even the guys who are more blues or r&b. My point is the category is a catch all and become unwieldy so it needs to be eliminated. Maybe we dont need categories. If we need to name it, I think I prefer "Americana." (I'm also partial to "blue core" although that might be one band too - Avett Borthers). But now we have British and Scottish bands (luckily no French or Germans yet) playing the "style" like Mumford and Stornaway so America may not be the best base. But until the British have recycled it, is it really validated yet (see rock and roll/Beatles)?

(4) Grammy's (due to my laziness, we get a bonus). Amazingly, they actually seem to be picking relevant choices and impacting music. For instance, Mumford sales have bounced up to 20k a day on itunes and Cee Lo songs went gold. I would consider the first fact good news, the second one shocking and just shows how broken the business is. The minute you heard Cee Lo, you knew it was a hit but still took six months to break out. And Justin Bieber's movie was the story of the week in music. It's almost like the record labels have given up (we know radio quit awhile back). see point 1.

Big Misses of Best of 2009
As some many of you are fond of pointing out, I am not perfect. For whatever reason, I never picked up on Metric and their great hooks. I knew I would love the Avett Brothers even if I hadn't assimilated them last January, but to this day, my respect and love of them continues to grow (Paste puts it as 9th best album of the decade). Luckily they put out a love album this year so I can correct my oversight this year. But the missing of the XX was inexcusable. Several of you pointed it out to me, I was aware of them in the blogsphere but still it just didn't register. Still, I was willing to listen again and downloaded the album. Listening beginning to end rather than as singles was a completely different experience. I was blown away. I don't think the album was album of the year (Phoenix) but it was damn close. Mea culpea. My favorite mix up of 2010:

Albums I like so far but haven't spent enough time with:

The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit - for the title if nothing else
Feral Fire, Glossary - sounds like the kind of alt country we dig
What We Lose in the Fire We gain in the Flood, Mynabirds - same as previous but with more blues and girl singers
Heart of My Own, Basia Basiat - same as previous but less retro
Everybody, Ingrid Michaelson - the next Neko Case category
Beachcombers Windowsill, Stornoway - English Americana but not as good as Mumford
Broken Record, Lloyd Cole - an old favorite
It's not what I am thinking - Badly Drawn Boy - mellow stuff but great craftsmanship and also win on stage meltdown award
The Guitar Song, Jamey Johnson - think Hank Williams Snr nor Jr. Check out Macon. Gets better with every listen
Steel Hearts, The Only Sons - all country rock of the Tennessee variety
Le Noise Neil Young - same old Neil young but with a Brian Eno twist
The Night Before/After, James - return of an old favorite picks up where they left off
Braille Audreye Sessions - another in that alt country category
Dawes - easy to pass off first time through but find myself checking the ipod after hearing a great song and its them

Albums I like but nothing jumps out

Tidelands Moondoggies
Grinderman 2
Tomorrow Morning Eels
Wake up the Nation Paul Weller
Sun Came Out, 7 Worlds Collide

Not Making the Cut / Avoid
Junky Star Ryan Bingham - not bad but a let down after last two albums. all slow songs.
Dangermouse/Sparklehouse its growing on me but a tough slog to get there
Midlake - way overrated
Slash - would be great around 1995
Realism Magnetic Fields - a return to their typical songs. not a return to strong songwriting. plus I hear the guy is a real, lets say jerk, which is always disappointing.
Darker Circles Sadies - see Ryan Bingham comment

Recommend but not making it

Drums Here Lies Love - David Byrne/Fatboy Slim
Beck's Record Club - INXS Kick
Stornoway -
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat the Devil's Tattoo
Eli "Paperboy" Reed - Come and Get It if you like hornsy R&B from 1962 (see Junior Walker, one of my all time favorites) this is the man
Maximum Balloon
Peter Gabriel
Social Network, Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross
Song of a Gun, Oh Land
Big Wave, Jenny and Johnny
Fixed, Stars
I Liked it better when you had no heart, Butch Walker - This guys a producer best known for girl pop but really needs to do an old 97's album.

Final Cuts

Sleigh Bells - I listen to this and it makes me what to get on the dance floor and spazz out. I say spazz because not really sure what kind of dancing. Its not "dance music" per se - way too hard. But its not industrial or punk so no slam dancing. Not r&b. Not pop. And it doesn't really go with anything else. Like the pixies, its hard to listen to a while album. And live sounds the same as recorded. I don't know what to do with it. It just sort stands on its own.

Aint no Grave Johnny Cash - needs no explanation. a piece of art but his voice is shot. not as good as recent albums but powerful stuff

Ambling Alp Yeasayer - Almost made 2009. Almost made 2010. Sad legacy. But I heard better hooks. I heard better synth music. I love it but had to cuit it.

Brothers Black Keys - Like all of these at this point, hard cuts. I love the evolution from jam/roots rock to more darker/alternative sounds. Needs more stronger hooks, like previous albums

Hurricane J Hold Steady - Same as the black Keys, this album is good but falls short of previous albums and isn't really breaking new ground. We have a little hurricane Josephine too, so a very difficult cut.

Latin America Holy Fuck - my theme song this year with two trips that way. This song will be someones opening credits. But its really more of a good groove.

July flame Laura Viers - a Neko Case substitute but fails on two points (1) Neko has that note/harmony that sinks in to my bones and I instantly love (2) songs are more atmospheric and less song like. Recommend more for a mellow night on the porch.

I should have known it Tom Petty - What a hook. Best Led Zepplin song since three days.
Citizen Broken Bells - Danger Mouse meets the Shins. Solid songwriting but a little too nice. Needs just a little more edge/emotion.
Animal Neon Trees - pop song of the year but last one to go as went with substance over hooks

The songs

Album of the Year

There is no doubt what the best album released in 2010 was: The Cure "Disintegration." Originally released in 1989, this remastered set included the original, another cd of outtakes and a live version of the album. This is one of those albums that immediately transfers you to that time and place when you listened to it two or three times a day. For technical reasons, we have to disqualify it but if you don't own it, whats wrong with you.

As for the real count down, I could of have gotten to 20 or 30 albums but stopped counting. Here we go:

17. Laura Viers - July Flame

16. Black Keys - Brothers

15. Broken Bells

14. Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

13 .B.O.B. - Adventures of Bobby Ray not only my favorite rap album of the year, but best album of pop songs

12. Ben Folds and Nick Hornby - Lonely Avenue Another great Ben Folds album. Best Piano player. Funniest songwriter but still can write a song with real emotion or a song with both (Belinda). My questions is why Nick Hornby? I love Nick and enjoyed his new book this year but this album isn't really different from other Ben Folds album. "From Above" seemed to be a little more philosophical than most Ben songs or at least a different thought but I don't see Nick's fingerprints here.

11. Peter Gabriel- Scratch my Back - This album is fairly controversial. No drums, singing cover songs with an orchestra. It was criticized for being too bland and repetitive. In isolation, I can see that - it is not a collection of singles. But no one goes to see the orchestra and then complains that all they did was play violins and woodwinds all night - you have to appreciate the nuances a little bit more and pay attention. More importantly the emotion is amazing. Any one song pretty much washes over you but in order, the emotion builds and builds until it is overwhelming. Gabriel did the same trick on the album about the death of his parents. This isn't that explicit but his interpretation of Bon Iver maintains the original feeling and extends it, as only a true artist can do. Pretentious yes, but still powerful. Finally, his version of the Magnetic Fields "Book of Love" made the Best of a few years back is still one of my all time favorites.

10. Old 97's - Grand Theater Volume 1 - If they had done the double album would probably been much higher. Playing more like a band than Rhett and the other guys than ever. Bringing the guitar and bass to the front makes this more listenable. No advances in song writing but that not what they are really about and they don't need to get better at it anyway. This album is definately for fans and will not turn them into something else, as I don't have any idea what that would be in today's business.

9. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals III/IV - When I heard about this album at the beginning of December, I thought outtakes from last session. Then I listened and was blown away. A little refresher: before Ryan married Mandy Moore and retired from music, he was known for prodigious consumption of mind altering substances and a prodigious output of music, sometimes putting out four cd's worth of work - problem was about half of it was crap. This album while lyracily the strangest of his career has a solid foundation and succeeds as a "concept album" or as singles. I look forward to Ryan's return to us.

8. Good Old War - part of the new Americana movement. These songs are both simple and complex, sad and uplifting. everything music should be.

7. Spoon Transference - I keep waiting for their U2 moment. The best band in America? possibly. no bad songs, blending out blues and r&b with that weird time steps and an alternative sensibility. Each album their fans criticize them for selling out but no U2 moment. Still great work.

6. Alejandro Escoveda Street Songs of Love - a Texan who lives in New Mexico post California punk career who transitioned to Americana and then to back to rock and roll. This is really a straight out rock album, building off Real Animal but with stronger songs. It's just raw and emotionally honest. Alejandro turns 60 this year so a truly impressive achievement.

5. Drive-by Truckers The Big to-Do - These guys churn out an album a year of quality stuff. They have to be the best song writers in America now. But their Southern rock tinged songs are unique and honest. What impresses me most(other than the consistent quality) is that each song is a little story that lets you understand the character, a trick few will attempt to pull off.

4. Mumford and Sons Sign no More - Americana via the UK. they dropped the f bomb before Cee Lo. Yet another collection of all great songs.

3. Black Dub - Daniel Lanois' (Brian Eno lite turning 50 this year) latest project. It sounds as if it came from the future but with old blues vocals. Another December acquisition, if it had come out a few months earlier could very well be at number one. If you don't believe me, check this out. It's worth it.

2. CeeLo Green - The Lady killer - Proving Crazy was neither a one hit wonder nor a Danger mouse project, F U was a monster hit, quite a feat given the title. More amazing was the album, because it's another one with no bad songs, but in a ton of different styles. I think of it as a Motown or classic R&B or a 1950's English pop but then you hear "Bright Lights Bright City" and you're int he 80's. Its light then goes heavy and back again. As I write this, I'm having second thoughts naming it #2. I guess if he did a rock song, that would have sealed the top spot. Next time, I'm sure. Did I mention that he also scores cover (song) of the year with band of horses "what part of forever " on the Twilight soundtrack. And he kills it live. Plus he got Robert Palmer's old band too.

1. Wolf Parade Expo 86 - I flip flopped one and two so much its really a 1a and 1b. This one goes the exact opposite of Cee Lo (or at least a 270) - classic alternative rock. A lot of people are talking 2010 as the year of the 80's revival and throw these guys in here. But its really 80s fringe like Gary Neuman with guitar added, or how I think of 90's alternative. But these are songs that all challenge the listener, whether its a guitar anthem like "nobody's perfect" or a synth driven song like "ghost pressure." But they all rock. It was almost impossible to chose a song from it, so I chose the first single but hard to go wrong here. Supposedly they have broken up, which is too bad really.

Best of 2010

We are Sex Bob-omb - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - Do you love comics, video games or underground rock and roll? Catch this flick. I dont know if it was under-rated or expectations were set so low that it had to be a pleasant surprise. It's tone is hipster commentary but I think it makes fun of that as well as comic movies and anything else. The comic suffers from extreme decompression (a personal rant of mine) but the movie just skips that, yet retains the feeling of the comic. This really harks back to the video games of the 1980's. Most importantly, the music is written by Beck and performed by the movie stars (as opposed to Kick which was written by INXS and performed by Beck and friends) and it is straight ahead punk aka garage rock aka classic rock and roll with big bass chops.

Rush - BU2B - Concert of the year. Follow instructions. First watch this. Then see live. Finally, listen to sings (BU2B/caravan). You will be converted. I admit I grew up loving Rush. But this is a band that has so much going for it. They are regular guys, but possess both a mind that thinks about stuff as well as a sense of humor. Also, kick ass musicians. Most importantly they are willing to be themselves. I think they lost their path a bit in the 90's but the last album seemed to get back on track (near miss for best of) and then the live album showed they still have it, especially the drum solo. Seeing them live just confirmed it (who else has an intermission "because they are old" and ends with a ten minute skit based on "I love you man"). Finally the single proves they are back. I only chose this song because it was the shorter song (I love the line in the other song "I cant stop thinking big.")

What did my lover say? (it always had to go this way) - Wolf Parade - see above. I pick songs for silly reasons. sometimes its my favorite but often I have trouble picking one song from a good album. I may cop out and take the shortest one (see previous). Other times, its the best hook or the initial riff or the one that sticks in your head. Sometimes its a lyric I like. This one was the first single so I chose it but could have been any song really. Other than the really long name, it was an arbitrary decision.

Lovely and Blue - Ryan Adams - Tough to narrow down from this album. I think this song hits on a whole bunch of those short rules. Great opening riff, but turns into a love song (kind of) but still fast. It really turns is a great example of Ryan Adams song in two and a half minutes. And I love the song of the guitar

Slight Figure of Speech - Avett Brothers - Technically from last year but they did release a Live album this year (plus several bootlegs). This is shorter and has the best rap of any song (see about 1:10).

The Dance Class - Old 97's - My favorite song on the album. Love the guitar and Rhett does a great job on the chorus.

Tender Heart - Alejandro Escevedo - What a great rock album and this song just rips. And at 60. A good representation of what the album sounds like.

The Fourth Night of My Drinking - Drive-by Truckers - another arbitrary one ("Santa Fe" stands out for personal reasons) but love the idea of a four day bender as well as I do love anything with slide guitar.

Home - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetec Zeros

"Alabama Arkansas I love my Ma and Pa." Watch the video of a cover version and I think you will get the song. I had cut this originally but brought it back. But the song does feel like home.

I believe in You - Black Dub - First single but chbas* (*could have been any song)

Little Lion Man - Mumford and Sons - The minute I heard it, I knew it had a place.

Robots - Dan Mangan - I had the video last year, here is the official release from 2010. Its a nice folk song about robot love. That's so weird you have to love it. "Robots need love too; they want to be loved by you."
Thats some dream - Good Old War - This is a song that I chose for the song. I love the album too but this one is special. It's a sad song, but I also find it uplifting. It makes me want to cry but another part is smiling. Not very many songs can get the emotion both ways at the same time.

Airplanes - Part II - B.o.B. with Eminem - Pop/rap song of the year. Great hook with great guest spot from Eminem (whose album dropped last year). Also seems to make sense.

The Poloroid Song - Allo Darlin' - I'm pretty sure this is a new one for most people. From the beginning, I'm tapping my foot. These guys are usually pretty funny (see "Henry Rollins don't dance") but this one is little more serious. A solid first album.

From Above - Ben Folds and Nick Hornby

As much as I love this album, I don't see Nick Hornby's influence. This song is the exception. The idea that your soulmate is walking right by you, and you don't even know it seems both sad and unrealistic at the same time. Ben can right a killer sad song, but this seems a little subtle and a little meta for him. And watch the video as it is one of the funniest things I ever seen., because this is how he is in concert.

Fuck You - Cee Lo Green - see above/below

The Mystery Zone - Spoon - CHBAS* but I picked this one as it seemed to fit in with the others songs, at least as much as any Spoon song can pls the line "the information troll." And this guy an "old" guy, pushing 40.

Ready to Start - Arcade Fire - "album of the year" according to Grammy doesnt make my top 20. The album is fine but the songs are anthems, and, after the setup, fairly predictable. But I love this one - its sounds like a Smith's song updated for the 90's. I heard on the radio and it took me two months to figure out who it was (even though I bought the album for $4 the day it came out). Plus what better song to end with? That final half cymbal at the end.

Song of the Year

Is there any question? Cee Lo's album is a tour de force and this song went off like a bomb. 40+ million you tube views? Covered by Gwyneth on glee? Stuck in your head forever? check check and check. More amazing it is cowritten by Bruno Mars. This guy was everywhere this year (the last guy to show up this many times on the best of list was Kanye West). Cee Lo, B.O.B. (uncertain how to punctuate him - comma or not), Knaan (waving glag official song of the world cup), solo, Billionaire (another Glee song), Flo rida - a truly amazing run. while his solo stuff is not my cup of tea, i can recognize talent. So hats off to Cee and Bruno for their accomplishments.

Download Best of 2010