Monday, January 25, 2010

Shirley, You Can't Be Serious?

Paul Shirley no longer writes music columns for ESPN. If you didn't hear, he made some controversial comments regarding the disaster situation in Haiti. I am not going to try and sum up what he wrote, but his entire post can be read here. Obviously, that did not go over well in Bristol (or in the rest of America for that matter), and he was let go less than 24 hours later. (And here is his reaction to all the hoopla.) I always enjoyed his writing and will miss his columns. His piece a few months back about his iTunes and his agonizing over certain songs' respective play counts was really good. Mostly because it hit too close to home. But what I can't understand is how does a seemingly smart guy like Paul Shirley not realize that this sort of act would not fly with the notoriously-PC powers-that-be at ESPN? Even a micro-celebrity like Shirley had to know he didn't stand a chance with a post as incendiary as that one (whether taken out of context or not) with the current 24-hour blog/media cycle the way it is. Did that not cross his mind once while he was putting his thoughts together? Maybe it did and he just didn't care. But what became quickly obvious is that in the grand scheme of things he was probably pretty dispensable at ESPN. He's not exactly Bill Simmons. In fact, when I was discussing this matter with friends, Scott surmised that the meeting at corporate headquarters went something like this:

Guy1: Paul Shirley stated that he wished Haitians would wear condoms.
Guy2: Fire him. Have you tried that new deli on 43rd Street? The stromboli is to die for.

I suspect that this is pretty accurate. And I guess it's time to update the links.


Monday, January 18, 2010

R.I.P.: Jay Reatard

Jay Reatard was a name that I saw all over the Internet a few years ago and summarily ignored because, come on, "Reatard?" No one who chooses that name voluntarily has any business putting out good music. I was also under the false impression that Reatard was part of one of the stupid hot-then movements that I didn't like. Freak-folk or lo-fi or whatever the hell Dan Deacon does or something. That all changed when I saw the cover of Blood Visions. Seeing a dude standing in his underpants against a white background covered in blood made me want to give his music a shot. (...What?). I bought Blood Visions, pressed play, and was impressed within 10 seconds. It's still one of the few albums I happily return to when I think I'm bored with everything else in my collection.

When I heard the news on Wednesday that Reatard had died, I closed the door to my office and threw on Blood Visions. Listening to it made me sad until "Nightmares," my favorite song of his, came through my speakers. Then I remembered the great body of work that Reatard left, and was happy that my world is better because of it.

--Jim Powers

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Listmas From NQL: Best of 2009

A little later than usual, but here we present NQL’s annual best-of music compilation for 2009 from contributors and a few guests. I, for one, am ready for a new year. When I think of 2009, disappointment comes to mind: M. Ward’s snoozer Hold Time following 2006’s excellent Post-War, the sneaky-terrible Where the While Things Are movie following that amazing trailer, and the couple that crashed the state dinner following my belief that people who wanted to be famous did it the old-fashioned way, such as launching a runaway hot-air balloon from their backyard. Wilco jumped on the “disappointment” bandwagon and released Wilco (The Album) which received mostly positive reviews but I have no idea why. I guess the album was slightly better than Sky Blue Sky. But if Paramount was to come out with a Godfather IV and it was a tad more enjoyable than Godfather III, would that necessarily make Godfather IV a good movie? Of course not. (Oddly enough, I would still shell out a decent amount of cash to take in a Wilco show if they were to come to town anytime soon. Their live shows never get old.)

Bands like jj were cute for about five seconds and then I realized they were called “jj” and their novelty would not survive through next year. Honestly, is anyone going to be playing that jj album come this time next year? (Oh, and don’t think I forgot about you, xx.) I almost felt the same way about the Passion Pit album Manners but I kept playing it and playing it and it never really got old. And it sort of reminded me of last year’s Oracular Spectacular by MGMT. Looking back, Oracular Spectacular was a fascinating album. It had all the making of a one-hit wonder, a flash in the pan, two guys who would never to be heard from again until they resurfaced five years later broke and with major drug problems. But nearly two years later, you go to a club, a baseball game, or turn on your television and you’re bound to hear that album. And that’s because it’s a good album, with good songs! I could see the same thing potentially happening with Manners. (Though it should be noted, I talked with a guy who played a show with Passion Pit and he said they were extremely nice guys who could hardly play their own instruments, culminating in the drummer one time becoming frustrated and throwing his drumsticks to the ground. But that’s okay, we’re not counting down the top ten live or talented performers here.) So there you go, Manners was a good album that was released in 2009. Combine that with the amazing video from Bob Dylan for his song “Must Be Santa” and maybe the year wasn’t half-bad. And what better way to find out than with a bunch of lists.

Best Songs of 2009

10. “Little Secrets” – Passion Pit

9. “People Got A Lot Of Nerve” – Neko Case

8. “1901” – Phoenix

6. “Hysteric” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

6. “Daylight” – Matt & Kim

5. “Great Defector” – Bell X1

4. “There Maybe Ten Or Twelve…” – AC Newman

3. “Cannibal Resource” – Dirty Projectors

2. “My Girls” – Animal Collective

1. “Wet Hair” – Japandroids

“Wet Hair” is comprised of three nonsensical and non sequitur lyrics. They are sung four times and then the next time around the guitar is sped up and the same lyrics are sung faster. It’s that simple. It’s that awesome. And it also contains the best lyric written in years: “These girls are raw! Bikini kill! We need a ride to bikini island!”

Honorable Mention: “My Body’s a Zombie For You” – Dead Man’s Bones; “Shampoo” – Elvis Perkins in Dearland; “Now We Can See” – The Thermals

Best Albums of 2009

10. The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir - …And the Horse You Rode In On

Favorite Track: “Something’s Happening”

9. Cass McCombs - Catacombs

Favorite Track: “Don’t Vote”

8. Built to Spill – There is No Enemy

Favorite Track: “Life’s A Dream”

7. The Antlers – Hospice

Favorite Track: “Two”

6. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Favorite Track: “1901”

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

Favorite Track: “Hysteric”

4. Japandroids – Post-Nothing

Favorite Track: “Wet Hair”

3. The Thermals – Now We Can See

Favorite Track – “Now We Can See”

2. Double Dagger – More

Favorite Track: “Vivre Sans Temp Mort”

1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Favorite Track: “My Girls”

When Merriweather Post Pavilion leaked early in 2009 and the blogosphere morphed into Lord of the Flies, and everyone was running around waving torches, losing their collective shit, and blowing each other, I wanted to dislike it on general principal. But it’s just too damn good. At the 2:30 mark of first track “In the Flowers” the album kicks into high gear and doesn’t let up until closer “Brother Sport” is completing the victory lap. This is a summer album, an album to listen to while cleaning your kitchen, a “road trip” album, or any other “fill-in-the-blank” album you can come up with. And it was my favorite album of 2009.

Honorable Mention: AC Newman – Get Guilty; Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca; Discovery – LP; Passion Pit - Manners



Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion/Fall Be Kind & "Summertime Clothes"/"What Would I Want? Sky". No measly words of mine could further the discourse surrounding these two (four?) slabs of amazing.

Baroness - Blue Record

Big Boi - "Shine Blockas". Just release the dadburn album already.

The Big Pink - "Dominos"

Black Dice - Repo. Supposedly their "pop" album (whatever that means); if this is the state of pop music, something is right (or very wrong) in the universe.

Burial & Four Tet - Moth 12". Each producer's aesthetic is apparent, but neither outshines/overwhelms the other, rendering it impossible to tell which is the "Burial" song and which is the "Four Tet" song, which I suppose is the purpose of collaboration.

Circulatory System - Signal Morning. Welcome back, and please don't go away again.

The Clientele - Bonfires on the Heath. Another excellent outing from a consistently excellent band--and for this reason I think critics undersold Bonfires a bit. If Bonfires does end up being the final Clientele album (I hope it doesn't), what a bow.

Converge - Axe to Fall melted my face right off my head.

Delorean - "Seasun". Song of the year.

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca. This and Girls and AnCo and Baroness and xx are neck-and-neck-and-neck-and-neck-and-neck for AoTY, but if I were forced to pick one best, it would be Bitte Orca by a blowhole.

DOOM - Born Like This. Universal beatdown!

Girls - Album. Inspirational lyric: "You've been a bitch. / I've been an ass."

Isis - Wavering Radiant

jj - jj no 2. Inspirational lyric: "The thought that you found takes you to town / Smashes your face, burns out your heart / then you go home and turn it into art."

Kraftwerk reissues, especially Trans Europe Express--or, in German, Trans Europa Express.

Lindstrom & Prins Thomas - II. My dog actually gets the proper amount of exercise when we walk to this album.

Pelican - What We All Come to Need

Pissed Jeans - King of Jeans

Shackleton - Three EPs. "Mountains of Ashes" blows my mind every time. "Asha in the Tabernacle" too.

Stone Roses s/t reissue. I always knew there was a great-sounding album somewhere in there.

Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years. Bananas. More people should love these dudes than probably do.

Wild Beasts - Two Dancers. I like Two Dancers just fine, but next time, please, a little more lyrical honesty.

xx - xx. Sounds so huge yet there's almost nothing here.

YACHT - See Mystery Lights. Inspirational lyric: "Protect your eyes / Read the comments and protect your eyes."

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

Anticipating: Goodie Mob reunion album; Big Boi's and Dre's solo albums; Magnetic Fields album (and concert in March); Spoon album; xx/jj concert in April

"Discoveries": Franklin Bruno/Nothing Painted Blue; Jimmy Cliff, ska/rocksteady in general; D'Angelo; the Go-Betweens; Inspiral Carpets - Life (quite possibly the third-best Madchester/Baggy album, no big deal); Little White Earbuds; Nick Lowe; Resident Advisor (and its podcast); Scritti Politti; Yaz

Realization: I have no idea what's actually, commercially popular. In my universe, Animal Collective (for instance) is king. In the real universe, king is, apparently, Daughtry. Or maybe Shinedown. Guys: there's a band called Shinedown and they make platinum-selling albums.

Should've Listened to More/At All but Didn't: Fuck Buttons (at all), Grizzly Bear (at all); Raekwon (at all); A Sunny Day in Glasgow (more)

Statement: The ultra-lo-fi trend should just go to bed already, because it's bedtime. Overcoming self-imposed limitations seems to be the point of this movement/moment, but it is a stupid and annoying point, and you should make a different point. Neon Indian sounds like a locally produced commercial for a dentist's office. "Two-for-one crowns before December 31. Act now! Beep bloop deedle doo."


(1) Not much rap music this year (I love rap music). My tastes haven't changed, but this year I guess I mostly listened to older rap music, e.g., Goodie Mob (thx 4 reuniting btw), Run-D.M.C., Ghost/Rae/GZA, Nas, Hov.
(2) Lots of metal this year. But this year has been kind of a shitty year, personally, and metal made me feel good.
(3) How good the new Cornershop album is. FYI, Cornershop released an album this year and it's really good.

--Brian Herrmann

The Best Albums of 2009

After much internal debate, I have come to this conclusion: 2009 sucked music-wise. Initially, I believed that it may just be a symptom of age, priorities changing, getting engaged, preferring the company of my pets over strangers at concerts or bars, that I just was not enjoying music as much as I used to. I maybe attended three concerts this year, the best of which took place during the dawning hours of the new year. In the car, I listened to NPR and sports talk radio more often than music. I could hardly think of a music related article to contribute to this blog.

But occasionally something would happen that would rekindle the love. More often or not it was hearing an album or song from years past. I still loved that music, and a track from TV On the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain, or discovering the brilliance of Abbey Road’s “lesser” tracks through the Remastered edition, or finding the perfect moment to listen to last year’s still excellent You & Me by The Walkmen, brought the love back.

This helped me realize my relationship with music was not on its final legs. No, it was just that underwhelming tramp that was 2009 who was playing home-wrecker to my relationship with music. When compiling my top ten of 2009, I myself including many albums that I merely liked, and only a few that I loved. That said, the following albums are all very good albums, but the overwhelming enthusiasm I had for my Top Ten in years past is just not present here (as my descriptions would probably suggest).

10. Manners by Passion Pit

Kinda gay, but really good.

9. World Painted Blood by Slayer

A bit less falsetto than Passion Pit, but awesome nevertheless.

8. xx by The xx

Bravo to The xx for making it nearly impossible to find this album on a file-sharing site. I look forward to their follow-up, “Hot Girl on Girl”.

7. Travels With Myself and Another by Future of the Left

Andy Falkous continues using his bully pulpit of fronting a band to berate some unfortunate dude, known only to the listener by a first name. This time “Rick” bears the brunt of Falkous’s vitriol. I was a bit disappointed in the relative simplicity of FOTL’s output this time out, but a disappointing effort by FOTL is still one that got more plays from me than nearly any other release this year.

6. Two Dancers by Wild Beasts

You know those brilliant Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World commercials? For some reason I think of those commercials when I listen to this album. (In other words, it’s a very interesting album and I just wanted to come up with a convoluted way to say as much.)

5. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

In a year where Puscifer releases an album entitled “C" Is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference HERE)”, Grizzly Bear still manages to have the worst album title of the year. “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait For the Others” are both outstanding tracks, and the album on the whole is extremely impressive. Would be higher if it was not so….what’s the word…oh yeah, boring.

4. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix

I really wanted to hate this album. I really did. I failed.

3. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective

MPP’s high placement on this list is likely due to my experience the first time I listened to this album. To be more precise, the first time hearing “My Girls” was a revelation. The excitement from the moment of the initial “wooo” likely influenced my feelings for the rest of the album, glossing over some of the later tracks’ shortcomings. Though not their best output, a great album nonetheless. Also, the excellence of their late-in-the-year EP only bolsters the thought that much more interesting work is still to come from this collective of animals in the future.

2. There Is No Enemy by Built to Spill

An album that was perfect for the time it was released (early fall). It is rare to hear a good straight-forward and gimmick-free rock album these days, let alone a great one. This coherent collection of mid-tempo guitar rock is one of the few albums I truly loved this year and honestly see myself coming back to in the years to come.

1. Embryonic by The Flaming Lips


This album succeeds on a number of levels. First, when it appeared the Lips might be heading toward the land of Coldplay, U2, and Moby, they release this single-free album. A bold move in and of itself. I can guarantee you that “Gemini Syringes” or “I Can Be a Frog” will not be used to sell you a laptop.

However the lack of singles and/or mainstream appeal is the least impressive of the impressive things about this album. Like The Walkmen did with my favorite album of last year, Embryonic captures a mood and sound and perfectly adheres to this aesthetic for a full [A]lbum. Here, the Lips have produced an album that from start to finish is everything a “psychedelic” album should be. I’m not talking “The Byrds” psychedelic, but Pink Floyd A Saucerful of Secrets psychedelic. To wit, you can practically see the acid-trip images of volcanoes erupting while listening to “Witch Mountain”.

Lastly, this album succeeds because it is, in a word: awesome. Headphones on/off, on the home stereo, in the car, on vinyl, on a boat with a goat, it is awesome. If only there had been more albums like Embryonic, I would not have had to question my relationship with music.

Again, wow.

Songs of the Year

This list was actually tough to put together because despite being 2009 being underwhelming on the whole, there were a lot of excellent songs this year. Here’s the best of the best

10. “Combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bell” – Das Racist & Wallpaper

9. “The Czar” – Mastodon

8. “Ecstasy” – jj

7. “Woods” – Bon Iver

6. “Hall of the Dead” - Isis

5. “Two Weeks” – Grizzly Bear

4. “Arming Eritrea” – Future of the Left

3. “Listomania/1901” – Phoenix

2. “Things Fall Apart” – Built to Spill

1. “My Girls” – Animal Collective

--Travis Newman

Best Albums of 2009

1. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight
I don't think Tonight was necessarily the best album of the past year, nor do I think it was the most ambitious, daring, or surprising. But when I look at all of the albums that were released in 2009, Tonight is my favorite. Usually a band goes down one of two paths with it's third album. The first path is for the band to be ambitious and to cause someone familiar with it to have a bit of a "WTF" moment on first listen. This is commonly referred to as the "difficult third album" and can either be either hugely successful (OK Computer) or a disaster (Our Love to Admire). The other path is for the band to simply build on and sharpen what came before. This way, while a little boring, is almost always successful for naturally good bands (Wincing the Night Away, Urban Hymns, White Blood Cells).

With Tonight, Franz Ferdinand has accomplished the rare feat of trying to make the "difficult third album," but ending up with the perfect combination of the band's basic strengths with the right amount of experimentation. From the subtle charm of "Katherine Kiss Me" to the batshit crazy three minute laser outro of "Lucid Dreams," everything about this album just works. You get traditional Franz crowd-pleasing singles like "No You Girls" and "Ulysses," you get momentum-fests like "Bite Hard" and "Send Him Away," and you get tender little ballads like "Katherine Kiss Me." And while some of it may indulge in distorted bass, keyboards, and the influence of world music (all hallmarks of the "difficult third album"), it is always unmistakeably Franz Ferdinand and quite clearly my favorite album of 2009.

2. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
Wild Beasts are the most promising new band I have heard in a long time. Last year's great debut, Limbo, Panto (#4 on my best of '08 list), hinted at the band's potential. With Two Dancers, Wild Beasts realized that potential and somehow created some sort of new additional potential that I can't wait to see them meet, because I'm certain they will. If Jay Bilas described Wild Beasts as an NBA draft prospect, he'd say they had "tremendous upside potential potential." Then he'd probably say that putting these slight Brits on an NBA basketball court would cost a coach his job.

The thing I love about Wild Beasts is that they are unique. So many new bands nowadays can be easily described by saying that they sound like X, but with a bit more/less Y, but Wild Beasts don't really sound like anyone else. They have two excellent singers, one with a gorgeous baritone (Tom Fleming) and another who can change from his signature falsetto to a deep growl on a dime (Hayden Thorpe). Their drummer beats away on various wood blocks and bongos (yes, bongos) with impressive precision, and their lead guitarist never really plays below the 15th fret. Combine all of this and you get standout tracks like "The Fun Powder Plot" and "This Is Our Lot," both high points of Two Dancers. The album is a gigantic leap forward for a band that already leaped once.

If you can handle falsetto (and I understand if you can't) and like music, you owe it to yourself to give Two Dancers a listen. And if Wild Beasts come to your town, make time to see them because their live show is excellent. I saw them at the Mercury Lounge in New York earlier this year and it was the best show I've seen in some time. I really, really can't wait to see what they do next.

3. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
I have a feeling that, a year from now, Embryonic will be my favorite album from 2009. I read reviews before I listened to it, so I expected a bit of a departure from Soft Bulletin-and-later Lips, but I did not expect Embryonic to be as raw and dirty and acid-rock-y as it is. It's initially shocking and a little unwieldy, but after a few listens, the structures reveals themselves and a listener can start to focus on more of the details, like the persistent, ominous bass line in "Powerless" or Karen O's awesome bit in "I Can Be A Frog." Embryonic isn't really a comeback album because the Lips never went anywhere and it's not a return to form album because it's not really standard Lips "form," but it's definitely different, and whatever it is, its ballsy, difficult, and, ultimately, very rewarding.

4. The xx - xx
This was my favorite debut of the year. The xx employs a very simple formula: bordering on spoken word lyrics over a drum machine, some guitar and bass, and a keyboard effect here and there. But the xx have two things going for them that plenty of other bands do not. First, the co-lead "singers" have badass voices. It doesn't hurt that they're British, which just sounds better. Can you imagine this music with American singers? I cannot. The second thing the xx has in spades is the gift of intelligent and complex song construction. They take their simple formula and put together short songs that feature multiple parts and little bits that make you smile, like a perfectly placed hand clap or the reprise later in a song of a riff from the beginning. I love those details. It's also difficult to switch between two leads in the same song and have it sound natural, but listen to "Crystalised" and "Islands" and tell me that the xx doesn't pull it off to sometimes thrilling results.

5. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
How can someone not like this album? That's not a rhetorical question. I would actually like to know. "Lisztomania" and "1901" are perfect pop songs and "Love Like a Sunset" is the kind of unexpected, daring track that turns a good album into a great one. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix reminds me of Vampire Weekend's debut last year or basically any Spoon album in that there is no fat on any of the songs and it's just really nice and fun to listen to.

6. Morrissey - Years of Refusal
Hands down his best album since Vauxhall and I, and with a few songs that count among his solo best ("Black Cloud," "Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed"). It feels like he's been building to this for a few albums now. Hopefully he can keep his current momentum because Morrissey putting out good music is always welcome.

7. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
I don't really know how to describe this album, and I think that's why I like it so much. It's easy to name-check Bjork and Portishead, maybe M83 and a little bit of the Knife, but dig a little deeper and it also sounds like it could be right at home as the soundtrack to a 1980's fantasy movie. It's also one of those albums that reveals something new upon each listen. I have a feeling that, in the future, I might listen to this album more than most of the others on this list.

8. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains
This album really reminds me of late 1990s Modest Mouse. And because late-1990s Modest Mouse is one of my favorite band time periods (or something), I really like Why There Are Mountains. Hopefully, their next album will sound more like early 2010s Cymbals Eat Guitars and will be just as good.

9. Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy
I agree with most of the music press that, "Goin' Against Your Mind" aside, You in Reverse wasn't very good, but I don't agree that Ancient Melodies of the Future was a disappointment. I mention this because There Is No Enemy has been labeled as Built to Spill's best since Keep it Like a Secret. I don't necessarily agree with that, but it is a solid Built to Spill effort, and a marked improvement over You in Reverse. But a solid Built to Spill album is usually excellent, and this one is no exception. I think it's a little mushy and indulgent, but the highlights are there: "Life's a Dream" and "Aisle 13" are both outstanding and this new stuff comes across live as good as their older, classic-period material. For my money, they're still one of the two best live bands on the planet (The Futureheads being the other).

10. The Antlers - Hospice
I saw these guys open for the Walkmen earlier this year before I heard this album and they came off as a pretty standard, solid, rock three piece. When I heard the album, I was surprised to hear what sounded like a completely different, and much more complex band. I like that - when a band's live show is very different from the album (this is different from when a band changes a lyric or two live (i.e. Morrissey) to try to switch it up a bit, which comes across as a little desperate). Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Hospice is a very good, very devastating album. Kind of an I See A Darkness for the 00s in that I realize how great it is, but I never want to listen to it.

Best Songs of 2009

"My Girls" - Animal Collective

"Arming Eritrea" and "Lapsed Catholics" - Future of the Left

"1901" - Phoenix

"Two Weeks" - Grizzly Bear

"Daniel" - Bat for Lashes

"Happy As Can Be" - Cut Off Your Hands

"Out of the Blue" - Julian Casablancas

"Can't Get Over You" - Vivian Girls

Best Albums of 10 Years Ago (1999)

1. Blur - 13
Their greatest album, and one of the decade's best.

2. Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
It was a big shock for 20-year-old me to hear this album from those guys who made that stupid Vaseline song. It's the high point of that late-1990s Dave Fridmann sound.

3. Fiona Apple - When the Pawn...
A pretty much perfect album and a career high point that I don't think she'll top.

4. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - I See a Darkness
It doesn't take many listens to realize how good this album is. I know this because I've only listened to it about 5 times before realizing that curling up into a ball and crying kind of sucks.

5. Built to Spill - Keep it like a Secret
Top to bottom excellent.

6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada
Quiet quiet quiet LOUD LOUD LOUD. Good formula.

7. The Roots - Things Fall Apart
For my money, the only popular hip hop band worth a shit outside of Outkast. Yes, I am white.

8. Underworld - Beaucoup Fish
"Moaner" is awesome.

9. Gomez - Liquid Skin
Gomez' unfortunate new stuff casts their old stuff in a poor light. I loved Liquid Skin when it came out, but like it less each time I hear it. I stopped listening to it before it dropped out of this list though.

10. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication
A perfect mainstream rock record.

--Jim Powers

Best Albums of 2009

1. Baroness - Blue Record
2. Built to Spill - There is No Enemy
3. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
4. Pelican - What We All Come to Need
5. Red Fang - Red Fang
6. Passion Pit - Manners
7. Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg
8. Om - God is Good
9. The Thermals - Now We Can See
10. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Honorable Mention:

Code - Resplendent Grotesque
Girls - Girls
Discovery – LP

--Matthew Schuhmann

Favorite albums of 2009

1. Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear

2. Merriweather Post Pavillion, Animal Collective

3. Born on Flag Day, Deer Tick

4. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura

5. Middle Cyclone, Neko Case

6. Elvis Perkins in Dearland

7. Bonfires on the Heath, The Clientele

Favorite Shows of 2009

1. Dan Auerbach @ Mean Eyed Cat, Austin TX March 21. Hungover from Friday night, this daytime show was poorly attended. Auerbach wore shades to hide his bloodshot eyes and looked like he was fighting off urges to puke. Free beer and BBQ was handed to us. We were under a majestic 300 year-old tree at a bad ass joint in Austin.

2. Nina Nastasia @ Hideout, Chicago July 26. She had complete ownership of the stage and the dead silent, transfixed audience during this recorded show.

3. The Walkmen @ Lincoln Hall, Chicago November 12. Hamilton Leithauser still poured every last ounce of his body into his songs in spite of a ho-hum audience. They dredged up some old goodies including “Another One Goes By” and “Thinking of a Dream I Had.”

4. Avett Brothers @ Calvin Theater, Northampton, MA. August 2.

5. The Decemberists @ George Wein’s Folk Festival, Newport RI. August 1. I’m not really a fan of this band, but really, who can sound bad when you are drunk and watching million-dollar yachts and sailboats float into the sunset?

6. Jeff Tweedy @ Beacon High School, NY March 28

7. Destroyer (solo) @ Empty Bottle, Chicago May 17. Dan Bejar’s strange songwriting sounded even cooler playing solo.

8. Band of Horses @ Lollapalooza, August 9. Lou Reed went too long on the main stage which meant B of H came on late, which meant they only got about twenty minutes to play before Lolla big daddy Perry Farrell and his Jane’s Addiction came on. In a thumb-biting gesture to Jane’s, Band of Horses continued to play after Jane’s started. Ben Bridwell yelled “Fuck it, let’s keep on playing!” The crowd went wild and they played on until kicked off stage.

9. Neko Case @ Riverside Theater, Milwaukee, WI April 25.

10. Don’t know yet, but the Black Keys @ The Riviera on New Year’s Eve are probably going to be awesome to an expletive degree.

Biggest Disappointments of 2009 (at the risk of sounding like a negative nancy….):

1. Flaming Lips @ Pitchfork Music Festival. I had never seen FL live and was really excited. The highlight was when they entered the stage emerging from an enormous digital, swirling rainbow vagina. The rest was downhill and I’m not even a lesbian. Wayne Coyne talked too much and his slow-dance version of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” sucked.

2. Wilco the Album. I heard a caller on NPR’s Sound Opinions compare it to listening to a jackhammer, except that a jackhammer is more interesting. Ouch. But not untrue.

3. Myself, for being too lazy to attend a few shows for which I had already bought tickets: St. Vincent @ the Metro, Atlas Sound @ Bottom Lounge.

4. This should fall under “Performed As Expected” rather than being a true disappointment, but Conor Oberst (a.k.a. Bright Eyes) did himself a disservice playing alongside Jim James and M. Ward in Monsters of Folk. Mr. Eyes doesn’t bring much to the table. His voice is sallow and sounds like he’s been whipped. He has made a bazillion records. My sister and I have a longstanding joke where we clap really slowly for nominal accomplishments. Conor Oberst, my special applause goes out to you.

5. I don’t understand what Andrew Bird is talking about in Noble Beast. I once loved his clever word play but Mr. Smarty Pants has gone too far and now it’s over my head.

Favorite Tracks of 2009

1. “Sleepyhead” by Passion Pit

2. “Daylight” by Matt & Kim

3. “Fables” by the Dodos

4. “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear

5. “Walkabout” by Atlas Sound

6. “Smith Hill” by Deer Tick

7. “Bluish” by Animal Collective

8. “Magpie to the Morning” by Neko Case

9 “We Own the Sky” by M83

10. “Actor Out of Work” by St. Vincent

11. “Crystalised” by the xx

12. Ukrainian Polka band cover of Kate Perry’s “Hot N Cold.” You will love this.

--Audrey Wen

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top Albums of the Decade, Vol. 2.0

The following is a list of around 25 of my favorite albums of the last decade as a follow-up to Jim's. I tried to follow two rules when compiling this list. First, the album had to mean something to people. But second, the album had to mean something to me. Therefore, the first rule eliminated any music that barely anyone outside of myself found to be important or significant, and the second rule eliminated Grizzly Bear and Antony and the Johnsons. Enjoy.

1. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls In America
From the Hold Steady's catalog, most fans prefer Separation Sunday for its somewhat cohesive concept but for my American currency, Boys and Girls is their finest work, and my favorite album of the aughts. Plus, the beginning guitar riff on "Stuck Between Stations" is to this decade what the beginning of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was to the 90's, and what the opening of "Sweet Child O' Mine" was to the 80's. At least to me.
Favorite Track: "First Night"

2. The Arcade Fire - Funeral
I remember being in school and having this CD in burned format sent to me in the mail from a friend in New Mexico. I had never heard them before, but it came with a note that pretty much said "just trust me on this one." I played it in my car and "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" just immediately slapped me across the face. After it ended, I hit "back" and listened again, and again, and again, or for however long it took me to get home. I liked the beginning of the album so much that it took me a few weeks before I heard some of the great later cuts like "Wake Up" and "Rebellion (Lies)." And this probably would have been my favorite album of the decade if it wasn't for "Crown of Love" and "In the Backseat." There's no room for filler at the top.
Favorite Track: "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"

3. Kanye West - The College Dropout
808's and Heartbreaks is pretty good and you should listen to it, but The College Dropout is one of the greatest albums of all time.
Favorite Track: "Through the Wire"

4. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Like Funeral, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has that first track ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart") that has the special power to make sure you always remember where you were when you first heard it. I will also always be thankful for this album for its timing. Along with the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and some of those early Modest Mouse records, I had something to listen to besides the bands that played Lollapalooza circa 1993. (Not that there's anything wrong with Alice in Chains' Dirt.)
Favorite Track: "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (Favorite Track from Dirt: "Angry Chair")

5. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
I was at a wedding last weekend and during the reception the DJ played "All My Friends." Someone remarked, "I think this song is perfect." I couldn't agree more.
Favorite Track: "Someone Great"

6. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
This just feels like a perfectly crafted album. Every song is good, and seemingly placed in the perfect spot. In this age of singles and iTunes, if the idea of the "album" ever actually disappears, in talking to future generations I will bring up Chutes Too Narrow the same way old basketball coaches like to talk about the Mikan Drill.
Favorite Track: "Gone For Good"

7. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
When I first heard this record I remember listening to "Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl" and thinking, "I didn't know music was allowed to sound like that." And I was thinking that in a good way. This record has also held up remarkably well the last seven years and I don't think that will change in the next seven.
Favorite Track: "KC Accidental"

8. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Trying to pick Modest Mouse's best record from the last ten years is almost like trying to figure out which is the best season of The Wire. There really are no wrong answers (except for maybe Season 5).
Favorite Track: "Blame It On the Tetons"

9. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
Still the 85' Bears of break-up albums. And speaking of a recent RollingStone resident "you're-very-smart-in-an-asshole-kind-of-way" writer Matt Taibbi wrote a short piece on the plague that is the Chicago Bears' quarterback. Overall, his three main points were correct. First, that the Chicago Bears have not had a good quarterback in a long time. Second, that Jay Cutler's initial season with the team has not gone according to plan. And third, that following his NFL career, OJ Simpson made some bad decisions. (I made that last one up, but that's about as equally obvious as the first two.) Everything else in the article screamed, "I'm Matt Taibbi and there’s a reason why I usually only write about politics." For one, he did the normal song and dance of listing several of the most inept players (Peter Tom Willis, Moses Moreno, Henry Burris, etc.) that have lined up behind center for the Bears post-Jim McMahon. And then he wrote something along the lines of, "...and now comes the worst of all, Jay Cutler." Worst of all?!? Hey Taibbi, Henry Burris used to throw passes with his eyes closed! Then, he stupidly wrote something about Erik Kramer (Bears' quarterback between 1994-1998) and how much he sucked. Well, Kramer was no Joe Montana, but even a mildly observant Bears fan would tell you that he by no means sucked. In fact, for a few years, he was a damn good quarterback. Lastly, Taibbi made some reference to Chris Chandler's (Bears' quarterback between 2002-2003) corpse which just came off as sounding like the biggest attempt to ape Bill Simmons since whenever I last did it. Poor show, Matt. Poor show. (Update: I wrote this on Saturday. On Sunday I went to the Bears/Ravens game and watched a completely beleaguered Cutler throw three interceptions and no touchdowns so perhaps Taibbi was right all along. Although I would like to point out that the Bears' number one receiver was injured and was also a defensive back in college.)
Favorite Track: "The Modern Leper"

10. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
See what's written above about Modest Mouse. The same thing is at play here.
Favorite Track: "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"

11. Common - Be
Common has very quietly been responsible for three classic hip-hop records: Resurrection, Like Water For Chocolate, and this one.
Favorite Track: "The Corner"

12. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
My favorite record from my favorite band from the last ten years or so.
Favorite Track: "A Stone"

13. Radiohead - Kid A
In one of Chuck Klosterman's books he makes the case that Kid A is sort of a track-by-track warning (or something) of 9/11, which would end up happening about 11 months after Kid A was released. Upon reading this I immediately listened to Kid A to see if I could figure out where Klosterman was coming from. I never really did, but I wasn't that upset about it because it gave me an excuse to listen to Kid A. It’s hard for me to think of another album that so brilliantly mixes moods. Kid A is somber at times, hysterical at others.
Favorite Track: "Idioteque"

14. The Walkmen - You & Me
You & Me is so good I predict one of the following two reactions for their next release: First, it will be as good as You & Me and will cement the Walkmen as one of the best bands of this generation. Or second, the conventional wisdom will be that it is not as good as You & Me, while ignoring that it's actually a damn fine record. Those are the stakes when you set the bar so high, gentlemen.
Favorite Track: "In the New Year"

15. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
See what's written above about Modest Mouse and the White Stripes.
Favorite Track: "The Way We Get By"

16. The Wrens - The Meadowlands
A track-list that is pretty much murderer's row: "Happy," "She Sends Kisses," "Ex-Girl Collection," etc. It's a perfect pop record.
Favorite Track: "Ex-Girl Collection"

17. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
The fact that this album would have been so hard to top may have been the primary reason why Stevens decided to scrap the idea of doing an album for every one of the 50 states. (Or maybe it was because the entire idea was completely ridiculous and unrealistic.)
Favorite Track: "Chicago"

18. Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Though not as good as Heartbreaker, during a seven month span in 2005, Ryan Adams released Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29. The first two are very good, and 29 certainly has the right to exist. How come no one ever mentions this? If there's a more impressive and prolific output from any other artist I would like to see it.
Favorite Track: "My Winding Wheel"

19. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
I am still a big fan of the Mountain Goats, but I don't think John Darnielle's recent material has come anywhere near this album. I emphatically tried to force myself into liking his latest product, The Life of the World to Come with little success. The last time I gave it a try, I finally bailed and immediately listened to "Broom People" from The Sunset Tree and everything made sense again.
Favorite Track: "This Year"

20. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
I was blasting BeyoncĂ©'s "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" on my iTunes (and loving it, by the way) the other day and when the song ended I wasn’t paying attention and Big Black's Atomizer was next in line. After "Single Ladies" I wasn't quite mentally prepared for Big Black, and frankly, it scared me. I decided to scroll through my entire iTunes collection, and nowhere else was there such a dramatic shift from one artist to another. Not even close. What this has to do with Destroyer's Rubies, I have no idea.
Favorite Track: "3000 Flowers"

21. Deerhunter - Microcastle
Bradford Cox has proven to be one the best songwriters of the last decade and this is him at his best.
Favorite Track: "Nothing Ever Happened"

22. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Don't fight it, it really is good.
Favorite Track: "My Girls"

23. TV On The Radio - Dear Science,
It just keeps getting better, doesn't it?
Favorite Track: "Family Tree"

24. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
From top to bottom, Ms. Case's finest work.
Favorite Track: "Margaret Vs. Pauline"

25. The Killers - Hot Fuss; The Postal Service - Give Up (tie)
It's hard to leave off two albums that are responsible for about a baker's dozen of the top hits from the last decade.
Favorite Tracks: "All These Things That I've Done" and "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight"

Best of the Rest: The Decemberists - The Crane Wife; The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; Jay-Z - The Blue Print; The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema; Outkast – Stankonia; Rogue Wave - Descended Like Vultures; Smog - A River Ain’t Too Much To Love


Monday, December 14, 2009

Top Albums of the Decade (And Some Other Things)

Earlier this year, Jim Powers and I each posted what we thought were the best and most definitive songs over the past ten years. Here, Jim makes his case for the top albums of the decade along with some superlatives. My response will be posted later this week, and the best of 2009 in songs and albums will also be coming soon. But until then, read what Jim has posted below and see what you think. I hear he likes Radiohead.

Albums of the Decade

1. Radiohead - Kid A
As easy a choice this decade as OK Computer was last decade.

2. The Futureheads - The Futureheads
This is an intensely personal choice. Sometimes I think this album was made just for me.

3. Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica
Amazing, beautiful, and haunting fully-realized album from easily the best songwriter of my generation (and his excellent band).

4. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
Every time Animal Collective puts out a new album, I think it will be their masterpiece. But every time I listen to that new album, I realize that they already created their masterpiece, and it is Sung Tongs.

5. Clinic - Internal Wrangler
As fresh-sounding today as when it came out.

6. The Libertines - Up the Bracket
Even without the tragic death-of-the-band story as context, this is a great collection of songs.

7. The Knife - Silent Shout
I still get cold chills when I put on this album and hear those first thee notes.

8. The Strokes - Is This It?
I think I might actually like Room on Fire better, but this one was the breakthrough.

9. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
The high point of bands trying to ape Joy Division and the only really worthy imitator.

10. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
The keystone of late-decade Spencer Krug dominance. Props to Boeckner too, who I think is yet to fully realize his substantial potential.

11. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock and Roll
I usually run when an album is described as "fun," but when I call this album fun, it's high praise.

12. The Shins - Chutes too Narrow
There's no way anyone could have expected this watershed after the cute Oh Inverted World.

13. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Kill the Moonlight or Gimme Fiction could be here too. Somehow, on year-end lists, Spoon will be penalized for putting out so much good shit - kind of like when two guys from the same region split the Heisman vote.

14. The Walkmen - You and Me
Keeps getting better and better.

15. Love is All - Nine Times that Same Song
One of the best break up albums ever, but uplifting rather than depressing (looking at you, Bon Iver).

16. Mclusky - Do Dallas
I can't put into words how much I love Mclusky. If I could put greatest hits albums on here, Mcluskyism would be top 5.

17. The Arcade Fire - Funeral
Deserves all the praise it gets.

18. Outkast - Stankonia
Looks like it will be the last great Outkast album, sadly.

19. The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious
Heavily influenced by Fetus Toast, these Swedes' studio output is excellent, but their live show is a can't-miss spectacle.

20. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
I don't think Jack White has come close to topping this one.

21. Liars - They Threw Us In a Trench...
Drum's Not Dead is probably "better," but, unlike that album, I still listen to this at least once a month.

22. Sleater Kinney - One Beat
The only 9/11 album worth a shit. A very good, satisfying shit.

23. Radiohead - In Rainbows
Their most intimate album, and a nice little comeback after the slightly disappointing (yet still good) Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief.

24. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (and EP)
Too bad they kind of fell off a cliff, because this is pretty much a perfect debut.

25. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
One of the best singer/songwriter albums I've ever heard.

Decade Superlatives

Best compilation: Guided by Voices - Human Amusements at Hourly Rates. The best distillation of Pollard's substantial genius.

Best song: Outkast - Hey Ya!

Best concert that I saw: Modest Mouse (the Shins opening) - Black Cat, Washington DC, September 28, 2001. This is one of those "I cant believe I saw X and Y play at Z shows."

Best trend: The influence of the good stuff from the '80s.

Worst trend: The lo-fi movement. Just because something sounds like shit on purpose doesn't mean it doesn't sound like shit.

Best use of music in a movie: "Just Like Honey" at the end of Lost in Translation.

Best band (taking industry stuff into account): Radiohead. Two classic albums, two pretty good albums, and the In Rainbows release strategy.

Best band (based on quality alone): Spoon. Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight, Gimme Fiction, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga all in a row in one decade? Wow.

Best video: Real World / Road Rules Challenge

Most disappointing band break-up: Blur

Most welcome reunion: (tie) Blur, Pink Floyd

Best album cover: Andrew W.K. - I Get Wet

--Jim Powers
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