30 December 2010

Top Five Albums of 2010

Let me start this post by commenting on the year in music: 2009. It seems that every year I come up with a respectable yet righteously opinionated list that seems perfect; however, and this happens every year, I always seem to miss the memo on a few bands and then receive the message later on down the road. Case in point: Mumford and Sons, Florence + the Machine, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. All three bands released better than mediocre albums in 2009 that could have drastically altered last years list, but alas, I did not discover them until this year, 2010. In particular, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero's "Home" is a slightly better than incredible song that I have not gotten tired of (it was even the theme song to Emily and me's road trip).

This years' list was the toughest in years. Solid albums by Bad Religion, Broken Social Scene, Tame Impala, Murder by Death, The Walkmen, Josh Ritter, and my beloved Neil Young are not even in the five honorable mentions let alone albums of the year. Also, for your consideration, I chose to include the rankings from other music publications such as Rolling Stone, Pitchford and Spin as well as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Scott Mervis's list.

Anyways, Happy New Year to all of you. May the year bring good health and good fortunes to you and all of your families.

And on to the music...

5. The Gaslight Anthem American Slang
Released 15 June 2010 (Side One Dummy)

A little more polished, a lot less punk, but still packing that crucial mixture of heart+soul that has been constant for these Jersey boys for three full-lengths and one e.p. They're doing Godfather Springsteen proud.

Other Rankings: Spin (36/40)

Key Tracks: "American Slang," "Bring it On," "The Spirit of Jazz"

4. Arcade Fire The Suburbs
Released 3 August 2010 (Merge Records)

I'm going to get a lot of shit for this album being this high on my list, but let me explain...

I've been an Arcade Fire fan not since the very beginning, but since Funeral was about a year old. The first song I ever heard was "Rebellion (Lies)" on MTVU my freshman (or sophomore...I can't remember) year in college. I went out and bought the album and thought it was good but not great (with the exception of "Wake Up" which, in my opinion, is the perfect song). In 2007 I got an advance copy of Neon Bible from my college radio station, 88.1 WRSK. This was the album that hooked me, and as a result, I went back and listened to Funeral a lot more,and, as a result, better understood what the band was trying to accomplish both musically and, more importantly, emotionally with its auidence. If you've ever seen the Arcade Fire live or have seen live footage you'll understand this: they put it all on the line each time they pick up their instruments. I felt connected and held this band in such a high regard.

But alas, I can't say I felt this same connection with The Suburbs. And I honestly don't know why, and that bothers me. The album is solid all around; great songs, great music, great tracking from song to song, but there is nothing that grabs me like their first two albums did. The more I think of it, the more I reason that at eighteen and twenty-one, I needed to feel part of something bigger like the Arcade Fire; but at twenty-five I've already found enough of that in music, writing and film-I need that same connection in the relationships I make with others. That may not make sense to any of you, but I dont' need music to save me anymore and maybe, just maybe, that's why I'm not as connected to this band as I once was.

Other Rankings: NME (2/75), NPR (Top 50 of 2010), Paste (7/50), Pitchfork (11/50), Rolling Stone (4/20), Spin (3/40), Spinner (5/30)

Key Tracks: "The Suburbs," "Ready to Start," "Half Light II,"
"The Sprawl II"

3. Titus Andronicus Monitor
Released 9 March 2010 (XL Recordings)

This album is just strong all around. It's filled with fun and hate and keys and it's really hard to stop listening.

Other Rankings: NPR (Top 50 of 2010), Paste (5/50), Pitchfork (10/50), Spin (15/40), Spinner (12/30)

Key Tracks: "Richard II or Extraordinary Popular Dimensions and the Madness of the Crowds (Responsible Hate Anthem),"Four Score and Seven," "Theme from 'Cheers,'" "And Ever"

2. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Beat the Devil's Tattoo
Released 9 March 2010 (Vagrant Records)

Most people don't know this because I've never told them, but B.R.M.C. put on a show at Slippery Rock University in the winter of 2006. They were supporting their almost-entirely acoustic album, Howl. Hardly anybody came but it made no difference to the band-they killed! What I remember most, aside from the show being the moment that made me into the fan I am today, was this obsession they had with distortion; they tried bending notes and sound in such a way that it completely filled every spare inch of the room but it didn't come off as too loud or excessive (although, in truth, they are the loudest band I have ever seen). Beat the Devil's Tattoo is the band's first studio album, in my opinion, to capture this live feel.

It took me a good while to get into this album; the songs just didn't immediately grab me as past releases did; however, I think the constant and consistent listening made me appreciate singers Robert Levon Been and Peter Hayes more as lyricists and songwriters. It seems with this release that although their songs feature the same themes as albums past (addiction, war, struggle, love), the message seems to be more upfront and direct.

Other Rankings: none.

Key Tracks: "Beat the Devil's Tattoo," "Bad Blood," "Evol," "River Styx," "Long Way Down"

1. The Black Keys Brothers
Released 18 May 2010 (Nonesuch)

This is probably the first time I've been left speechless; I can't say enough or make a single comment that will do this album any justice. It's raw, sexy, honest, catchy, and the great thing about it is that the Black Keys know they're writing better music than what almost all of their peers are coming out with.

Other Rankings: NPR (Top 50 of 2010), Paste (46/50),
Rolling Stone (2/20), Spin (30/40), Spinner (11/30)

Key Tracks: "Everlasting Light," "Howlin' for You,"
"Tighten Up," "The Only One," "Ten Cent Pistol," "Sinister Kid,"
"Unknown Brother," "Never Gonna' Give you Up"

Honorable Mentions

Band of Horses Infinite Arms
Released 18 May 2010 (Columbia)
Key Track: "Northwest Apartment"
Other Rankings: Paste (14/50), Spinner (30/30)

The Head and the Heart The Head and the Heart
Released 29 June 2010 (CD Baby.com/INDYS)
Key Track: "Ghosts"
Other Rankings: none.

Pete Yorn Pete Yorn
Released 28 September 2010 (Vagrant Records)
Key Track: "The Chase"
Other Rankings: none.

Ted Leo + the Pharmacists The Brutalist Brick
Released 9 March 2010 (Matador Records)
Key Track: "The Mighty Sparrow"
Other Rankings: Spin (33/40)

Vampire Weekend Contra
Released 12 January 2010 (XL Recordings)
Key Track: "Giving up the Gun"
Other Rankings: Paste (27/50), Mervis (6/10), NME (24/75), Pitchfork (6/50), Rolling Stone (6/20), Spin (11/40)

Looking forward to 2011...

~ Bright Eyes The People's Key 15 February 2011
~ Death Cab for Cutie Keys and Codes (spring)
~ The Decemberists The King is Dead 18 January 2011
~ Drive-By Truckers Go-Go Boots 15 February 2011
~ Fiona Apple
~ Flogging Molly (May)
~ Foo Fighters (spring)
~ Frank Turner (spring)
~ Iron and Wine Kiss Each Other Clean 25 January 2011
~ The Pains of being Pure at Heart (March)
~ P.J. Harvey Let England Shake 14 February 2011
~ R.E.M. Collapse into Now 8 March 2011
~ Red Hot Chili Peppers
~ Snow Patrol
~ Social Distortion Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes 18 January 2011
~ Thurston Moore
~ Wilco

Modest Mouse and Queens of the Stone Age owe us one...just saying.

06 April 2010

My Top Albums of 2009 (a little late, though...)

Between teaching, coaching middle school girls volleyball (Go Rockets!), St. Patrick's Day/The Second Annual Legend's Charity Breakfast, and a new, special lady friend (special both mentally and in my heart), the first quarter of my 2010 has been jam-packed. I'm going to keep this a lot shorter than normal because I want to catch the end of the Penguino's game, plut I'm going to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club tomorrow and want to get a full night's rest before I rock out (getting old-rocking out past my bedtime takes effort).

This is going to look barbaric...

My Top Albums of 2009

5. Heartless Bastards The Mountain
Released 3 February 2009 (Fat Possum)

My musical kick over the last few years has been a lot like Walter Sobchak's ringer in The Big Lebowski: dirty laundry. No, my music hasn't been clean and fresh; it's been filthy. I need distortion, fuzzy guitars, loud drums, and a frontman (or in the case of Hearless Bastards...a frontwoman) who can belt-it-out.

Key Tracks: "The Mountain," "Hold Your Head High," and "Out at Sea"

4. Pearl Jam Backspacer
Released 22 September 2009 (Monkeywrench)

Took a huge gamble by self-releasing this album only through Target and independent record stores, but they have nothing to prove. A solid album, but comes nowhere close to 2006's self-titled effort. The overall tone of the album is cohesive, however, the quality of the songs as a whole is way off. Still, hats off to my boys for making music that is both much better than the music being released today, and for still bringing it twenty years into an amazing career.

Key Tracks: "The Fixer," "Johnny Guitar," and "Unthought Known"

3. The Avett Brothers I and Love and You
Released 29 September 2009 (Sony/American Recordings)

This album was one of those pieces of art that just finds you at the right (or wrong depending on how you look at it) time. Made me understand love a little bit better than I did before. "I and Love and You" is one of the most beautiful and heart-felt songs I've heard in a good number of years. The whole album is amazing; great indie-folk.

Key Tracks: "I and Love and You," "And It Spread," "Kick Drum Heart"

2. Wilco (The Album)
Released 30 June 2009 (Nonesuch Records)

Wilco can't fail. Umm, yeah...I don't think I can say it any better than they just can't fail. Or maybe they won't fail? I havn't decided on that one yet. Hmm. Whatever...you know your band is better than the rest when they release a song that rest-assures its listeners that the world will turn out just right because Wilco will be there in the end ("Wilco (The Song)"). This album didn't get a lot of press or attention (for a new Wilco release), but I think it's their best since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Key Tracks: "Wilco (The Song)," "You Never Know," "I'll Fight"

1. Manchester Orchestra Mean Everything to Nothing
Released 21 April 2009 (Favorite Gentlemen Records)

I saw these guys two weeks ago at Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale and they absolutely blew me away. So much raw energy and a genuine stage pressence/command of the crowd. And their music is so complex and full of life. And so dynamic. And meaningful. And-I'm-spent.

Oh, and much like Heartless Bastards, they had me at distortion.

Key Tracks: "The Only One," "Pride," "I Can Feel a Hot One"

Honorable Mentions

Chuck Ragan Gold Country
Released 1 September 2009 (Side One Dummy Records)
Key Track: "Done and Done"

Dinosaur Jr. Farm
Released 23 June 2009 (Jagjaguwar)
Key Track: "See You"

Fanfarlo Reservoir
Released 13 October 2009 (Wea/Atlantic)
Key Track: "Comets"

Neko Case Middle Cyclone
Released 3 March 2009 (Anti-)
Key Track: "This Tornado Loves You"

U2 No Line on the Horizon
Released 3 March 2009 (Interscope Records)
Key Track: "Unknown Caller"

Looking forward to 2010...

~Apples in Stereo Travellers in Space and Time 20 April 2010
~ Arcade Fire
~ Bad Religion
~ Band of Horses Infinite Arms 18 May 2010
~ Ben Harper and the Relentless 7
~ Black Keys Brothers 18 May 2010
~ Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Beat the Devil's Tattoo 9 March 2010
~ Broken Social Scene Forgiveness Rock Record 4 May 2010
~ Fleet Foxes
~ Interpol
~ Kaki King Junior 13 April 2010
~ Matt Pond PA The Dark Leaves 13 April 2010
~ LCD Soundsystem This is Happening 18 May 2010
~ MGMT Congratulations 13 April 2010
~ Minus the Bear Omni 4 May 2010
~ Murder by Death Good Morning, Magpie 6 April 2010
~ The National High Violet 11 May 2010
~ New Pornographers Together 4 May 2010
~ Of Montreal False Priest
~ Social Distortion
~ Stereophonics Keep Calm and Carry On 11 May 2010
~ Stone Temple Pilots self-titled 25 May 2010
~ Ted Leo + the Pharmacists Brutalists Bricks 9 March 2010
~ The Constellations Southern Gothic
~ The Gaslight Anthem American Slang 18 June 2010
~ Rogue Wave Permalight 2 March 2010
~ The Roots How I Got Over 8 June 2010
~ The Strokes
~ The Walkmen
~ Titus Andronicus Monitor 9 March 2010
~ Tokyo Police Club Champ 11 May 2010
~ Vampire Weekend Contra 12 January 2010

16 February 2010

Attention Catholics: Step It Up This Lent!

I hate regret.

Why hold back, ya' know?

I've always tried being a good person and leading a good life and speaking both my mind and my heart.

Now those of you that somewhat know me will tell others that I do one of these a whole lot better than I do the other.

And those of you that truly know me, that truly are my people, will tell the rest of you to fuck off because women, swearing and beer have never really hurt anybody all that bad.

Have they?

Anyways, my point is that I lead life to the fullest and regret nothing (Well...almost nothing. Lord knows I'm no perfectionist nor do I try to be (rolls eyes).). We're on this earth for far too short of a time to have coulda-woulda-shoulda's running through our pretty little heads, right?

Which leads me to this point: what is up with people sacrificing the most absurd and insignificant things for Lent. In my eyes, someone giving up, for instance, ice cream for forty days shows me one of two things: 1.) They regret the fact that they eat ice cream in whichever quantity they eat it in, and 2.) They are morally and emotionally flawless and giving up ice cream is a way for them not to feel so left out at Easter time.

Now if you fit into category one, I have a word of advice for you: RELAX! The Ben and Jerry's will not harm you if you eat it in moderation. In fact...this is bullshit. Unless you sit at home everyday and practically choke yourselves into a whole-milk coma eating Funky Monkey and Half Baked, then you probably should give up ice cream for Lent; however, I don't think this is the case.

In fact, I think that category one should only be applied to substance abusers. So if this applies to you, lay off the meth, put down the crack, and take a forty day vacation from the blow. Enjoy!

If, however, you fit into category two, well...(trying to put this delicately) YOU ARE FULL OF SHIT! I think every single one of you has something morally and/or emotionally destructive you could give up instead Pepsi or Snickers or pizza. Self-loathing? Hate? Holding on to unrequited love? Lust? Immaturity? Racism? Neglect? Narcissism?

I think these are all good starts, don't you?

So I close by challenging you, my Catholic and Christian friends who believe in challenging yourselves in order to fulfill your Godly duties, to give up something on more of a larger and more meaningful scale this Lent. If not eating Frosted Flakes is your grand and meaningful idea of giving up something for God, then so be it. But I know that if you thought about the idea of sacrifice along with yourselves, you would be able to come up with something a little bit more profound, don't you? Spread those wings and fly for greatness. Shoot for the moon; if you fail then you'll be amongst the stars. And all sorts of crap like that!

Hell, I'll even join you. I do solemnly swear not to have a single drink, even Guinness and Yeungling, during Lent.

Wait, St. Patrick's Day falls during Lent. I do have the Legends Charity Breakfast to think about. Don't want to disappoint the gang. They're counting on me to make green eggs...and drink all that beer that I often drink around St. Patrick's Day. Arthur Guinness would probably smite me from heaven. And I don't want to sound like a hypocrite with the whole "giving up something more meaningful" schtick

Let's try this again.

I do solemnly swear to not write long-winded diatribes (that most people don't actually read) telling others how to live their lives to the fullest and be more heartfelt and sincere with what they plan to take a break from for any given forty day period.

Damn...I'm no good at this.