Monday, December 27, 2010

Ten Favorite Albums of 2010

With but a few days left in the year, I have finally finished my list. Having more albums to choose from than any other year from the past, this was no easy task to narrow it down to ten. It should suffice to say this was a great year in the world of music. The honorable mention is probably longer than the list itself so I've decided to list only the following. Anyway, here goes nothing...

10. The Wild Hunt by the Tallest Man on Earth

Because Bob Dylan is so unique in his own right, being seen as a watered down version of the great R.A. Zimmerman is the plight of hundreds of singer-songwriters. But despite garnering comparisons to early Dylan from just about anyone who has heard any of Kristian Matsson’s songs, the Swede is no sound-alike. Though the two voices have a similar grain, the feeling in Matsson’s voice is of a different flavor of wisdom. As opposed to Dylan's cagey hillside blues, Matsson's songs sound as if he’s singing to past lovers from a mountain top. Though he’ll never be as important as Bobby D. (not sure if any songwriter ever will), Matsson holds his own as a master craftsman with a bright future.

9. Death Is Silent by Kno

This was a great year for dark hip hop concept albums (obligatory Kanye West reference? Check) and CunninLynguists maestro Kno added another chapter to his impressive body of work. Stepping out on his own for the first time, albeit with a healthy handful of guests, gifted producer/MC Kno took a profound look at all things related to death in these thirteen cuts. It’s a rare thing when a rap album presents a philosophically wise, totally cohesive album but even rarer when it does it with top-notch production and rhyming as clever as can be. Somewhere along the path from love to death to reflection to enlightenment, Death Is Silent proves itself worthy of the emotional demand it puts on the listener.

8. Englishman by Englishman

Englishman is a trio from Lexington, Kentucky that almost no one has heard of. I only found about this album after being asked to promote a free MP3 on SSG. But once I started listening to the album, I couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried. Sounding like a combination of established troubadors Colin Meloy and John Darnielle, Andrew English is a gifted songwriter in his own right, with words that match his melodies in their remarkable depth. The album is clearly a home recording with a thin layer of white noise on the top, but still sounds carefully put together and totally void of filler. Rookie of the year.

7. Epic by Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten. Say it ten times. It’s a name to remember. Just listen to Epic. It’s only seven tracks and the album title is a bit on the bold side, but as soon as Van Etten starts singing, one can’t help but hang on to every word she says. The allure of her voice is as mysterious as it is intriguing as she brings these brutally honest songs about love, loss and apathy to life. The songs vary between huge dream pop production, folksy tenderness and droning minimalism but Van Etten’s surreal narration unifies it all into an outstanding story.

6. Beachcomber’s Windowsill by Stornoway

As should be clear by my album review, concert preview and concert review, Stornoway is one of the best new bands of the 2010 class. Like Belle and Sebastian, their songs are pleasant and singable but after a few listens, they grip you and don’t let go. Beachcomber’s Windowsill is eleven tracks but goes by in a blink, so to speak. Each one is jam-packed with infectious hooks and melodies, adding up to a beautiful arc made even more impressive by a band recording its first album.

5. Big Echo by The Morning Benders

All year, I kept waiting to grow tired of the Morning Benders but it didn’t happen. In fact, there wasn’t a single song on this album that faded in any way from that glorious first listen in March. Frontman Christopher Chu is a California wunderkind backed by a stellar band and handled by an adept co-producer in Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. Though heavy on reverb as the title may suggest, this album is coated in the innocent youthful shimmer that radiates from the best, most genuine rock and roll.

4. Field Music (Measure) by Field Music

For those of us hoping that a band would fill the void left by great sophisti-pop bands like Steely Dan and XTC, we need look no further than Field Music. On Measure, British brothers Peter and David Brewis are virtuosos of several instruments but most of all, the recording studio. Every guitar riff, vocal harmony and drum hit is so perfectly placed on this huge album that it’s easy to forget that these are human beings. And while sometimes this sort of perfection feels stuffy, the Brewis brothers are more like perfectionist classical composers than autotune wielding studio wizards. They have specific things to say and they know how to get them said precisely as intended, without cheating.

3. All Delighted People by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan, you may call this an EP, but because it’s an hour long, it’s going to have to qualify among my favorite albums of the year. Released out of nowhere this summer, Mr. Stevens released his first new songs in five years and they instantly reminded us of why the man’s name is almost holy in indie pop land. Consisting of two amazing versions of the “Sounds of Silence” inspired title song, five new doses of precious Sufjan acoustica, and the epic, tear-jerking “Djohariah” (juh-HA-ree-uh, named for Stevens’ sister) the EP is ultimately more satisfying than the also excellent Age of Adz LP. No one seems to agree with this statement but I’m sticking with it.

2. Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom

When Joanna Newsom releases two hours of original music, it’s a good year for original music. After a debut album of bizarrely gorgeous elf-like sing-alongs and a sophomore effort of mammoth scope, the third record is a perfect combination of the two. With a voice sounding closer to that of a woman’s than the small child of her earlier work, Newsom proves yet again that there probably are harps in heaven. Each of the eighteen songs has a unique personality ranging from simple melodies of the wilderness like “On a Bad Day” to the jaw-dropping musical roller coasters like “Baby Birch.” Let’s face it; Joanna Newsom is one of the few prodigies in pop music today.

1. Teen Dream by Beach House

Released in January, Teen Dream stood as the album to beat all year long. Simply put, the Baltimore duo managed to capture a sort of magic in their third LP. The dreamy keyboard arrangements are a wonder to behold but what really makes this album special is the singing of Victoria Legrand. Her voice takes the listener on a sweeping journey within every song, making the album and exhausting but satisfying odyssey through a new musical terrain, where multi-colored zebras run free.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Gold Medal: Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan

It's really hard for me to decide my favorite Bob Dylan album but if my life depended on making a choice, it would probably be this one. I wrote a review this album a long time ago and I still believe what I wrote about this being a how-to-guide for songwriting. Inspired by a painful divorce, the line that sums this one up is on "You're a Big Girl Now" where Bob sings about a "corkscrew to his heart." Very few have been able to make such beautiful music out of so much pain. "Shelter from the Storm" could be the best set of lyrics in the history of rock. In the top Dylan songs at the very least.

Silver Medal: Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

Speaking of favorite albums by favorite artists, this is Floyd's best achievement in my mind. The two epic parts of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" sandwich three masterful songs in this Syd Barrett life-story inspired record. Pink Floyd was ahead of just about any other band in the seventies in being able to follow through with huge artistic ambitious visions. Even more impressive that they managed to do it while composing a song that basically spoke to a generation "Wish You Were Here."

Bronze Medal: A Night at the Opera by Queen

Queen has one of the most instantly recognizable sounds of any band and this album is their magnum opus. Yes, it has "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "You're My Best Friend" but those two hardly stand out in the stupendous twelve track playlist. This was the band's entrance in to the world of rock legend land and it still sounds like something that could never be reproduced. Freddy Mercury and Brian May channeled the magic of Lennon and McCartney for one album and this is it. Don't get me wrong; there are more good Queen albums. But this is the only one that hasn't any filler.

Top ten tracks:

1. "Shelter from the Storm" by Bob Dylan
2. "Country Road" as performed by Toots and the Maytals (John Denver)
3. "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd
4. "Barstool Blues" by Neil Young
5. "Ten Years Gone" by Led Zeppelin
6. "Love of My Life" by Queen
7. "Simple Twist of Fate" by Bob Dylan
8. "Lookin' For a Love" by Neil Young
9. "Dimming of the Day/Daragai" by Richard and Linda Thompson
10. "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Rhythm of the Void

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm on the verge of releasing a new album. For the first time, I'm putting it up for sale on BandCamp so you should buy it to support this poor college student. I'm also excited to premiere it on my radio show this evening on my radio show.

This is probably as close to liner notes as you'll find. Much of my beliefs of what an album is were outlined here. I wrote most of the songs this summer, though a few are older than that. I recorded on GarageBand which has its limitations but also its conveniences, namely that it's free and I can record in my own room with the equipment I have.

The sound is continuing the Beatles-y rock that I'm attached to. It's difficult to judge my own work but lyrically and musically, I think it's fairly consistent and interesting. Of course, I hear plenty of imperfections but I decided to be done when I said was done last weekend. It will never be totally satisfactory so I have to decide to draw the line when I do. And that's that. As long as I don't spend too much time comparing my music to music produced by my favorite artists, I should be fairly content.

Eight songs, just over half an hour long. I sang, played guitar, bass, drums, vibraphone, keyboards, ukulele, harmonica and slide whistle. The arrangements are somewhat varied though the song structures are fairly similar. Lyrically, I used a lot of religious imagery (no idea why) as well as ambiguous questioning stuff. I'm excited to release what I'll remember as my first actual "album." Hopefully there will be more to come!


I don't know if you've noticed but the recurring theme of this blog for the last year or so is my own complaining/apologizing about not writing here as much as I'd like. Sure, there are tons of excuses. Namely, a) who actually cares? b) I have very little time c) there's a lack of content I'm passionate about. Writing in here has become another entry on my long to-do list.

Starting now, I'm changing things, for I don't like the current state of affairs. I have SSG to present my real music criticism work and this can stand as a laboratory. Here I shall try out new things. I keep a physical journal where I write spontaneously about whatever occurs to me or I think deserves being written about and this should be like that in the musical realm.

One piece of advice I've heard from just about every English teacher I've ever had is to write constantly. I enjoy writing and do it all different kinds of ways: journal entries, academic papers, music reviews, emails, what have you. This blog is also important in its unique function as my own personal property to be published. My stats tell me that this is getting read by some folks out there just about every day so it's worth keeping and delving into when I can.

There are many things to write about musically these days but I've found that setting aside a subject to write about later doesn't always work. Spontaneity is key. If I want to to write a manifesto on the genius of Tom Waits, I will just sit down and effing write it.

Music is on my mind all the time. If you know me at all, that's abundantly clear. But one thing I've learned recently is that working in binges can be effective. For example, tomorrow, I'm releasing my first solo album and in the recording process, there were three days where I recorded for at least six hours straight with no break. I originally planned on working an equal amount every day but that just flat out didn't work so I reverted to binging. That can be applied to this as well.

Enough theory. I write this for you, the reader. It's also for myself, to try and sort out my thoughts but in general, as with music I compose, I do it as a gift for other people, while aiming to satisfy myself with the result. I rarely am totally satisfied but it's the effort that matters. I suppose I should have some cohesive finale to this post about my own purpose for Page 43. Instead of saying what I am trying to do, I shall define what I am not trying to do: I'm not trying to change the world with innovative ideas; I'm not trying to have my own all-encompassing musical philosophy text. I only strive to express my thoughts and interest people with whatever happens to come out of my head and perhaps spur on more ideas.