Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Senior Editor David Medsker’s picks

Having children has had a profound impact on my musical tastes. Will it make them cry? Will it teach them naughty words? Will it bore them? Then it doesn’t get played around the house, which has resulted in my sharp turn towards the poppier side of modern. And really, once you’ve seen your three-year-old completely lose his shit when hearing a song with a chorus of “Na, na na na, na na na, na na na na na na na,” it’s hard to push anything on him that doesn’t come armed to the teeth with the pop hooks. Mind you, I think the Ramones are a pop band too, so I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here. But make no mistake – these bands are pop bands, of varying stripes and shapes. If you fancy yourself a hipster, you’d be best to move on and check out one of the other writers’ lists. I gave up being hip a couple years ago, and let me tell you: it’s extremely liberating.

Note: Some of the notes at the end of the write-ups will offer suggestions of which songs to check out. Others actually offer the songs. If you see “Click here for a free download…”, those songs are on our server, meaning you won’t be dragged off to some site that asks you to give up your email address for a song. These puppies all come with no strings attached, so please download away.

Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Mark Ronson: Record Collection
Ahhhhhh. If I get to heaven, this is what the radio station will sound like. Tasteful drum beats paired with even tastier synth tracks, highlighted by brilliantly chosen guest contributors from Q-Tip and D’Angelo to Simon Le Bon and a devastating performance by Boy George. Definitely gonna ride this bike until we get home.
Download these: “The Bike Song,” “Somebody to Love Me,” “Record Collection”

2. Hey Champ: Star
I’m a sucker for any band that justifies my love for New Order and the Buggles, and this Chicago trio threw down synth pop/rock that, in an ideal world, would have Passion Pit opening for them, not the other way around.
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Neverest”
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Cold Dust Girl”

3. Prefab Sprout: Let’s Change the World with Music
Man, what a sweet surprise this was. Originally scheduled to be the follow-up album to 1990’s Jordan: The Comeback, the album was scrapped despite Prefab leader Paddy McAloon already finishing studio-quality demo versions of every song. Eighteen years later, the songs finally see the light of day, and the result is instant nostalgia. He supposedly has dozens more albums on his shelves from the same period. Please don’t make us wait 18 years for the next one, Paddy.
Download these: “Let There Be Music,” “Ride,” “God Watch Over You”

4. The Hours: It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish
This one is knocked down a few rungs on a technicality, in that it’s a Franken-album consisting of the best songs from the band’s two UK-only releases. But hot damn, are those songs good. Shimmering, sky-high, piano-driven pop that addresses the darkness in people’s lives but strives for hope and change. No wonder Nike used one of these songs for their unforgettable “Human Chain” ad earlier this year. Favorite lyric: “I can understand how someone can go over to the dark side, ’cause the Devil, he’s got all the tunes.”
Download these: “See the Light,” “Big Black Hole,” “Come On”

The Hours – “See The Light” 2010 Edit from Adeline Records on Vimeo.

5. The Silver Seas: Chateau Revenge
I’m still pissed about this one. I got a sneak peek of the record months before its release because our publicist is tight with the band. We played the daylights out of it, and couldn’t wait to sing its praises when it came out in April…only April never happened. Then it was July, and when it came out, the damn thing was buried. Why, why, why? Not enough irony or cynicism? I see no reason why the Shins can sell millions while the Silver Seas still toil in obscurity. The phrase ‘criminally underrated’ was written about bands like this.
Click here for a free download of the Silver Seas’ “The Best Things in Life”


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Bullz-Eye’s Top Ten Music Moments of 2010: Staff Writer Rob Smith’s Picks

In my mind, 2010 will be remembered more for moments of strangeness, oddity, and lessened expectation, than it will be for transcendent music. The throwaway nature of pop has never been more transient or incidental; technology enables us to hear as much as we want and, by the sheer volume of those possibilities, to actively listen as little as we ever have. How else to explain Ke$ha and the Glee cast recordings, much less the continuing nonsense of Black Eyed Peas? Raise your hand if you think Bruno Mars or Rihanna are still going to be churning out hits ten years from now, or that Katy Perry (more about her below) will still be squeezing into latex after she and her pasty Brit hubby have two or three little Russells to contend with, and things start saggin’.

I will remember 2010 for several key moments:

Top 10 Music Moments of 2010

1. The Roots, Being the Roots. Are they the best band on the planet? It’s hard to argue when their versatility is put on display every weeknight, and when they reiterate their overall excellence by turning out two of the best records of the year (How I Got Over and Wake Up, with John Legend).

2. Dio, Chilton Die. We lost metal’s gentle sorcerer (Ronnie James Dio) and Big Star’s genius-in-residence (Alex Chilton) within a few months of one another. May they both rock in peace.


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Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Heyliger’s picks

I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I’m one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here’s a list of the 20 best albums I’ve heard in 2010.

1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye’s childish tirades infuriate me, I’ll be damned if his music doesn’t always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I’ll forgive ‘Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.

2. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I’m New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron’s voice, but much like Bob Dylan’s most recent work, age has given the artist’s voice additional resonance.

3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That’s definitely the case with the Black Keys’ Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn’t (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.

4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon…

5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
“Fuck You” (or “Forget You,” if you’re easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what’s more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.


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N.E.R.D.: Nothing


RIYL: Prince, Lady GaGa, Justin Timberlake

As the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo are as responsible as anyone for the sound of popular music over the last decade as anyone else. Starting out as the apprentices of New Jack Swing godfather Teddy Riley, Chad & Pharrell’s minimal synth stabs took a diverse array of artists to the top of the charts: from coke-rap duo Clipse to teenyboppers the Backstreet Boys, Britney & ‘NSync.

As their performing alter egos N.E.R.D., Pharrell and Chad (joined occasionally by rapper Shae Haley) have not been as successful. One moderately successful debut album (In Search Of…) should have led to bigger things, but two subsequent efforts have been average performers commercially and critically. N.E.R.D.’s sound might be a little too eclectic for Top 40 radio – it’s not very easy to put in a box or define. Is it hip-hop? It is soul music? Is it rock?

NERD 3 - SMALL

A year or so ago, as the band prepared to record their fourth album, Nothing, they introduced a fourth member into the group, female singer Rhea. This move was a head-scratcher to many. It seemed as though N.E.R.D. was looking at label mates the Black Eyed Peas as a blueprint to success. Thankfully (because Lord knows we don’t need another version of BEP in this world), Rhea was sacked and N.E.R.D. returned to its original configuration.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the band’s inconsistent output and the Neptunes’ declining commercial fortunes, Nothing is quite a good album. The sound is still as varied as ever: the guys are still equal parts garage-rock and synth-pop, but none of it feels forced. There are a handful of eye-rolling lyrical moments – Pharrell Williams isn’t and will never be the world’s best lyricist – but Nothing offers more bang for your buck than any N.E.R.D./Neptunes/Pharrell album other since their debut.

The album’s opening track, “Party People,” turns out to be a bit of a red herring. The synthed-up club jam (boasting vocals by T.I.) is certainly the most commercial thing they’d ever released. Interestingly, N.E.R.D. pulls off that sound well – at least for the one song. The rest of the album veers from the rocking “Help Me” to the quasi-mystical “Life as a Fish” (which honestly reads like the diary entries of a very, VERY stoned college student). There’s a cool Daft Punk production (“Hypnotize U”), way more saxophone than on the past 15 years of N.E.R.D. albums and Neptunes productions combined, and a refreshingly varied approach to subject matter that includes the inspirational “God Bless Us All” and the politically motivated “It’s in the Air” in addition to the usual ass-shaking anthems (which happen to be MUCH less annoying and even kinda enjoyable in this context).

Nothing won’t reinvent the wheel and it probably won’t be a huge commercial success, either – the Neptunes’ moment (well, more like a decade than a moment) seems to have passed them. However, this is the most vibrant work that Pharrell in particular has been a part of in quite some time. Strangely (and happily for those of us who don’t live and die by radio and the charts) their music appears to be getting more interesting as their star fades. (Interscope 2010)

N.E.R.D. MySpace page

  

Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys


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