Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Ted Asregadoo’s picks

The days of getting lost in an album have passed me by. This year, I really tried to rekindle that lost listening art of playing entire albums – instead of compiling playlists in iTunes. It hasn’t been easy. I think the ease of digitally downloading albums has dried up the sense of anticipation that used to come with a purchase of a physical copy of an album at a record store. Now, the record store is just part of the millions and billions of distractions that await you on the Internet – much of it for free.

Now, I don’t mean to go on a diatribe against the devaluation of music because of the Internet, but one thing that has occurred because of the sheer plethora of music available with one click of your mouse is a kind of ADD when it comes to listening to music. My colleague both here and at Popdose (that would be Jeff Giles) has written about it more eloquently than I can, but the sentiment is very much the same: because of the volume of music that is available in downloadable form, it’s difficult for me to form a deep connection with an entire album. If we could flash back 20 years, it would have been a different story to feature 10 albums. Nowadays, it’s rare that an entire album can hold my attention.

But, never say never, right?

What you will find here are mostly my favorite songs of 2010, but occasionally you’ll find entire albums. I know, after all that “downloadable music is ruining my attention span” crap, I say that there were some albums that really captured my attention. But like I said, I’ve tried to rekindle the art of listening to entire albums, and while I feel I’m losing that battle, I haven’t entirely lost the war. So, here we go with my top 10 of 2010!

10. Paper or Plastic, “The Honest Man”
Every now and then a link arrives in my inbox that lives up to the hype. Case in point is the New York group, Paper or Plastic, who has a kind of Ben Folds thing going on with “The Honest Man.” The song is an example of some very lovely power pop, and you’ll find yourself humming the chorus after a few listens. The band is giving away their EP Ron Save the King on their website. Get it, if only for “The Honest Man.”

9. Somebody’s Darling, “Lonely”
In my review of this album, I was upfront about my allergy to country music – even if it’s alt-country. But Somebody’s Darling has enough rock-n-roll in them to make the musical waters safe for a guy with my particular affliction. “Lonely” is by far my favorite track on the album, and it’s not difficult to hear why. The song is just one big fireball of energy with a great driving beat and some wailing guitars. But it’s the full-throated vocals from Amber Ferris that takes this song from good to great.


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Arcade Fire: The Suburbs


RIYL: New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Interpol

As one who was not all ga ga over Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, I had some apprehension about the Canadian group’s third release, The Suburbs. But from the title track to the album closer, The Suburbs is sonic journey that takes the listener through an experience that’s meant to be listened to in one sitting. It’s both a nostalgic and critical exploration of growing up in a time when instant gratification in communicating with one another was less common, and a time when days and hours lingered so when dramatic events happened, the contrast was much more profound. Stylistically, the group is progressing by incorporating more jaunty musical flourishes (“Suburbs”), and they have matured with thickly layered atmospherics that, at times, highlights things like the faux intellectual walls created by certain kids (“Rococo”). While The Suburbs is a very strong and nuanced album by the band, it feels laden with too much musical filler at times – the album clocks in at 60 minutes. Perhaps in The Suburbs Arcade Fire is reacting to the Internet culture where the sense of anticipation and appreciation of communicating with one another has waned, but the sense of slowness that pervades some of the album makes their exploration of life in the suburbs less intellectually weighty than just downright weighted. (Merge 2010)

Arcade Fire MySpace page

  

Lollapalooza 2010, The Final Recap: The Headliners, some final thoughts

This year’s batch of headliners is one of the strangest groups yet. Sunday was closed by another recently reunited monster of ’90s rock (witness Lolla organizer Perry Farrell giving his band Jane’s Addiction the final slot last year), Saturday night’s lineup featured arguably the biggest band in the world, while Friday’s opener – who easily drew the biggest crowd in Lolla history – is a million-selling pop star who first dazzled one of our writers on a Lolla side stage three years ago. Is it the most “alternative” group of closers they could have assembled? Probably not, but it’s very telling in a state-of-the-biz kind of way. We’ll leave it up to you as to whether that is a good or bad thing.

Let’s begin with the, um, enders, for lack of a better (or actual) word, in our week-long recap of the events at Lollapalooza 2010.

Chromeo, Friday, adidas Stage
Chromeo is officially ready for their close-up. They made lots of friends with this show, even if most of the audience was facing south in anticipation of Lady Gaga. Their riff on “Money for Nothing” was fun (they know their audience, that’s for sure), and even better was when they used Auto-Tune to sing, Sting-style, “I want my Chromeo.” Their new single “Don’t Turn the Lights Off” is a killer, and their other new songs sounded just as good.

Lady Gaga, Friday, Parkways Foundation Stage
Watching the crowd gather for Lady Gaga was an event unto itself. Her fans – and make no mistake, there isn’t anyone in all of music with a fan base as rabidly devoted as hers, ironic or otherwise – arrived early and parked in front of the Parkways stage all day long. Girls in fishnets, guys in drag, and more kids than we’ve ever seen at Lolla. Before Chromeo had even taken the stage at the northern end of the southern stages, there was already a bigger crowd waiting for Gaga than the one Depeche Mode played to last year. And Depeche played to a big crowd. But Gaga…this was borderline ridiculous. Some may have questioned Perry’s decision to bring Gaga back, since she’s now a full-fledged pop star, but he and the rest of the Lolla organizers were clearly laughing all the way to the bank.

Gaga_01
Photo by Dave Mead

As for the set, well, we lasted 20 minutes.


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21st Century Breakdown: Jim Washington’s Best Albums of the 2000s

As I compiled my list of the best music of the decade (a much, much longer list than you see here) one inescapable conclusion reared its shaggy head: the last 10 years pretty much belonged to Jack White.

How many other artists produced five stellar albums in the aughts, not to mention a couple of killer side projects and (that old rock critic standby) incendiary live shows?

No one, that’s who.

So, the best album of the decade really came down to which White Stripes album did you like more, White Blood Cells or Elephant.

Thankfully there’s no wrong answer. I first became enamored of “Fell in Love With a Girl,” totally fell for “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” became quite close to “We Are Going to Be Friends” and spent a lot of time in “Hotel Yorba” and “Little Room.”

On the other hand, Elephant had “Seven Nation Army.”

“Seven Nation Army,” motherfuckers. How could a song released in 2003 sound like it invented the bass line? Not just that bass line, but the whole concept of bass lines.

So as we recap our favorites of the decade, rock lives on into the new century in various forms, from low down and dirty to high and arty to pulsating and poppy, while what was once the cutting-edge hip-hop has devolved into auto-tuned disco synth. No doubt something new will emerge in the next decade to take our minds off it.

1. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (or Elephant)
2. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Outkast: Stankonia (or Speakerboxx/The Love Below)
4. Green Day: American Idiot
5. The New Pornographers: Electric Version (or maybe Mass Romantic)
6. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
7. LCD SoundsystemL Sounds of Silver
8. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
9. Jay-Z: The Blueprint
10. The Strokes: Is This It?

Just a few of the runner-ups:

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf, Rated R
Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Drive By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera, Dirty South
Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel the Illinoise
Arcade Fire: Funeral
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
Decemberists: Picaresque, Crane Wife
Radiohead: In Rainbows
Ben Folds: Rockin’ the Suburbs
Missy Elliott: Miss E…So Addictive
The Roots: Phrenology

  

21st Century Breakdown: James B. Eldred’s Top 10 Albums of the Decade

Oy, this decade was a mess. The ’90s were easy. Rock had grunge, hip-hop had gangsta rap and a genre-defining electronic album seemed to come out every week thanks to artists like Aphex Twin, the Prodigy and the Orb (just to name a few). There was no Zeitgeist-turning moment in music this decade, no Next Big Thing. Instead, we saw mainstream rock dissolve into a post-grunge funk from which it might never recover, while pop music infiltrated rap music in insulting and embarrassing ways (thanks, Auto-Tune). Meanwhile, both the punk rock kids and hippies discovered electronic music, giving Pitchfork whole new genres of music to build up and tear down.

We’re more fragmented then ever – case in point: of all the albums selected by the writers who’ve contributed to our End of Decade series, only one album has been selected twice – which means that there’s something out there for anyone, but nothing for everyone. It sucks if you like the idea of a rock band being bigger than Jesus, especially if you don’t want that band to be U2. But if you like the idea that at any given moment there’s probably an album being released that will appeal to just you a few thousand other people, then this is a great time to be alive. However, that also means the chances of finding something truly “original” are next to nil. We’re getting to a point where it feels like everything has been done, and everyone is just paying homage, making pastiche or ripping off something that came before.

That being said, there were still a few original albums to make their way to my ears this decade, and almost all of them ended up being my favorites. So while you say this is my “best of” list for the decade, you could also call it my “most original” list as well.

1. Fucked Up: Chemistry of Common Life
Canadian indie rock seemed to be the scene of the ’00s, and while it gave us some good music, most of it bored me. It was just so damn pleasant. And Fucked Up is a lot of things, but pleasant isn’t one of them. In fact, almost everything about them, from their R-rated name to the abrasive vocals of their lead singer (who goes by the name Pink Eyes) almost dares you not to like them. I sure as hell didn’t at first; it seemed like they were trying too hard to be “outrageous.” But when they give you a song as brilliant as “Son the Father” with its goosebump-inducing riff and the best lyric of the decade (“It’s hard enough being born in the first place / Who would ever wanna be born again?”), it’s impossible not to take notice. This is hardcore punk’s Dark Side of the Moon and will probably be just as influential in the years to come.

2. Arcade Fire: Funeral
Okay, so not all of the indie-rock from Canada bored me. I didn’t want to like Arcade Fire, I didn’t want to fall for their melancholy lyrics and haunting melodies, and I didn’t want to be put under enchantment by the haunting closing track “In The Backseat.” It just kind of happened that way. Damn Canadians and their near-perfect records.

3. Hell: Teufelswerk
An as-yet-unheard masterpiece, although there is some hope still since it only came out this year. Teufelswerk picks up where The Orb’s Adventures into the Underworld left off, taking the listener on a journey across two discs that include ambient, house, electro and just about everything else in between. Not made entirely for the dance floor, it’s the kind of electronic album that should have mainstream appeal, even with its 13-minute tracks and bizarre guest appearance roster of Bryan Ferry and Diddy. If you consider yourself a fan of electronic music and you don’t have this album, you’re doing it wrong.

4. At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command
It came out in 2000, and nearly 10 years later there’s still nothing that sounds remotely like it. It’s usually pegged as an emo record, (the first time I heard the word “emo” was in regards to this record) but modern emo has little in common with this masterpiece of tempo changes, passionate vocals and adrenaline-fueled insanity. Too bad the band couldn’t survive much past the album’s release, and the two offshoots they formed after the break-up, the Mars Volta and Sparta, have come close to even matching this record in the years that have followed. Of course, almost no one else has, either.

5. Marnie Stern: This Is It And I Am It…
“This chick is kinda nuts,” said my editor when he pitched this CD to me. I’m naturally attracted to insane women, so that’s partially why I took a shine to Stern so quickly, but it mostly had to do with the fact that I’ve heard nothing like her before. She’s some heavenly combination of Van Halen and Sleater-Kinney, taking guitar virtuosity and mixing it with riot grrl passion to create an entirely one-of-a-kind sound in the process. She’s her own beast, creating her own genre which should just be called “holy shit music,” because that’s all I can think to myself when I hear her.

6. Deltron 3030: Deltron 3030
Indie hip-hop may be easy to find now, but in 2000 there was no scene for that, at least there wasn’t in my consciousness. I still don’t remember how I found this record, which is a crazy concept album about an intergalactic rap battle in the year 3030, but I remember being pleasantly surprised when a year later everyone involved on it (Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, DJ Kid Koala, Dan the Automator and Damon Albarn) went on to form Gorillaz. But this album is still better than anything those animated monkeys put out. It isn’t only the best hip-hop album of the decade, but the most original as well.

7. Mastodon: Leviathan
Prog-rock and heavy metal, two great tastes that taste great together, especially when used to create a concept album based on “Moby Dick.” Mastodon’s early albums showed promise, but this seafaring epic really sealed the deal and heralded their arrival as “the” metal band in 2004. It was also the first album to show me that popular metal was finally getting past that nu-metal BS that nearly ruined the genre at the turn of the millennium. There needs to be more metal based on classic American novels. I’m waiting for a metal interpretation of “The Age of Innocence.”

8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It’s Blitz!
The biggest 180 of the decade. Sounding nothing like their previous records, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs didn’t go dance-punk for their third LP, they went full-on dance – like a rocking version of Kylie Minogue. You’re not going to hear a better dance track this year than “Zero,” unless you count all the other up-tempo numbers on this flawless record.

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
Oh yeah, and their first album wasn’t half bad, either.

10. The Strokes: Is This It?
The poster band and the poster album for the for the poster genre (post-punk revival) that was supposed to become the Next Big Thing. And while that didn’t really happen, we still got some really good records out of it, this one still being the best. And even if you didn’t like it, you have to admit that it probably got a bunch of kids listening to the Stooges for the first time. And the UK version (see photo) had the best album cover of the decade as well.

  

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