Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums and Songs of 2010: Associate Editor Will Harris’s picks

I don’t even know why I’m here, frankly. I think it’s pretty well documented that all I do these days is write about television and interview people ’til the cows come home. Once upon a time, though, I used to be a music critic, dammit…and once you’ve had opinions about music, you’ll always have opinions about music. As such, here are my thoughts on the albums and songs that grabbed me this year. This may be the first time I’ve actually written about most of them, but you can damn well be sure that I’ve spent plenty of time listening to them.

Favorite Albums

1. Tom Jones: Praise & Blame
It’s a pretty consistent tradition that my #1 slot on my Best Albums list of any given year belongs to an artist whose career I’ve followed for quite some time, but Sir Tom earned his spot fair and square. Kicking things off with a stark cover of Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?” which will leave listeners spellbound, the Welsh wonder goes gospel with this record, and while it’s admittedly not the sort of career move that generally results in the shifting of mass units, it’s a creative success, one which befits a man entering his seventies far more than, say, another retread of “Sexbomb.” Having already secured legendary status (not to mention a knighthood), our man Tom can afford to step outside of people’s perceptions, and for those who’ve been paying attention, that’s what he’s been doing for the past several albums, including 2008’s 24 Hours and his 2004 collaboration with Jools Holland. But while Praise & Blame is a continuation of an existing trend, it’s also arguably the first time Jones has made absolutely no commercial concessions. There’s no wink-and-a-nudge cover of “200 Lbs. of Heavenly joy.” There’s no song by Bono and the Edge nor uber-hip production from Future Cut. There’s just Tom Jones, age 70…and, by God, he’s still got it.

2. Glen Matlock & The Philistines: Born Running
It isn’t as though it’s surprising that John Lydon’s the member of the Sex Pistols who’s gone on to have the most successful solo career – he was, after all, the frontman for the group – but it continues to be equally eyebrow-raising that so few of the band’s fans have kept their ears open for the consistently solid material emerging from Glen Matlock‘s camp. It’s not quite as punk as the Pistols – which makes perfect sense if you believe the story about Matlock supposedly getting the boot from the band for liking the Beatles a bit too much – but the songs on Born Running still pack a fierce wallop.

3. Brian Wilson: Reimagines Gershwin
The older I get, the less I allow myself to feel guilty about enjoying an album that I could easily peddle to people my grandparents’ age. All things considered, I’d much rather have a full collection of new originals from Mr. Wilson, but the way he takes these Gershwin classics and arranges them to match his traditional sound is still music to my ears. Then, of course, there’s the added bonus that he’s taken on the task of completing a couple of previously-unfinished Gershwin songs. Unsurprisingly, they sound just like Brian Wilson compositions…not that there’s anything wrong with that. At all.

4. Farrah: Farrah
There’s Britpop, and then there’s power pop, but you don’t tend to find bands who can manage to comfortably keep a foot in both camp; I’d argue that Farrah succeeds at this task, but given that they don’t have a particularly high profile in either, I suppose it really all depends on how you define success. For my part, though, if an artist releases an album which contains a significant number of catchy-as-hell hooks, it’s top of the pops in my book, which means that this self-titled entry into their discography is yet another winner for Farrah.

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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”

Read the rest after the jump...

Hey Champ: Star

RIYL: Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic,” The Buggles, Bourgeois Tagg

There aren’t many bands that can speak to fans of Alphaville, Yes, Bourgeois Tagg and Tangerine Dream, yet there but for the grace of God go Chicago trio Hey Champ. Armed with only a guitar, a drum set and a couple of vintage keyboards, Hey Champ’s debut album Star is a strange blend of synth pop, rock and jazzy prog, and while that might sound like a band in the midst of an identity crisis, Hey Champ combines these elements quite meticulously.


The beauty of melding such disparate influences is that it yields a variety of sounds. “Word=War” channels Death Cab for Cutie at their most anthemic (much of that due to singer Saam Hagshenas’ uncanny impression of Ben Gibbard, thankfully relegated to this one song), while “Shake” blends New Order guitar lines with keyboard riffs that could have come from a Saga record. Some of their chord sequences are of the borrowed variety – the chorus to “So American” is not far removed from “Comfortably Numb,” and the end of the great “Steampunk Camelot” bears resemblance to Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” minus the pomposity – but these guys aren’t thieves; they’re musicologists, and Star is the work of one wildly diverse record collection. One of the smarter synth pop records you’ll hear this year, or any other. (Townie Records 2010)

Hey Champ MySpace page
Click to buy Star from Amazon


Me, Myself, and iPod 6/16/10: Rock chalk Jayhawk

esd ipod

Mark Olson – Little Bird of Freedom
As a longtime fan of the Jayhawks’ 1995 gem Tomorrow the Green Grass, I’ll do anything for Mark Olson, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman. The three are occasionally moonlighting as the Jayhawks – this after Louris personally told me when he was promoting his last solo album that the Jayhawks were done; thank goodness he was wrong – but this is from Olson’s upcoming solo album Many Colored Kite, due in late July.

The Silver Seas – Another Bad Night’s Sleep
Here’s the amazing thing about Chateau Revenge, the forthcoming sophomore effort from the Silver Seas: we’ve posted two great songs from the album for download (you can find the other one here), and we still haven’t touched my favorites from the album. Singer Daniel Tashian sounds a bit more like Rufus Wainwright on this one than his usual Jackson Browne baritone. It’s all good to me.

Hey Champ – Neverest
There are a lot of bands making valuable contributions to the new synth pop wave – the tricky part is finding them. For every band like Hey Champ, there are 20 shit bands who play vintage synthesizers and sneer a lot. That’s not synth pop; that’s just posing. These guys get it; their songs are based on songs, not attitude. And if you really want to get freaked out, check out the video for this song. Dolphin boobies!

Everything Everything – Schoolin’
Not to be confused with shit ’90s band Everything, who had that lame-ass song about seeing better days. This is a UK band that sounds like they’ve been spinning a lot of Neptunes productions. Funny that I keep comparing bands to other artists who haven’t sold any records, but the first person I thought of when I heard this was Kenna.

Crocodiles – Sleep Forever
I’m just going to assume that the band name came from the Echo & the Bunnymen song of the same name, because these guys have clearly heard a few Echo records. Big, jangly, quasi-psychedelic ’60s guitar rock song. Here’s hoping the full-length is just as good.

Olafur Arnalds – Tunglio (Moon)
Because even download columns need a come-down song. This string-kissed instrumental is heartbreakingly beautiful. Don’t be surprised if it winds up serving as the score to a “Grey’s Anatomy” montage in the fall.


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