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...

The Trashcan Sinatras: In the Music

RIYL: Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, Magnetic Fields

By all rights, the Trashcan Sinatras should have broken up years ago. Only one of their five albums was met with good timing, and that was their 1990 debut Cake. From there, they have suffered a relentless tide of apathy, both from the public (their album I’ve Seen Everything landed while grunge was in full swing) and even label bosses (Go! Discs didn’t bother releasing 1996’s A Happy Pocket in the States). But Kilmarnock’s finest have soldiered on, staring down bankruptcy and the inevitable pressures of family life to do what they love. And for that, they have attracted one of the most loyal fan bases any band has ever known. As our Popdose colleague John Hughes once wryly observed, there is no such thing as a casual fan of the Trashcan Sinatras.


Even their most recent album, In the Music, has its share of melodrama. The album was originally supposed to come out last fall, but the distribution deal fell through just as they were embarking on their first US tour in five years. But the album is finally out, and in fact its release snuck up on us, which doesn’t bode well for the promotional efforts being done on its behalf. (Seriously, we get close to 50 music press releases a day, but no one’s working the Trashcan Sinatras?) Looks like, as guitarist Paul Livingston pointed out in an interview last summer, that they’ll be selling their records to the same people once again.

Pity, because they’ve just made another gem. In the Music is similar in tone to the band’s 2004 album Weightlifting, in that both are quite mannered in comparison to their earlier work (which in itself was not exactly raucous to begin with). Fans of the “How Can I Apply…” mode of the band’s work will find much to love here, particularly “Easy on the Eye” and “Oranges & Apples,” the band’s tribute to Syd Barrett and their first song to top the seven-minute mark. They even got Carly Simon to sing on the ballad “Should I Pray.” The most rocking moment here is “Prisons,” which is chock full of the vintage Trashcans jangly guitar riffs, and “Morning Star” sports the most widescreen chorus the band’s written in years.

If the album is missing anything – besides promotional support, that is – it’s a few shifts in tempo. Yes, it’s all gorgeous, but anyone longing for a “Bloodrush” or “Welcome Back,” or even another “Hayfever,” will be left wanting. In other words, as much as the band wants people outside of their existing fan base to buy their albums, In the Music is probably not going to do the trick. It’s perfectly lovely, but it’s also preaching to the converted. Still, better that than not preaching at all. (Lo-Five Records 2010)

Trashcan Sinatras MySpace page
Click to buy In the Music from Amazon


Lollapalooza 2009, Sunday recap: Spending warm summer days indoors

All right, we didn’t actually spend the day indoors, but we hid in the shade as much as possible, because, well, it was freaking hot today. This led to one of us staying up north (he had other plans, which you’ll read about later) and one of us staying south. Who got the better end of the deal? Let’s just agree to disagree, shall we?

Ra Ra Riot, Chicago 2016 stage
Eldred: These guys sa sa sucked. Okay, not really, but they were ba ba boring. And despite the fact that I found their cellist incredibly hot (wow, I never thought I’d say that) I found my head even hotter, so I headed for the shade.

Bat for Lashes, Vitaminwater stage
Eldred: I’m always hesitant to give bands who primarily play slow-to-mid-tempo music a chance at festivals. I usually don’t have the patience for it when I’m melting away in the sun. However, Bat for Lashes proved to be the exception. The beautiful Natasha Khan (who is Bat for Lashes in the studio) came out in a sequined jumpsuit, and with a powerful bellow held the audience captive while she also played piano, the autoharp and what I think was an accordion. Pretty amazing stuff, made even more amazing by the gale-force wind that nearly destroyed the banners surrounding the stage.

Portugal, The Man, Playstation stage
Medsker: I will concede that I came very late into their set in order to find a good spot to watch the Kaiser Chiefs, but I hoped that some good grooves would come my way. All I remember is some drawn-out, “Black Magic Woman” type of jam session, and little else. Hooks, apparently, are not their strong suit.

Airborne Toxic Event, Chicago 2016 stage
Eldred: I really didn’t make an active choice to see these guys. I more or less collapsed in the shade, and they happened to be playing in the background. I’m more or less indifferentl to them. Sure, their single “Sometime Around Midnight” is a good tune, but I really couldn’t care less about seeing them. I was jealous of my cohorts who made the trip across the park to see the Kaiser Chiefs. Still, I did get to hear the ATE’s unlikely cover of Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” (the song that Buffalo Bill dances to in “Silence of the Lambs”), which was actually pretty good and went over great with their fans. I might not like their tunes, but they definitely know how to entertain a crowd.

Kaiser Chiefs, Budweiser stage
Medsker: I was concerned about how the Chiefs would be once I heard that singer Ricky Wilson broke a rib during one of the band’s shows in New York opening for Green Day. I should have known better. They absolutely killed, opening with “Never Miss a Beat” and scarcely letting up from there. Ricky was even diving into the crowd and climbing the speakers. I wonder, though, if there will be any fallout from Ricky saying, “Can we get these people 20,000 beers?” The crowd roars, and then he says, “But no Bud, though.” (Look at which stage they played.) I saw Guster pull a stunt like that at a show. They wound up not getting paid. Sponsorship-bashing issues aside, the Kaiser Chiefs made the most of the last date on their US tour. Please come back soon, boys. Eldred, for one, wants to see what he missed out on.

Dan Deacon, Vitaminwater stage
Eldred: Praise Dan Deacon, that crazy electronic music-playing bear of a man. Sure, he may have taken a bit too much time getting the sound just right, but the payoff was more than enough. Joined by close to 20 people (including a marching band), Deacon not only played music, but the audience, guiding them to create a stage in the lawn for someone to jump down and conduct the crowd, culminated in an ungodly barrage of plastic bottles flying into the air. Pure madness and pure ecstasy. Dan Deacon made the heat go away with the power of his good vibes.

The Hood Internet, Perry’s
Medsker: This pair of Chicago DJs were spinning some crazy mash-ups from the word go. Someone was rapping over “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” while Rivers Cuomo was singing “Buddy Holly” over a monster dance beat. I also heard bits of Walter Meego (another Chicago band, which makes me suspect they know each other), New Order, Mylo, that birthday texting song, and, of course, Michael Jackson. And thank goodness the people by one of the drink stations were giving away bottles of water. After the Kaiser Chiefs, I needed about a gallon.

Neko Case, Budweiser stage
Medsker: Neko has one of those sing-me-the-phone-book voices, but this setting seriously tested my patience. She and her band sounded fine (once they took care of a feedback problem), but as Neko herself admitted, she was playing a nighttime set during a daytime show. She was grateful for the “frisky” people up front. Sadly, I was not one of them. Two guys in front of me gave me the biggest laugh of the day when they waited for Neko to start, heard three notes of her first song, and walked away shaking their heads.

Shortly after this, I called it a day, but I assure you that I have my reasons. One of my all-time favorite bands is playing on the north side of town, and they don’t play here much. My apologies to the Killers and Jane’s Addiction, who will surely put on great shows. Bonus coverage to follow…

Passion Pit, Citi stage
Eldred: Every year the Citi stage seems to be the home of an act that could easily pack one of the larger stages. Last year it was Girl Talk, and this year it was Passion Pit. (Ed. note: Whither Peter Bjorn and John?) People were packed tight on the concrete to see the band perform “Sleepyhead” and other highlights from the debut LP. Well, maybe “other highlights” is a bit of a stretch, since a good portion of the crowd hightailed it after the group belted out their signature tune. Passion Pit didn’t seem to be bothered by the the fleeing masses or the heat, but the latter sure got to me. I caved and went back to the hotel, Snoop Dog be dammed.

The Killers, Chicago 2016
Eldred: Refreshed after a lenghty break in my a/c blasted room, I trekked back for the final act of the festival. Given the choice between the Killers and Jane’s Addiction, I chose the Killers, and not just because they were the closest to my hotel (okay, that may have had something to do with it). There was nothing particularly wrong with the Killers’ performance, but there was nothing really amazing about it, either. I don’t know, maybe seeing Depeche Mode and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the two nights before set my expectations too high. Everyone seemed to be having a good time though, especially Brandon Flowers, who was eating up the massive crowd (which he claimed was the biggest they’ve had in the States). Maybe they weren’t the best band to close a night, but they sure as hell pleased their fans. All I know is that after three days that included pouring ran, blaring heat, and everything in between while running back and forth both sides of Grant Park to watch over 20 bands, I’m done with rocking out…for a least a few weeks.

Bonus coverage: The Trashcan Sinatras, Schuba’s
Medsker: Ah, now you know where the old man has gone. From the moment that I heard “Hayfever” while I was getting ready for work one lazy morning in 1993, the Trashcan Sintatras have owned me, so once I heard that they were going to be in town the weekend that I was supposed to cover Lolla, I begged the Lolla scheduling gods that I would not have to choose between the Trashcans and either Depeche Mode or the Beastie Boys. As it turned out, they were scheduled against the Killers – whom I saw in 2005, and they were fun – or Jane’s Addiction, and with all apologies to the guy that started this whole thing, I’d rather see the Trashcans. Yes, that’s how much they mean to me.

The show was great fun. They played a bunch of tunes from I’ve Seen Everything, including ‘Hayfever,” and a bunch of songs from their new one In the Music, which hopefully will be out in the States soon. And I made good on my promise to buy the guitarist a drink, for which he was most grateful.

And now, we sleep. Full, detailed recap soon to follow. But for now, night night.


The Trashcan Sinatras’ Paul Livingston gets “Into the Music”

Most other bands would long have since wilted in the face of the many different types of adversity faced by the Trashcan Sinatras, but — much to the joy of discerning pop fans all over the world — they’re still kicking. In fact, they’ve completed a new album, the soon-to-be-released In the Music, and are embarking on their first American tour in five years. To celebrate the occasion, guitarist Paul Livingston sat down for a chat with Bullz-Eye’s David Medsker, who just so happens to be a fan from way back. As you can imagine, the interview was a rather informal affair, touching on everything from the heartbreak of dealing with labels going out of business to tour preparations to what it was like to have Carly Simon appear on the new album. Sadly, it turns out the meeting wasn’t, well, a meeting at all:

After we recorded the backing tracks in New York, the producer, Andy Chase, was going to set up a studio at his house in Martha’s Vineyard. And he said, “Come on, Carly Simon lives here.” And we were floored, and thought, “That would be great if we could meet her.” And so he asked her to sing on a song, and we got her a lot of the songs we were working on. But the disappointing thing was, when we were in Martha’s Vineyard, she was in New York. So we didn’t meet her, which is kind of a bummer.

Also kind of a bummer? The label behind the Sinatras’ last album, Weightlifting, imploding before it had a chance to make the band any money. Mr. Livingston is pretty genteel about the whole affair, however, saying:

It was a kick in the teeth, but at that point, we didn’t get down about it. We just smiled and moved on. That sort of shit happens all the time. And it’s nothing personal, you know? You just gotta laugh and shake your head.

For more of the interview — including how the band is adjusting to Livingston’s Southern California move, rumors of their back catalog getting the reissue treatment, and who will buy whom a drink when Livingston and Medsker meet up in Chicago — follow this link!


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