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.


Read the rest after the jump...

Vampire Weekend: Contra


RIYL: Talking Heads, Paul Simon’s Graceland, pissing off hipsters

Hype giveth, and the backlash taketh away: Two years after being heralded as conquering indie kings by the blogosphere elite, Vampire Weekend releases its sophomore effort, Contra, amidst a hail of hipster boos. But wait, here’s the best part: All the stuff that seems to piss people off about the band – specifically, that they look like kids that wandered off their parents’ Hamptons estates, and sound like late-period Talking Heads crossed with Paul Simon’s Graceland album – is exactly what drew people to Vampire Weekend to begin with. They haven’t changed, and they haven’t been around long enough for tastes to change much, either – so what gives? We’ll let you draw your own conclusions (our theory has to do with the word “baa”), but no matter the reasons for the backlash, Vampire Weekend has managed to tune out the catcalls long enough to deliver a sophomore album strong enough to satisfy everyone who hasn’t pre-emptively left their flock. As far as second efforts go, Contra is actually pretty ideal; it isn’t exactly a carbon copy of the first album, but it doesn’t stray far enough to leave fans feeling betrayed. This seems to be a case of a band that knows its strengths – namely, crafting deeply derivative, intoxicatingly lightweight pop songs with a faint world-music bent – and is smart enough not to dick around with anything too far outside its wheelhouse. Not ambitious enough to earn high marks from the Pitchfork crowd, in other words, but on the other hand, it really is plenty of fun — Contra is the kind of record that doesn’t want to do much besides make it hard for you to sit still, and it succeeds. Could you ask for more? Sure, but albums this charmingly frothy make it hard to complain. (XL Records 2010)

Vampire Weekend MySpace page

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Taylor Long’s picks

2008 was a year of many highly anticipated albums, from long-awaited follow-ups from big names to indie debuts. There were the albums I listened to most and felt left a lasting dent on the current musical landscape.

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Brooklyn’s critical darlings hit it out of the borough again with their third full-length, Dear Science. They continue to defy even the most coherent explanations and descriptions. This is what the future sounds like – and it’s exciting.

2. Fleet Foxes: Ragged Wood
The Pacific Northwest is finally producing, once again, the caliber of music that its isolated atmosphere and gorgeous surrounds should be stimulating. Driven by front-man Robin Pecknold, but by no means a one man band, the Fleet Foxes have the best lockdown on vocal harmonies since a certain supergroup in the ’70s — and the songs do their fair share of standing out, as well.

3. Pattern Is Movement: All Together
Throw all notions of what a two-piece should sound like out of your mind. This Philidelphia duo is nothing like what you’d expect them – or anyone – to be. Avant-pop-rock meets classical form and textures in the most beautiful mess of an album. If, at first, you’re taken aback, don’t worry, just press repeat.

4. Dengue Fever: Venus on Earth
While there were bands that hit it bigtime with their exploration of international sounds (see below), Dengue Fever didn’t come nearly close enough to receiving the kind of attention they deserved. Boasting Chhom Nimol, a singer who actually sings in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, the LA inhabitants’ mixture of Cambodian pop meets surfer pop and psych rock is not only legitimate but bred of some serious talent.

5. Wolf Parade: At Mount Zoomer
It could perhaps be argued that At Mount Zoomer, the follow up to Wolf Parade’s first album Apologies to the Queen Mary, doesn’t pack the same punch in terms of pop hooks. In many ways, this is true. In other ways, it doesn’t matter. The over-10-minute-long album closer “Kissing the Beehive” is just as memorable – if not more so – as any of their shorter tunes.

6. Deerhunter: Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
One of the weirdest yet most beautiful, comforting yet most alienating albums in recent memory – or double-album, if we’re getting technical. Get lost in the repetition, then find yourself in the breakdowns and freakouts.

7. The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me
The highly, highly anticipated follow up to the German group’s earnestly romantic and soothing electro-pop album, Neon Golden. The Devil, You + Me continues in the same vein as the album that they broke out with. What more could anyone ask?

8. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
As pleasing as it might be to be able to deny the righteous climb of the afro-pop appropriating, stereotype-perpetuating ivy leaguers known as Vampire Weekend, the honest truth is, aside from its lack of emotion, their debut is pretty undeniable. And in a musical climate where one too many bands have been overly saturated in their feelings, perhaps a little break from them ain’t so bad.

9. Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Every year, there’s a band that gets the sentimental vote. This year, it’s this one. Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie bounce back from glistening pop to a strangely inconsistent yet cohesive sixth album. Piano ballads, power pop and, of course, the experimental stalker jam first single – it’s all here.

10. Portishead: Third
The last slot is almost always the hardest. What pushed it over to Portishead were two things. Firstly, unsurprisingly, the group’s history. One of the most influential players in trip-hop, Portishead recorded a measly two albums (though there was nothing measly about the content). Secondly, they bounced back some 10 years later to deliver not just another album, but another groundbreakingly, strangely beautiful one. If only every long-term hiatus had such remarkable results.

Top 10 Songs From Albums Not On My Top 10 List

1. “Put On,” Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West
The video alone would have warranted the number one spot on this list, but as it just so happens, “Put On” is a completely unforgettable song, the kind I heard blasted on my Brooklyn block night and day. Also noteworthy: the only time Kanye West used a vocoder this year that didn’t sound stupid.

2. “A Milli,” Lil’ Wayne / “A Billi,” Jay-Z
Weezy arguably had the more successful summer jam over Jeezy, but truth is, his voice is still slightly irritating, no matter how many times I hear this. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that I like Jay-Z’s freestyle cover just as much as Wayne’s original.

3. “U.R.A. Fever,” The Kills
This is the sexiest song released in 2008. Really.

4. “L.E.S. Artistes” / “I’m A Lady,” Santogold
I refuse to choose between the two hottest jams on the debut from Brooklyn’s Santogold. So I’m not going to.

5. “Take My Love With You,” Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves
Why wasn’t this song blasted from the speakers of every single person who loved retro-revival acts like Amy Winehouse and the Pipettes over the last year? It should have been. Also: people in long-distance relationships, you have a new jam. Trust me.

6. “Mr. Alladatshit,” Kidz in the Hall
Kidz in the Hall made my mid-year list, but the second half was just too strong and knocked them out of contention. That said, this song from the Chicago rap duo is, to quote the song, “flyer than giraffe’s [privates].” Assuming they meant that as a good thing…

7. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 1,” My Morning Jacket
The My Morning Jacket album was a little too uneven, but its high points were very high, including this lilting, sensual jam that’s exemplary of everything the band does right.

8. “Many Shades of Black,” Raconteurs
Without as much influence from Brendan Benson, the Raconteurs are starting to sound like another White Stripes… which would be ok if there wasn’t already the White Stripes. Having said that, this soul-infused break-up tune is not just more of the same.

9. “Lately,” The Helio Sequence
The duo from Portland continue to evolve their sound with Keep Your Eyes Ahead, their most memorable album to-date, which boasts the repeat-worthy lead off track “Lately.”

10. “Sensual Seduction,” Snoop Dogg (or “Sexual Eruption,” if you have the unrated version)
It’s as if Snoop Dogg heard any of R. Kelly’s recent albums and said, “That man knows what he’s doing.”

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Michael Fortes’ picks

This year has seen some extraordinary new music come our way. I’ve heard the opposite opinion from elsewhere, but for me, being on the West Coast has a lot to do with my enthusiasm. In fact, seven of the albums in my top ten are by West Coast artists, some more well-known than others. Not only that, three of the albums in my top ten aren’t albums at all. The “EP” is an anachronistic term that originally referred to a 7” vinyl record with more music crammed on each side (usually at the expense of volume and general sound quality) than what a normal single would hold. It’s an abbreviation for “Extended Play.” And yet, today’s EP is really just a half-length CD. They tend to be overlooked, either because they’re too short to warrant much attention or they contain songs not deemed strong enough for a full album, or both. But, like Bob Dylan said, “things have changed.” Our lives are busier, our attention spans are shorter, and our disposable income is shrinking by the hour. What better time for the EP to make a mini-resurgence than now?

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. The Parson Red Heads: Owl & Timber (EP)
There’s a timelessness to the sound and the vibe of the Parson Red Heads that’s beyond explanation. You can single out the familial harmonies, the guitar interplay that recalls the Byrds and the Dead, the irresistibly solid pop songs, or their flowery evocation of a bygone era. But when it comes down to it, this band’s music simply feels good. No other band has released music this irresistible and uplifting in years, and only a select lucky few up and down the West Coast have had the luxury of being able to see and hear them live. With a little luck, this may change, and we’ll be able to look back at Owl & Timber as one of the elements that made it happen.

2. Brian Wilson: That Lucky Old Sun
Following up the 37-years-late Smile with another similarly built song cycle seemed like little more than a fantasy in 2004. But here we are in 2008, and Brian Wilson pulled it off. Mike Love would be proud to hear that there’s only one “downer” on the album (the beautiful, Pet Sounds-worthy “Midnight’s Another Day”), while all the rest are upbeat, aural murals depicting the sunny side of Southern California. It’s Brian doing what he does best, and outside of Smile, it’s easily his best, most enjoyable solo work.

3. Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Technically, Tell Tale Signs is an archival release, but the recent vintage of the material (1989 through 2006), the abundance of never-before-heard songs, and the fact that most of it was recorded during the same period in which Guns n’ Roses’ 14-years-late Chinese Democracy gestated, qualifies it as new. And even if it didn’t qualify, it would still be listed here, since it does as good a job (if not better) as any of his last three records of proving that, even in his old age, Dylan has lost none of his power to inspire, confound, delight and move his audience.

4. The Gutter Twins: Saturnalia
Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli have collaborated in the past on a few tracks from Greg’s Twilight Singers albums, and while those duets were pretty good, they were never major stand-outs. Not until the two covered Massive Attack’s “Live with Me” on last year’s A Stitch in Time EP, anyway. As good as that cover was, this full album of originals by Greg and Mark is even better. Dulli stretches himself here, eschewing his usual rockin’ R&B swagger and falling under Lanegan’s dark, spiritual influence.

5. Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights: Movie Theatre Haiku
That straight-laced dude from Portland with the Harry Nilsson fixation strikes again, this time crediting his road band and turning in an even more confident record than last year’s The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love. If the 1966 Beatles were a young band today, they’d likely be playing songs like Robley’s “User-Friendly Guide to Change.”

6. Joseph Arthur: Vagabond Skies (EP)
Of the four EPs and full-length album Joseph Arthur released this year, Vagabond Skies rises to the top not only for bearing some of his most captivating and ethereal songs, but also for containing the year’s most memorable guitar solo, in the EP’s centerpiece “She Paints Me Gold.” Plus, the cover art is damn cool.

7. The Happy Hollows: Imaginary (EP)
They’re funny, they’re smart, they’re tight as a conservative’s behind, and they’re the most exciting live indie rock band in L.A. right now. Imaginary is just a short burst of five songs, but what a burst it is – from the simple exclamatory chant of “Colors” to the almost prog-like tour-de-force of “Lieutenant” with singer/guitarist Sarah Negahdari’s Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar tapping, Imaginary tantalizes and teases, just like you want it to.

8. Guns n’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
Yes, it’s bloated and overproduced. No, it’s not the old, sleazy Guns n’ Roses of the late ‘80s. Yes, it should have been out ten years ago, and would have sounded even more contemporary in 1998 than in 2008. But Axl Rose is still the king of tortured, overwrought power ballads and menacing rock n’ roll screams, and on these counts, Chinese Democracy more than delivers – it beats you over the head with its twisted logic.

9. Metallica: Death Magnetic
Metallica sounds like Metallica again! It may be clichéd to say this is their best album since …And Justice for All, but it’s true, and it bears repeating: Death Magnetic is Metallica’s best album since Justice.

10. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
Evil Urges goes to great lengths to prove that My Morning Jacket is no typical southern jam band. Not that they ever needed to go so far as to throw some Prince-like falsetto singing and funky R&B into the mix, but as it turns out, it sounds pretty cool.

Honorable Mentions

The Fireman: Electric Arguments
Rachel Taylor Brown: Half Hours with the Lower Creatures
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
Portishead: Third
Neil Diamond: Home Before Dark
Juliana Hatfield: How to Walk Away
Randy Newman: Harps and Angels
Deerhoof: Offend Maggie
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan: Sunday at Devil Dirt

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Jim Washington’s picks

It’s the dawn of a sunny new day in America, but we’re still working through the past in this year’s batch of music. But great art can come from great pain, right? Some people deal with it by making sad music, others try to lift you up. There was plenty of super music from both camps this year.

Best albums of 2008, in no particular order.

Beck: Modern Guilt
Take some Beck, add a little Danger Mouse and a lot of existential angst, what do you get? A killer album from an older, wiser and more bummed-out Beck.

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
You can’t possibly be in a bad mood while listening to the upbeat, world music-infused indie rock of VW. This is the album I probably played more than any other all year. Really, who does give a fuck about an Oxford comma?

The Black Keys: Attack & Release
After leaving a Black Keys show this summer a buddy of mine said, with echoes of Jack Black, “That rocked so hard my stomach hurts.” That about sums them up.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Momofuku
EC is riding high these days with a cool new TV talk show, but it’s this raw, energetic album, banged out in a few weeks, that tells us he still matters.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology
Ryan Adams, newly clean and sober, made two really good albums this year and last combining his pop and alt-country pasts. Here’s hoping he stays on the straight and narrow in ‘09 and beyond.

My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
“Highly Suspicious” turned off as many people as it turned on, but tracks like “I’m Amazed” put this solidly on the list of feel-good albums of the year.

TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Art rock? Dance rock? Yes. TVOR produced an album of tortured songs about love in a bleak time.

Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Death Cab created a darker, and yet more uplifting sound on this album, which produced a new classic anthem for stalkers with “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

N.E.R.D.: Seeing Sounds
Not to be too much of a homer, but Pharrell and company (who hail from my neck of the woods) put out a freakily brilliant album this year. Alongside home girl Missy Elliott, it makes you wonder what’s in the water down here.

The Roots: Rising Down
The perfect rap album for the end of Bush’s America, chock full of anger, fighting and hate. Here’s hoping the next one will be just as good, but a little sunnier.

Welcome to 2009 everybody!

  

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