Bullz-Eye’s Best of 2010: Staff Writer Scott Malchus’ picks

Each year, when I sort through my favorite songs, I have trouble ranking them because each one has a different meaning to me. I always wind up creating a mixtape (or a playlist, for you younger readers) of those songs and arrange them so that the music flows like a great album or concert set. Without further ado, here’s my mix of the twenty songs I returned to for repeated listens throughout 2010.

“Fade Like a Shadow,” KT Tunstall
Tunstall continues to produce pop gems that are spirited, bright and full of life. This single from her latest, Tiger Suit, has everything you want in a single: a passionate delivery, a great melodic hook, and a unique rhythm that helps it stand out from other songs. A great way to kick off a mix tape.

“I Should Have Known It,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The lead single from Mojo has that vintage Petty snarl and bite. The rest of the album may be a mixed bag, but this great rocker builds to kick-ass guitar jam and stands up with some of their best.

Read the rest after the jump...

Peter Gabriel: Scratch My Back

RIYL: Brian Eno, David Byrne, Harold Budd

On paper, covers projects don’t get much more intriguingly wacky than this: Scratch My Back finds the ever-restless Peter Gabriel covering 12 songs by other artists, to be followed with I’ll Scratch Yours, in which those same artists cover Gabriel’s catalog. Oh, and since it’s never a Peter Gabriel album without some kind of twist, he decided to record his end of the bargain with an orchestra. And did we mention the artists he covered? David Bowie, Paul Simon, Bon Iver, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Radiohead are only some of the famous (and mostly très hip) names who get scratched here – if ever there was an album that had a snowball’s chance of uniting the Pitchfork and Goldmine crowds, this is it.

On paper, anyway. In reality, Scratch My Back never comes anywhere near the zany generational/stylistic mash-up its concept suggests; in fact, it might end up being one of the more wildly divisive recordings of Gabriel’s long, proudly obstinate career.

How the album hits you will have a lot to do with what you expect. Given his track record, you might think Gabriel would use the orchestral setting to explore the expanded dynamic possibilities of the music by tinkering with polyrhythms and layers – just imagine what a healthy-sized string section could do with Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” – but that isn’t the case. Really, aside from a few outbursts, this is a pretty sedate album; Gabriel’s overall approach is pretty well summed up with his morose, sleepy take on “Bubble,” which at least shows up early enough in the track listing to give you a hint of what’s to come.

So it isn’t everything it could have been, and may strike some listeners as something of a disappointment at first, but don’t be quick to dismiss Scratch My Back: Like most Gabriel records – especially his recent efforts – it’s a grower. Most covers albums are an opportunity for the artist to let loose and have a little fun with songs they love, and to try and add their own voice to someone else’s refrain. But not Gabriel – even at his commercial peak, he was an insular artist, and here, he mostly sounds like he’s running through some old favorites for his own benefit. The result is an album that opens slowly: With the exception of the slow-building “My Body Is a Cage” and his take on Regina Spektor’s “Après moi,” which comes barreling out of the gates, much of Scratch initially comes across as a bit of a beautiful snooze. Be patient, though, and Gabriel rewards you with a work of tender intimacy – and he makes Lou Reed and Neil Young sound positively tuneful in the bargain: His covers of “The Power of the Heart” and “Philadelphia” are two of the album’s highlights. In today’s heavily compressed sonic landscape, Scratch My Back may register as little more than an echo at first, but it’s rare we get to hear music with this kind of simple focus, or stark beauty. If it’s still hard not to wish Gabriel had wandered a little further afield with his interpretations, well, we still have I’ll Scratch Yours to hope for. (Real World 2010)

Peter Gabriel MySpace page


Solomon’s Seal: The Sea, The Sea

U.S. based British band Minibar has been a fixture on the Los Angeles indie pop scene for the last decade, but yet Minibar has managed to stay under most everyone’s radar. Those who know the band know the slightly smoky and brooding vocals of front man Simon Petty, who is also one heck of a songwriter, and now he gets to prove that point with his debut solo effort, The Sea, The Sea under the moniker Solomon’s Seal. Petty’s obsession with the Smiths is documented in the press materials, and he’s also said to be influenced by the late, great Nick Drake. One thing going for Petty right off the bat is that he doesn’t feel compelled to fake a British accent like other alt-popsters. His vocals bring the songs effortlessly to life – and the songs themselves, with their beautifully sparse production and arrangements, are simply wonderful. The haunting instrumental “Solomon’s Suite” is an odd opener, but then right from the soothing piano and smooth vocals of “A Trick of the Light,” Petty’s artistry just shines. Other standouts are “Sleeping in the Car,” which sounds like a Glen Phillips-Joseph Arthur hybrid, the pretty guitar/vocal of “I Built a Fire,” and the romping, Peter Gabriel-esque “A Part of the River.” (Unshackled 2009)

Solomon’s Seal MySpace Page


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