Friday, January 28, 2011

The Decemberists - The King is Dead

My first real taste, or commitment anyway with these guys. They were way overplayed on WRUV a few years ago and they annoyed me, but Colin Meloy keeps popping up and I love his stuff on the last Minus 5 records, so I thought this was worth a shot. Not a bad record, probably not $28 worth (bought on vinyl at Exile), but a solid effort that will get multiple spins. I like how they tone down the Sea Shanty thing and up the Americana pop quotient, and thankfully Norah Jones doesn't make an appearance. It's a funny musc business that this is the #1 album in the land.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Top 10 and Then Some: 2010

I try to come up with a list of my favorite records from each year, but I get so much stuff from so many years that these tend to reference what I added to the stacks between January and December. I might be in pretty safe territory here, no Witchhouse or uber indie indie rock, but it’s a good slice of my listening tastes. Yeah, it’s two weeks late, so what? I was goungf to add Amazon links to the albums, but on second thought, get your ass to a record store and support them!

Roky Erickson and Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil

Roky’s back, and I dare say with the best album of his career. His story is tragic legend followed by redemption, and this album could have gone all wrong, as he tells his tale over modern indie-rock backing. I mean, the guy’s not the most eloquent, but like a savant he says just exactly the right shit. I’d never heard Okkervil River before this except in the background on ACL, and Will Sheff did a really nice, sympathetic production on this one. Levels are a little hot in places, but that’s Modern Rock for ya. Best release of 2010, hands down.

Delta Spirit – History from Below

Worth it just for ‘Bushwick Blues’. Hot mastered, of course. Damn you!

Anais Mitchell - Hadestown

Terrific folk rock opera stuff, it still needs to sink in more but I dig it all, instrumentation, characters, the
sound. Very nice.

Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love

I’ve warmed to the cozy blanket charm of B&S’s music, and they’ve learned to add a little more rock and pure pop into their work since their 20th century work. Write About Love: the title sounds like a blast of cuddly twee sugar, but this platter is full of well-played, lightly orchestrated, hooky pop. Yes, we’re still in a B&S bubble, but this offering would appeal to non-believers, in a good way. The needless inclusion of Norah Jones may be a ploy to pander to the Starbucks Mom demographic, unfortunately, but her ill-fitting voice doesn’t drag the whole record down, thankfully. Mastering and pressing are terrific, this is one Matador LP with no warps or other physical flaws. With such a well-presented mix of terrifically personal songwriting, full but not overdone arrangements, and pop sensibility, Write About Love is a wonderful addition to the Belle and Sebastian canon, and to the Pop Universe as well.

Broken Bells – s/t

An easy one, as in easy listening. I’ve never heard Danger Mouse’s stuff that I know of, Shins are a nice little pop band but their shtick wears thin. I expected this to be blippy compressed crap, but instead it’s really good blippy mellow pop.

The Kinks - Great Lost Kinks Album

Really not that hard to find, but it’s been a big hole on my shelf for years. Given the title many shops think it’s worth more than it is, but I got it for $5 at Exile in VG shape. This is an absolutely terrific odds n’ sods collection right up there with Elvis Costello’s ‘Taking Liberties’, but it’s the Kinks, so it’s that much more essential.

Teenage Fanclub – Shadows

This great little record was a bit of a grower, but my hopes were high, TF fannie that I am. Fourth spin it clicked, as I knew it would. Standout track the terrific “Baby Lee,” “Into the City” has some wonderfully sunny guitar work and harmonies on it as well. I don’t know how these guys spend their days during the five years between albums; they deserve to be megazillionbaires, but probably write ad copy or some such thing. Support them every way you can, the world needs their charming outlook. On another note…

Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque

This album has been in steady rotation for me since 1991. Picked up the ORG vinyl reissue just before Christmas, and I must say, it sounds fantastic. Great job on this reissue, ORG!

New Pornographers – Together

A safe one, more pure pop from the band that Neko really isn’t all that critical to. “Crash Years”, ‘Silver Jenny Dollar’ are standouts.

Swell Season at the Flynn

This is my yuppie tool moment of 2010. (The fact that I even use the term yuppie shows that I'm a tool, and an old one at that). Glenn Hansard really is a great frontman, and Marketa Irgova is pretty solid at her thing. They are two separate worlds, but that little spot where they intersect is impressive. It’s clear this is Hansard’s show now; he paid his dues with the Frames and is taking the glory. Sure he throws Marketa a bone here and there (get your heads out of the gutter) in acknowledgment of the fact that their little movie has made him successful, but there’s no doubt who the boss is.

The Figgs

Finally saw them open for / play with Graham Parker; I’ve known of them tangentially all these years and known I needed to check them out further, and finally did. Picked up Palais at the show, it’s an older double lp chock full of power poppin’ rockin’ shit. Sorry I took so long guys.

Radio Birdman - The Essential Radio Birdman: 1974-1978

Likely everything you need from these Aussie proto-punkers. Great stuff in the style of Stooges, Dolls, BOC, you know the drill. The guitar solo on ‘Aloha Steve and Danno’ is to die for.

Alejandro Escovedo – A Man Under the Influence Deluxe Bourbonitis Edition

So this was released originally in 2001, but the vinyl reissue came out in 2009 and I got it in Jan 2010, so it fits my criteria. Regardless, this is a terrific album from start to finish, wrenches the heart at times (“Rhapsody”, “Across the River”, the wonderful “Wedding Day”) and rocks a bit when needed (“Castanets”, “As I Fall”).

Cheap HiFi
2010 has brought me more cheap/free gear than any previous. Harmon Kardon 490i receiver for $25 with usable Marantz speakers, bpc cd changer, bpc Marantz tape deck. It had one channel out, cleaned all switches with deoxit and voila, great (no, killer) receiver for the den system. Sanyo Plus Q25 turntable, Empire 400TC cartridge, free on the side of the road, in the box! Pretty decent direct drive table for the den setup, cart is terrific and in nice shape. Also got some decent bookshelf speakers (forget make) that are in the garage system. Pioneer PL-15D turntable, $25 off craigslist. Great shape, in same 2nd system. Dual 506-1 turntable free from neighbor, I regifted to Matt Bushlow but kept the Signet TK3ea cartridge, now my #1 cart on the main rig upstairs. All this stuff for next to nothing will make a system that slays an ipod dock, ion usb turntable, or that chintzy plastic cased hifi that was left in your apartment when you moved in. Also picked up a Grant Fidelity DAC-09 tube buffered digital analog converter for a couple of hundred bucks which takes the main system to a new level, and is as versatile as a towel in space. Postscript…that HK 490i smoked a voice coil in another one of my garage sale speakers, so be careful with this stuff!

2010's Letdowns

Spoon - Transference

Too much focus on artsy sound manipulation (read: squashed, compressed, bloopy shit) and not enough on the songs. They sounded nice on Austin City Limits, though.

The National - High Violet

I like it enough, but it doesn’t rise above Alligator, or even Boxer. Somewhere along the way they seem to have completely lost any of the few hooks they ever had.

Paul Weller - Wake Up the Nation

This just doesn’t have the songs Weller is so great at, save for “No Tears to Cry”, which is great, and the production is cluttered and brickwalled and oh so modern.