Honestly, the only reason this album made the list is because I didn’t want a Top 14 list this year. It went up against Bat for Lashes, Jose Gonzalez, Sigur Ros, Earlimart, and Two Gallants for the last spot. Well, I suppose I could have included all of those and just had 20, but come on, that’s just tacky. Mr. Adams won out only because he proved that he’s still capable of producing something not god awful. Two years ago, he took my top spot with Cold Roses, but after the musical partial birth abortions that were his last two albums, I wanted to reconsider my love for Roses all together. Was that double album just a lucky stab in the dark? Had he completely shot his genius load all over my ear chest? Well, not completely. Easy Tiger isn’t an incredible album; it’s mostly just passable. But compared to Jacksonville City Nights and 29, it’s the Mona Lisa of alt-country. “These Girls” and “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc” are fantastic songs. Mix in a few dumpsters (“Halloweenhead,” good god does this song suck) and you’ve got something you can almost listen to all the way through. Congratulations, Ryan! This moral victory is like the equivalent of getting herpes, but only breaking out once a year, and never when you have a date.
I’m going to do my best not to sound like I don’t like the albums on my “Best Of” list, but you know what? I can’t help but focus on the things that didn’t go right this year. This was another album I wanted to love, but just couldn’t. Frankly, this was the year of albums that didn’t come through. With the failures of Rilo Kiley, Rogue Wave, Jimmy Eat World, The New Pornographers, Ozma, and Mae, I started to think I was moving on from my past loves. Perhaps I had outgrown their sound, or perhaps they just lost it all together. Stars was almost added to that list. Singer, and part time actor, Torquil Campbell (Yes, that’s his name. I should have seen this coming) apparently decided that he needed to turn into a drama queen on this album and sing songs about personal ads and life being like the movies. It’s unbearably sappy, way too broadway for my tastes. But, thankfully, there’s still the glue of the band hanging around, Amy Millan. She is fantastic, as always. Her songbird vocals save the day, even during the noisy “Bitches in Tokyo,” a personal favorite. The first three tracks are phenomenal; I remember getting goosebumps during the first listen. For electropop, which I don’t usually like, Stars produces a very intimate sound, filled with good storytelling. But, sometimes, Campbell takes what he learned during his one ep run on Law & Order and turns into a mashup of Laurence Olivier and Judy Garland. If you can look past that, give ’em a listen. Or just say eff it and put their previous album, Set Yourself on Fire, on repeat.
Not much to say here. Richard Swift is always fantastic. He’s a modern day Harry Nilsson, which is an incredible compliment, I think. His music is fun, even when the melody is in a minor key, or when the lyrics are about John the Baptist. He’s that rare performer that can play music reminiscent of the 1940’s (Lo-fi recordings, rolling, raucous pianos) and still feel relevant to today’s standards. “Kisses for the Misses” may have been my favorite song of the whole year. If Swift had been around in 1966, he would have been a superstar. Hmm, see what I did there? Harry Nilsson, 1940’s, 1966; Swift can fit in anywhere, that’s my point. Just hurry up and check him out.
I feel like a fraud putting this album on the list. Honestly, I have no idea why I like this album. I just know that I do. You can read any review and it pretty much says the same thing: at first listen, you notice the baritone vocals and deep instrumentation. You know you like it, but you don’t love it. But once you keep listening, you notice minute details, splattered here and there throughout the recording. The songs stop sounding like the Crash Test Dummies and more like brilliance. I can’t add anymore to this. The National are magicians, hiding musical rabbits in their instrument hats. I recommend “Squalor Victoria.”
Wow, Sam Beam, way to break out the amps, big guy! This whole time I thought you had grown out your beard simply to hide the scar from your vocal chord removal surgery. This was quite the change from Our Endless Numbered Days. Hell, “House and the Sea” is almost a reggae song, and “Wolves” is very dub, which I forgive you for, by the way, because we all know dub is awful. Just awful. But with the old time gentleness of “Resurrection Fern” and “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” you haven’t completely shed your old labels. The Sheperd’s Dog is a wonderful mixture of sounds, something I never expected. You didn’t quite turn it to eleven, but for an Iron & Wine album, this one was on the metaphorical eleventy three.
I’m going to think with my penis on this one, partially. Annie Clark, otherwise known as St. Vincent, is a hot little number. I’m not going to lie, when I saw her picture in a review somewhere, I thought, “Hmm, let’s listen to her music, love it no matter what, and then go to her show dressed in junk-highlighting spandex.” That’s the honest truth. I was going to love her no matter what, even if she sang over Real McCoy karaoke tracks and called it Another Night: Part Deux. Turns out I geniunely liked her music. As a former member of The Polyphonic Spree (a group I don’t like, but will admit are talented) and the guitarist for Sufjan Stevens, she has a musical pedigree that shouldn’t be overshadowed by her Amelie-like looks. She’s a hell of a multi-instrumentalist, and it really comes through in the music. She’s credited as playing the guitar, bass, drums, synth, moog, vibraphone, dulcimer, and, get this, the triangle. With all this going around, Marry Me does come off at times like a Sufjan album: well-orchestrated, melodic mini-symphonies. You’ll even notice some Sufjan-esque solos here or there. You know, disjointed as hell, kind of off-key. These types of songs make up the first half of the record. The second half is more intimate, full of piano ballads and the like. Together, they make a beautiful record made by a beautiful woman. Annie Clark’s got it all, just hopefully not a heroin addiction.
Ipod commercials notwithstanding, this is a phenomenal album. No song sounds alike, from the bouncy pop of “I Feel It All,” the country twang of “Past in Present,” the chanteuse ballad “Honey Honey,” and the easy to choreograph to “1 2 3 4,” you’re getting something new with every track, her enveloping voice the only constant. For a Canadian, she’s quite the chameleon. Canadian Chameleon, weird. Who knew they were more than drunks with facial hair? Yes, I’m talking about the women.
Here’s the story with Elvis Perkins: His father, Norman Bates himself, died of Aids in the early ’90’s. His mother, a well-known photographer, was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. It’s just him, his past, a guitar, and his words. So, with these facts known, you would expect Elvis to be slightly off his rocker, producing the sad bastardiest of all sad bastard albums. But that didn’t happen. What he presented to the world was a highly optimistic set of songs, full of varied instrumentation and thoughtful lyricism. Even with sappy song titles like “It’s a Sad World After All” and “All the Night Without Love,” he leaves the listener feeling assured, confident that everything will be okay. Hell, how can anyone that opens a song with “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, Ding!” make you want to cry? Just listen to that song (“May Day!”) and try not to smile: “Well, the Captain of America sings through his toothpaste, and the bubbles of his words will float away as he gargles out a hymn in a funny fish voice way, and all the sorrow seems to go away.” Ridiculous. So, the next time you think you’re depressed because some guy made fun of your Uggs, just remember that Elvis has it worse than anyone and he still keeps his head up. I mean, those are cute boots, and he had no right calling them “Faggy,” but it’s not the end of the world.
For a bearded gentleman with several tattoos, Ben Bridwell sure is an Aww Shucks Romantic. Here are Exhibit’s A-C:
A. From “Window Blues” – “Now baby give me something to live for. I’ve been a fool. No revelations in the water, no tears into the booze”
B. From “Detlef Schrempf” – “My eyes can’t look at you any other way.”
C. From “No One’s Gonna Love You” – “And anything to make you smile. It is my better side of you to admire. No one’s gonna love you more than I do.”
Not that Everything All the Time was an emotional dirge to nihlism, it’s just that this new record was much more subdued and full of “dude feelings” than I expected. This isn’t a bad thing. As you all know, if the music can’t make me weepy, then it’s not making the iPod shuffle anytime soon. All this record proved to me is that tatted up bastards gots feelings, too. It’s nice to know that I could give that meth head next door a hug, if necessary.
Hey, what’s this? Another singer/songwriter? Get the hell out of town! Who knew that I liked dudes that emote at low levels. Regan is of the Damien Rice ilk, but his lyrics are much more obtuse, and he wouldn’t dare entitle a song “Accidental Babies.” Regan’s words are more likely to be compared to Bob Dylan, with his voice and guitar style more similar to Nick Drake. If Drake wasn’t, you know, dead, Regan could take him on in a “Lowest Volume Possible” contest. I recommend hiting up tracks “Hey Rabbit,” “Black Water Child,” and “Put a Penny in the Slot” in sequence. You’ll get a feel for everything he has to offer in these three songs. The quirky wordplay of “Rabbit,” the up-tempo Irish folk of “Child,” and the storytelling of “Penny.” Hopefully with his next record, Regan won’t get all pseudo-pretentious like Damien Rice did. Tip 1: Don’t have a chorus primarily full of “Fuck you’s.” Just a tip.
Okay, I’m not going to lump Josh Ritter in with the singer/songwriter crowd. I think he’s more than that. This album is not “Dude loses girl, picks up guitar, cries.” Every song is a story, with different personas and sounds. He can do the whole lovelorn shtick (“The Temptation of Adam,” a close second for favorite of the year), but that’s just one song. There’s the Dylan-esque opener, jam packing 10 words a second into one four minute foot stomping song; the almost country “Next to Last Romantic,” a song that could have been on a Kris Kristoferson record, and yes, that’s a compliment; and then there’s the 70’s tinged “Right Moves,” which a lot of people thought was too Loggins and Messina, but I don’t know, it connected with me. Maybe I like the Loggins, go fuck yourself up the danger zone with your smooth jam hatin’ attitude. But my point is this: Josh Ritter brings a lot to the table, and I love everything he’s doing. Just give him a shot, because he’s also one of the most personable musicians out there. Loves what he’s doing, loves his fans. I bet Loggins was a dick. That’s why Messina left.
Honestly, I didn’t like The Shins before this album came out. I was all Zach Braff’d out and never really gave them a chance. Yes, that is very much my fault, and I apologize for overanalyzing the idea that “The Shins will change your life,” but could you blame me? So, when a friend got me an early copy of this album, I thought, “Fuck them, my life is awesome as it is.” But it was free, so why not, you know? I put it in during a trip to Ambar India aka the shitkickingest best place on Earth, and hell fire if my life wasn’t changed that night. Well, mostly because of the chicken jalfrezi, but the album left its mark as well. I do think it’s a better album than their previous efforts. What’s likely is it’s just a little more polished and poppy, two things that usually sway the tide in my direction. This is the kind of ish that gets lame white people to dancing. Seriously. It played at my bookstore for over a month, and I shit you not, everytime it came on, I would spot a 60 year old man bopping a little. That’s Top 5 material right there. “Australia” could raise a cancer victim outta their coffin, guaranteed.
Whistling! Violins!! Glockenspiels!!! Big Words!!!! What’s not to like, people? My favorite song title of all-times is now “Yawny at the Apocalypse.” I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes, trying to write something down to explain how much I love this album. The words aren’t coming. Mostly, this is my new favorite album for road trips. It sets a nice mood, almost otherworldly. To get a good taste, hit up “Scythian Empires.” My favorite lyric sequence is “Their Halliburton attaché cases are useless, while scotch-guard Macintoshes shall be carbonized.” Lots of instrumention, and a hell of a whistle solo, maybe the best ever. Well, maybe not better than “Wind of Change” by zee Scorpions, but it’s a close second.
People didn’t seem to appreciate this record as much as I did. Not sure why. Is it not utterly fantastic? Because it is, assholes. I think the hardcore Funeral fans didn’t think it lived up to expectations, but personally, I like this one a little more. The booming wall of sound is still there, little details popping up that you never noticed before, and hell, “Intervention” could have been written by Bach. So suck on that, contemporary composers Phillip Glass and John Williams. Let’s see you write a hymn and call it a pop song. A personal favorite is “Antichrist Television Blues.” I like to think that it’s about Joe Simpson and why he’s going to Hell. No? Okay.
In an earlier entry, I covered this album from top to bottom. I don’t really think I need to expound on that any further. You know I love this band, ever since ’94. They are, by far, the best group currently in the business. This will not be disputed. In that entry, I spoke highly of Thom Yorke’s new found fondness for love and actual human emotion. To help get my point across, watch the following video. Sexy as hell. You know, for a brit with bad teeth and a lazy eye. The feathers were a nice touch.