Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Best Music of 2010

James here. Happy New Year!!!

I haven't done this for the past couple of years, but in 2007 I made an end of the year best albums list. 2010 was a good year for music so I decided to do the list thing again.

Maybe you care, maybe you don't, but this is what I've been listening to this year. Counting down the top we go...

10. I Heart California by Admiral Radley
Members of Grandaddy (a favorite band of mine) and Earlimart (who I know by name only) combine forces on this album with wildly mixed results. Not many albums can mix together so many songs that I love with a few that I really don’t care for at all. Despite this inconsistency, the best of these really are great songs. This is certainly not an album I can listen to in it’s entirety but half of it is very, very good.

Standout Tracks:
#2 - "Ghosts of Syllables"
#4 - "Lonesome Co."
#5 - "The Thread
#9 - "GNDN"
#11 - "I Left U Cuz I Luft U"

9. Transference by Spoon
A below standard album from an above standard band. Still, there are enough highlights here to give this one a mention.

Standout Tracks:
#3 - "The Mystery Zone"
#5 - "Written in Reverse"
#8 - "Goodnight Laura"
#10 - "Got Nuffin"

8. Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter
Not as consistent as 2008’s Microcastle, but where this album is good, it is REALLY good. More poppy and accessible than they’ve been in the past. Easily the worst album cover of the year though.

Standout Tracks:
#3 - "Revival"
#5 - "Memory Boy"
#6 - "Desire Lines"
#8 - "Helicopter"

7. Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens
Wow. What can you even say about this album? It is hard to even form words to describe this. It is something that needs to be experienced. With this album Sufjan is more a composer than a songwriter. There is so much going on at any given moment in these songs. So complex and busy and yet incredibly infectious and often quite moving. If there is any flaw to be found it is that this exercise in overload sometimes can almost be a bit too much. All in all an amazing listening experience from an obvious genius.

Standout Tracks:
#1 - "Futile Devices"
#4 - "I Walked"
#5 - "Now That I’m Older"
#8 - "Vesuvius"

6. The Devil to Pay by Brett Shady
The debut album from Brett Shady may not break any new sonic ground, but it doesn’t have to nor was it meant to. Half of it’s charm is the feeling that you’ve heard these songs before somehow...perhaps as a child on the radio during a late night road trip...perhaps in a distant dream of some alternate version of the 1950’s...who knows exactly, but you know you’ve heard them before. The rest of this albums charms can be found in equal parts of simple yet smart and affecting ‘everyman’ lyrics, beautiful sparse country-tinged arrangements, and incredible sing-along pop moments. Not a poor track to be found here, but there are certainly highlights that hopefully are a sign of things to come.

Standout Tracks:
#1 - "Somebody Else"
#2 - "Jerome, AZ"
#6 - "Red House Plea"
#10 - "Angels, Ghosts And Demons"

5. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
I’ll say this right off the bat...The Suburbs is the weakest album Arcade Fire has released to date. With that said, that still leaves plenty of room for this to be an excellent album, which it is. Of course it’s still early to really be able to say...ask me again in 10 years for a more definitive answer. To be fair, this has only grown on me since I first heard it and I imagine it will continue to do so in years to come. The Suburbs definitely has its highlights and moments of brilliance and yet sometimes it seems like it just barely misses the target or plods along in a boisterous yet unaffecting way. At 16 tracks, it feels at least 2 tracks too long. Don’t get me wrong, this is excellent music...they just set the bar so high with previous releases that it’s hard to see things for what they are until the dust has more time to settle.

Standout Tracks:
#1 - “The Suburbs”
#2 - “Ready To Start”
#9 - “Suburban War”
#15 - "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"

4. Mines by Menomena
I don’t hear this band talked about much and I haven’t seen them mentioned on many end of year lists. I can only scratch my head and wonder if I’m hearing something different than everyone else. To my ears this is one of the most refreshing and brilliant bands to come out in a long while. They are yet to put out a full masterpiece, but they are at the top of the list of bands that I expect great things from. Mines showcases Menomena with their most mature and solid set of songs to date. The songwriting here reaches emotional highs that they had yet to reach previously. They are not all perfect but there is so much here to love. Each track has so much going on while at the same time feeling sparse. The production is brilliant with the drums up front and the piano and sax not far behind and which both, along with jagged guitar stabs, weave in and out of the music in the most creative and often surprising ways. This band sounds like nothing I’ve heard before.

Standout Tracks:
#2 - “TAOS”
#3 - “Killemall”
#8 - “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such A Big Boy”
#9 - “Five Little Rooms”
#11 - “Intil”

3. Broken Bells by Broken Bells
Although this album is completely interesting and engaging throughout with not a weak track to be found, I can’t help but be slightly disappointed every time I listen to it. You see, half of this album is a complete masterpiece...the other half is merely great. When I listen I find myself wondering what could have been. Perhaps this super duo of Danger Mouse and James Mercer will eventually create this perfect gem of an album that is hinted at here. Until that time we must be content with mere greatness (with a heavy dose of brilliance).

Standout Tracks:
#1 - “The High Road”
#2 - “Vaporize”
#3 - “Your Head Is On Fire”
#4 - “The Ghost Inside”
#7 - “Citizen”

2. High Violet by The National
In 2007 The National released Boxer...a fine enough album with barely a weak song and several songs that I really enjoyed. And yet there was enough there that I wasn’t completely sold on that I have not returned to that album much over the past 3 years.

By comparison, High Violet never left any such doubts in my mind. From the first listen there was no question it was brilliant, it was just a matter of figuring out exactly HOW brilliant. Listening to this now at the end of the year I am realizing that it only keeps getting better the more time passes.

Standout Tracks:
#2 - “Sorrow”
#3 - “Anyone’s Ghost”
#5 - “Afraid of Everyone”
#10 - “England”

1. Teen Dream by Beach House
The title of this album gives it away, the key word being “dream”. “Teen” or otherwise, this album feels like a complete dream. There is not a single song that is not completely gorgeous...and yet if it has any fault, it’s that they are all so good that on initial listens, nothing really stands out. You keep waiting for it to falter and it never does. There are many songs that came out this year that I would consider better than anything on here, but there is no album that is as solid as this.

My first listen to Teen Dream was on a solitary road trip through the northwest corner of Nevada and into Oregon. It was a route I had never been on and it was amazingly desolate. At one point I think I drove over a hundred miles and only passed a handful of cars going the other direction. The cloud formations that day were otherworldly and that combined with the thrill that comes from seeing a new place for the first time provided the perfect atmosphere for this album. It truly felt like I had wandered into a dream. A Teen Dream apparently.

Standout Tracks:
#1 - “Zebra”
#4 - “Walk In the Park”
#5 - “Used to Be”
#7 - “Better Times”
#8 - “Ten Mile Stereo”

And there you have it. My 10 best of the year.

So what did you listen to this year?

Friday, December 10, 2010

James Finished His 3rd Album! (Finally)

Hey everyone, James here.
If you didn't know already, I have a little side hobby of writing and recording music. My 3rd album, Here Nor There, is finally finished and available as a "pay what you want" download or as a CD pre-order with a minimum cost of 4.99 (or higher if you choose to be generous).

Please go HERE and listen to and download the fruits of my labors.