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…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: on Dec 18, 2011 | Comments (2)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

When I first heard tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l, I was so flabbergasted that I could report my findings only in abstract poetry form. With a ukelele, a drum kit, a fantastic bassist in the form of Nate Brenner and a total command of loop pedals, Merrill Garbus has made a record that’s both daring, accessible, and fully enjoyable. Like Joanna Newsom revolutionized the harp and PJ Harvey rethought the autoharp, Garbus is probably spurring a boost in ukelele sales nationwide; what can’t be packaged is her incredible, malleable voice, which is sweet and cooing one minute and a roar from another world the next. Variety is the spice of w h o k i l l: There are grinding, horn-heavy jams like “Bizness,” and there are slow, beautiful ruminations on love, like “Powa,” with a breathtaking upper-register ending. Thematically, the record takes on a tortured society, from a refutation of modern America to violence, police brutality and empowerment. I saw tUnE-yArDs twice in 2011, and talked to Garbus briefly. (She told me “Santa Rosa isn’t piddly.”) I also played this record over and over and over and over and over and over.

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

The Easy Listeningification of Everything was probably the defining thread of 2011. Last year’s chillwave mellowness permeated not just wispy rock hits from bands like Real Estate, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, but it snored its way into hip-hop as well. Musically, Drake’s Take Care is just a couple steps away from new age, and Frank Ocean, sprung from the usually abrasive group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, wowed critics (and Beyoncé) with a smooth, synth-ed out semi-R&B record, Nostalgia, Ultra. This Prozac-esque trend owes in part to three years of Lil’ B, the Oakland rapper from The Pack who released an album this year called I’m Gay, and whose Rain In England LP, heavy on rhythmless synthesizers, was released by the experimental noise label Weird Forest. (Going further back, one could tip the hat to Jay Electronica, who in 2007 released “Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge),” a 9-minute track of rapping, with no drums at all, over the incidental score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)

All this lead-up is to say that I got tired of hearing rap music that wasn’t fucking rap music in 2011, and Death Grips’ Ex-Military was the perfect antidote to the annoying trend of blissed-out navelgazing in hip-hop. Led by the maniacal MC Ride and powered by Hella drummer Zach Hill, the album is one ferocious eruption of angry ideas after another, shouted recklessly over samples from the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Link Wray. The group’s videos are skittish, diseased and terrifying. Hip-hop in 2011 mostly said, “I’m cool, thanks.” Ex-Military said fuck you.

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Another pitfall of music in 2011 was dull oversharing. Menial details of one’s life do not a deep statement make, but plenty of artists (and Facebook users) thought otherwise. EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints is an album by Erika M. Anderson, who realizes life is not poetry unless you make of it something different and eloquent. You might not think as much from an album that opens with the lines “When you see that ship / It is the ship you can see,” but hang in there, I promise. “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark,” Anderson repeats on “Marked,” sounding like an Exile in Guyville Liz Phair; “20 kisses with a butterfly knife” reads like a cast-off lyric from Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine. There’s blood, jealousy, disappointment and revenge, especially in the fantastic semi-spoken “California,” a masterful hypotenuse between Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. Live in San Francisco, EMA was all sorts of likable awkwardness—if you’re into real human beings trying to be real human beings in front of a crowd of strangers, against the odds, she is fantastic. If you are not, you will probably say it feels like a therapy session.

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

I remained apathetic to the universally loved 2010 debut album by The XX (except that beautiful intro!), and this year did not jump out of my seat for a Gil-Scott Heron remix record by Jamie XX, We’re New Here. Intermittent “old soul” voice samples in electronic music = kind of 1999, but in the limited-edition box set released for Record Store Day, there was a separate disc of the instrumentals. I played them, and played them, and played them. Each time, the sonorous bass kicking in during “I’m New Here” was like a drip of morphine; the insistent wiggle and menacing handclap of “Running” always put me in an imaginary heist movie. This BBC Essential Mix on Soundcloud gives you an idea of the thoughts running through Jamie XX’s brain; download and escape.

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

When making these lists, I have to consider records that just plain make me happy. Sometimes those records shoot to the top of the list, like in 2007, with the Cribs’ Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. This year the “always makes me happy” award goes to Givers’ In Light. Critics may have pointed out that it sounds a lot like a Vampire Weekend / Dirty Projectors hybrid, but there is an effervescence to this record that I cannot deny. I mean, the first song is called “Up Up Up”! If I were to pick a perfect single of the year, “Saw You First” would be a contender—just a sweet-sailing, high-kicking love song that hits all the right notes. Really, listen to it. There are mega-epic “rock moments” all over the record, the songs are a senior thesis in perfect arrangement, and goddamn if Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco’s voices aren’t a lovely blend.

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

I’ve tried in the past to contain these lists to legit physical releases, but with more and more artists self-releasing via free download, I wave the white flag—five titles on my 2011 list began life as free online offerings. The Weeknd’s House of Balloons was posted online in the early part of the year, and it might win the award for broadest appeal. The Weeknd is Abel Tesfaye, an Ethiopian-Canadian R&B singer who bathes in dramatic lust; if you’ve ever wondered what might happen if The-Dream loved Siouxsie and the Banshees, here’s your answer. More about mood than songwriting, House of Balloons is a successful straddle between indie, R&B and pop, and its intrigue and atmosphere transfer a regular late night into something gripping and sexual; a regular morning into something laden with regret and haze.

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

“Lil’ B songs are better without Lil’ B,” a friend told me recently, and such subtraction leaves Clams Casino’s Instrumentals. Casino is from Jersey, makes beats that fit in to the 2011 aesthetic of laze, and has worked with A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller and maybe Drake but he’s not saying. He always sounds better on his own, and Instrumentals—originally a download, eventually released on 2LP by Type Records—skirts into an astral plane and deserves attention without clamoring for it. Seek it out if you can; he’s definitely on the rise.

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

Some albums don’t hit at first pass; you have to turn them inside out. In the case of Odd Bird’s Smith, I took the literal interpretation of this idea. First, I bent the gatefold LP backward and inside-out so that this excellent photo by Sara Sanger would be the “front” cover. Then, I began playing it starting on Side C instead of Side A. Both adjustments turned a decent local release into a year-end winner. Taut tunes, animal imagery, harmonies between Ashley Allred and Judah Nagler that are in the clouds, plenty of guest musicians, and songs that pay rent in your head.

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

Remember all that complaining about synthesizers, a lack of drums, and langour infecting all genres? An irony to The Easy Listeningification of Everything in 2011 is that much of it is imported from the so-called “noise” scene. (See: Oneohtrix Point Never.) I admit that I overdosed on noise in 2010, and try as I did to escape the genre’s clutches in 2011, certain artists grabbed me and would not let go. Kreng’s Grimoire is an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack updated for the 21st century—it lulls, then slashes, and slashes hard. Aside from Bernard Herrmann’s music for Obsession, I have never been so downright terrified listening to a record . Here’s a Soundcloud; good luck making it out unscathed.

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

There was a streak there where I was waiting for Amon Tobin to make a substandard album. It came with The Foley Room, an experiment in field recording and sound manipulation that fell flat. But with Amon Tobin’s Isam, the Brazilian-born DJ makes a pummeling, bombastic case for longevity. (Back in 1997, who would have predicted that Ninja Tune’s boy upstart would one day overtake DJ Shadow?) Everything Tobin does is interesting, but Isam is cohesive, and ranks up there with Supermodified and Out From Out Where.

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

That Ghost’s Songs Out Here is a surprise favorite of mine recorded by a kid named Ryan Schmale from Santa Rosa, whom I have never met. Lo-fi and echoey, part Roy Orbison and part Shirelles, antiquated and warehoused. I keep pulling it out and putting it on, and finding new things to love.

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

Though he released a “real” EP this year on Warp, Hudson Mohawke’s The Pleasure Principle is a fucking dance jam, with exuberant club-worthy remixes of Janet Jackson, Keri Hilson, Jodeci, Aaliyah and Gucci Mane. I want to hand it to a DJ at Rock ‘n’ Roll Sunday School and see what happens.

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

For those looking to kill the lights and imagine Lars von Trier’s Melancholia in real life, Grouper’s Alien Observer / Dream Loss is a two-separate-album release; a vision in reverb and lost emotion. For someone whose art can be very detailed and knotty, Liz Harris’ music is linear and soaring; I cannot help loving this.

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

The video of the year, in my opinion, was this Jay-Z-filmed backstage iPhone clip of Beyoncé warming up in her dressing room by singing “1+1″ with sparse accompaniment. Though I didn’t dig the album at first (singles “Love on Top” and “Countdown” are not the best representatives of this effort), Beyoncé’s 4 won me over with its unapologetic bliss. Get happily married, y’all, and then play this album, and then tell me what you think of it.

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

Another album I initially dismissed was Tom Waits’ Bad as Me, largely because it breaks absolutely no new stylistic ground. I kept coming back to it, though, and more than a disappointing retread from someone who should have more vision, it’s a touching album. The incessant banjo on “Raised Right Men” matches any tense gait, and the last song “New Year’s Eve” should be played at every New Year’s Eve party.

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

Terius Nash’s 1977, well, what can I say? Yes, I love The-Dream (a.k.a. Nash) up to a point (that point would be Love King, blecch), and this free download brought back some of what I love. “Used to Be” is everything all those other cold-fish rapper-singers who complain about their love lives wish they could attain, a village idiot with a huge, complicated heart.

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

A holdover obsession from 2010, Pete Swanson’s Man With Potential grabbed my ears for expanding beyond Swanson’s noise parameters and into a bizarre type of… house, or something? Imagine Manchester’s Factory with an insistent short-circuit; fans of Eno, Vangelis and Kraftwerk might do good to watch this clip.

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

Many years ago a band from the East Bay called Asbestos Death morphed into a band called Sleep, whose Dopesmoker ushered in a new wave of slow, plodding stoner metal. (Kyuss helped on a mainstream level, then turned in to Queens of the Stone Age.) For a time, stoner metal was everywhere, and Sunn o))) did it best, and then… oversaturation. Liturgy’s Aesthetica brings that beat back in amphetamine explosions of rapid-fire time signatures and eruptive, howling vocals. It’s fast, it’s furious, it kicks ass.

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

I avoided St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy (fashion spreads turn me off) but then saw a clip on the late-night, and dove in. There is no easy categorization for the music here, and Annie Clark seems to avoid it even further by piling up pedal effects on her guitar playing. If the last time you heard her she was covering Jackson Browne (or as the kids say, The Royal Tennenbaums), then it’s time to call again.

20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25…

I love Greg Brown’s Freak Flag because his voice is lower and raspier than ever. . . Crooked Fingers’ Breaks in the Armor has “Heavy Hours” and “Went to the City,” two goddamn incredible songs. . . Do feel free to be freaked out by the cover photo of Chelsea Wolfe’s Ἀποκάλυψις, and make sure to save some extra freakedoutedness for the music. . . I desperately want Concord Jazz to take good care of the entire OJC catalog they recently acquired—seminal jazz titles on Riverside, Prestige and more by Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Rollins, Evans—but their track record of honoring what we loosely call “real jazz” is not promising. Releasing Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott’s Ninety Miles is a step in the right direction. . . I loved James Blake’s James Blake for two weeks, then hated it, then saw him and loved it, then hated it again, and now it’s just there. . . and from the fantastic vocalist, Gretchen Parlato’s The Lost and Found is a collection of soothing, nuanced songs by Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Lauryn Hill and others, with contributions from Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinsumire and Taylor Eigsti. And girl, she gots Skrillex hair.

Original list of the Top 25 Albums of 2011 is here.

 

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2011 | Comments (3)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

20. Greg Brown – Freak Flag (Yep Roc)

21. Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor (Merge)

22. Chelsea WolfeἈποκάλυψις (Pendu Sound)

23. Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott – Ninety Miles (Concord)

24. James Blake – S/T (Atlas/Universal)

25. Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found (Obliqsound)

There is much discussion about all of these titles over here.

Top 25 Albums of 2010

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2010 | Comments (1)

1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (DFA/Virgin)

2. Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type)

3. Jóhann Jóhannsson – And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (Type)

4. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1 (Konichiwa/Interscope)

5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL)

6. Standard Fare – The Noyelle Beat (Bar None)

7. V/A – Welcome Home (Diggin’ the Universe): A Woodsist Compilation (Woodsist)

8. The Velvet Teen – No Star (Self-Released)

9. Jack Attack – My Rights Have Been Violated (Self-Released)

10. Jason Moran – Ten (Blue Note/EMI)

11. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (Young Money/Universal)

12. Goodriddler – The Strength of Weak Ties (Sell the Heart)

13. Grouper / Roy Montgomery – Vessel (Self-Released)

14. RVIVR – S/T (Rumbletowne)

15. Marco Benevento – Between the Needles and Nightfall (Royal Potato)

16. Hanalei – One Big Night (Big Scary Monsters/Brick Gun)

17. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)

18. Hearse – Diagnosed (Self-Released)

19. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign (Bedroom Community)

20. M.I.A. – Maya (Interscope)

21. Evan Parker & John Weise – C-Section (PAN)

22. Daniel Bjarnason – Processions (Bedroom Community)

23. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)

24. Joseph Hammer – I Love You, Please Love Me Too (PAN)

25. Best Coast – Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)

There's Disco Records in Dem Dar Hills

Posted by: on Feb 1, 2010 | Comments (1)

You’ll notice Top 5 Movies & Music in Guerneville for their large “Adult DVDs $5.00″ banner outside, but do take note of their smaller sign also announcing used cassettes, CDs and LPs.

Stopped by there on the way back from an interview (Dear Interview Gods, can we schedule for the oceanside full-time from now on?) and flipped, flipped, flipped my way through piles of LPs. Heavy on weird disco 12″s and private-press Christian records. I know, I know. You’re laughing now, but I’m serious as a newscaster in Haiti when I say that’s what the cratediggers are after these days.

Cratediggers—that subspecies of record collector, the producer usually out for DJ breaks—have a knack for presaging trends in music. Naturally, their current fancies are what starts showing up at the clubs. What shows up at clubs makes its way into the mainstream fairly fluidly. Three years ago the cratediggers honed in on obscure, early 1970s Manhattan disco—hello, Lady Gaga.

The Christian thing is harder to understand unless you know the collector’s mind, which says, “I will reappropriate this historically cast-aside sect of garbage art into something dope by immersion, education, curation and enthusiasm.” In other words, creating a fetish out of crapola.

But back on topic: If you’re in Guerneville and itching to puzzle over unusual and cheaply priced disco LPs—I took a $2 chance on a record by Voyage, and found this gem—Top 5 is your place. I guess some people call it “Tops” because the sign is hand-painted and the 5 looks like an “S.” Ah, lovable Guerneville.

The Top Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Posted by: on Dec 15, 2009 | Comments (6)

While other music writers sharpen their prejudices and draw up hindsight-assisted “Albums that Defined the Decade” features, I think it’d be more honest to revisit my genuine annual top album rankings from all ten years of The Aughts. Yes, these are the actual year-end-best lists that I composed from 2000-2009, recovered with no small amount of tenacity from old hard drives, pieces of paper stuffed in boxes, CD-Rs, the backs of posters, photocopied record store gift guides, and email newsletters.

If anything, these records deserve far more company. (D’Angelo and Lucinda Williams would be obvious places to start.) Lists can often work like shackles, but I see them instead as springboards of discovery. Jeez, I’m still discovering more favorite albums of the 1950s! And if you’re a listener that’s at all passionate, then you probably are as well. This decade might be over, but it’s by no means completely wrapped up. Anyone insinuating otherwise is selling you something.

Anyway, without further ado—here’s what I was loving over the last ten years.

2000

1. Built to Spill – Live (Warner Bros.)
2. Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues (E-Squared / Artemis)
3. Jurassic 5 – Quality Control (Interscope)
4. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (Epic)
5. Radiohead – Kid A (Capitol)
6. Kid Koala – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune)
7. Jets to Brazil – Four Cornered Night (Jade Tree)
8. James Carter – Chasin’ the Gypsy (Atlantic)
9. Bjork – Selmasongs (One Little Indian)
10. Blackalicious – Nia (Quannum)
11. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man (American)
12. Belle and Sebastian – Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Jeepster)
13. V/A – Xen Cuts: 10 Years of Ninja Tune Records (Ninja Tune)
14. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Raise Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae to Heaven (Constellation)
15. People Under the Stairs – Question in the Form of an Answer (Om)
16. Deltron – Deltron 3030 (75Ark)
17. The Clash – Live: From Here to Eternity (Epic)
18. V/A – Solesides’ Greatest Bumps (Quannum)
19. Beck – Midnite Vultures (Geffen)
20. V/A – Freight Train Boogie (Jackalope)

2001

1. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
2. Cursive – Burst and Bloom (Saddle Creek)
3. Bob Dylan – Love and Theft (Columbia)
4. The Velvet Teen – The Great Beast February (Self-Released)
5. Atmosphere – Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers)
6. McCoy Tyner – Plays John Coltrane (Verve)
7. The Now Time Delegation – Watch for Today (In the Red)
8. Radiohead – Amnesiac (Capitol)
9. The Strokes – Is This It (RCA)
10. Aesop Rock – Labor Days (Def Jux)
11. The Jealous Sound – EP (Better Looking)
12. Greg Brown – Over and Under (Trailer Park)
13. Life in Braille – New York City Ending (Underground Sounds of America)
14. David Axelrod – S/T (Mo Wax)
15. DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist – Product Placement (One29)
16. Fred Eaglesmith – Ralph’s Last Show (Signature Sounds)
17. Buddy Guy – Sweet Tea (Silvertone)
18. Poets of Rhythm – Discern / Define (Quannum)
19. Robert Earl Keen – Gravitational Forces (Lost Highway)
20. V/A – Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamdown (Blood and Fire)

2002

1. The Velvet Teen – Out of the Fierce Parade (Slowdance)
2. Jets to Brazil – Perfecting Loneliness (Jade Tree)
3. Desaparecidos – Read Music, Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek)
4. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
5. DJ Shadow – The Private Press (MCA)
6. Tom Waits – Alice (Anti-)
7. Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.)
8. RJD2 – Deadringer (Rhymesayers)
9. Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel (Island)
10. Jurassic 5 – Strength in Numbers (Interscope)
11. Chuck Prophet – No Other Love (New West)
12. Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me (Anti-)
13. Bob Dylan – Live 1975: Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia)
14. Los Lobos – Good Morning Aztlán (Mammoth)
15. V/A – La Musica Della Mafia: Il Canto di Malavita (Play it Again Sam)
16. Converge – Jane Doe (Equal Vision)
17. Beck – Sea Change (Geffen)
18. D-Styles – Phantazmagorea (Tableturns)
19. Bright Eyes – Lifted (Saddle Creek)
20. V/A – Cuisine Non-Stop (Luaka Bop)

2003

1. Crooked Fingers – Red Devil Dawn (Merge)
2. Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (4AD)
3. Gillian Welch – Soul Journey (Acony)
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (Interscope)
5. Ugly Duckling – Taste the Secret (Emperor Norton)
6. Stark Reality – Now (Stones Throw)
7. Against Me – As the Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck)
8. Carla Bozulich – Red Headed Stranger (Dicristina Stair Builders)
9. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts)
10. Detroit Cobras – Life, Love & Leaving (Sympathy)
11. Joe Strummer – Streetcore (Hellcat)
12. The Rapture – Echoes (DFA / Universal)
13. Soul Position – 8 Million Stories (Rhymesayers)
14. The New Trust – We Are Fast Moving Motherfuckers (Slowdance)
15. John Fahey – Red Cross (Revenant)
16. Shesus – Loves You… Loves You Not (Narnack)
17. Lyrics Born – Later That Day (Quannum)
18. D.D. Jackson – Suite for New York (Justin Time)
19. Ashtray – S/T (Self-Released)
20. V/A – Miami Sound (Soul Jazz)

2004

1. MF Doom & Madlib – Madvillian (Stones Throw)
2. The Velvet Teen – Elysium (Slowdance)
3. Nellie McKay – Get Away From Me (Sony)
4. Jolie Holland – Escondida (Anti-)
5. The Walkmen – Bows & Arrows (Record Collection)
6. Bjork – Medulla (One Little Indian)
7. Mastodon – Leviathan (Relapse)
8. Arcade Fire – Funeral (Merge)
9. RJD2 – Since We Last Spoke (Rhymesayers)
10. Green Day – American Idiot (Reprise)
11. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on a Hill (Anti-)
12. The Go! Team – Thunder Lightning Strike (Memphis Industries)
13. The Rum Diary – Poisons That Save Lives (Springman)
14. Usher – Confessions (LaFace / Arista)
15. Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Like Bad News (Epic)
16. Haiku D’Etat – Coup de Theatre (Project Blowed)
17. Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)
18. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Abbatoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-)
19. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2 (Viper)
20. Howard Wiley – TwentyFirstCenturyNegro (Self-Released)

2005

1. M.I.A. – Arular (XL)
2. Edan – Beauty and the Beat (Lewis)
3. Black Mountain – Black Mountain (Jagjaguwar)
4. Common – Be (G.O.O.D. / Geffen)
5. Robert Earl Keen – What I Really Mean (Koch)
6. Sharon Jones – Naturally (Daptone)
7. Sonny Rollins – Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone)
8. The Boredoms – Seadrum / House of Sun (Vice)
9. Four Tet – Everything Ecstatic (Domino)
10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-Released)

2006

1. Camille – Le Fil (Virgin)
2. My Morning Jacket – Okonokos (ATO)
3. Gotan Project – Lunatico (XL)
4. Ornette Coleman – Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
5. Tom Waits – Orphans (Anti-)
6. People Under The Stairs – Stepfather (PUTS)
7. Kris Kristofferson – This Old Road (New West)
8. The Slackers – Peculiar (Hellcat)
9. Mastodon – Blood Mountain (Reprise)
10. CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)

2007

1. The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (Warner Bros.)
2. M. Ward – Post-War (Merge)
3. !!! – Myth Takes (Warp)
4. M.I.A. – Kala (XL)
5. The New Trust – Dark Is The Path Which Lies Before Us (Slowdance)
6. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge)
7. Jesu – Lifeline (Hydra Head)
8. David Murray – Sacred Ground (Justin Time)
9. Bassnectar – Underground Communication (Om)
10. Menomena – Friend and Foe (Barsuk)

2008

1. Q-Tip – The Renaissance (Universal Motown)
2. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL)
4. Grip Grand – Brokelore (Look)
5. K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher (Interdependent)
6. Headlights – Some Racing, Some Stopping (Polyvinyl)
7. The Roots – Rising Down (Def Jam)
8. Jackson Conti – Sujinho (Mochilla)
9. Peter Brotzmann & Han Bennink – In Amherst (BRO)
10. Cassandra Wilson – Loverly (Blue Note)
11. Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit – Are the Very Best (Ghettopop)
12. The New Trust – Get Vulnerable (TNT)
13. People Under The Stairs – Fun DMC (Gold Dust)
14. Portishead – Third (Island)
15. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)
16. Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)
17. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War (Universal Motown)
18. Loma Prieta – Last City (Discos Huelgas)
19. Zomo – Best Of (Self-Released)
20. Jolie Holland – The Living and the Dead (Anti-)

2009

1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)
2. The-Dream – Love vs. Money (Def Jam)
3. K’naan – Troubadour (A&M / Octone)
4. Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve)
5. Thorns of Life – Live at 924 Gilman (Torrent)
6. Sunn o))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)
7. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (Warp)
8. Nomo – Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)
9. P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers)
10. Litany for the Whale – Dolores (Molsook / PMM)
11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)
12. Superchunk – Crossed Wires (Merge)
13. Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire? (Pandacide / 1912)
14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT)
15. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss / Columbia)
16. Adam Theis & the Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows & Beats (Jazz Mafia)
17. Souls of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (Heiro)
18. The Full Blast – Black Hole (Atavistic)
19. Finale – T.I.M.E. (River City)
20. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)

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(See more year-end lists from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

On the Stereo: Anita O’Day’s Golden Era

Posted by: on Nov 20, 2008 | Comments (0)

Anita O’Day was at the very top of the most thrilling jazz singers to ever walk the face of the earth, and I’m glad to see that she’s finally gotten her due with a documentary, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer. Though I love her singing, all I really know about Anita O’Day’s personal life is that she once claimed while drunk that her dog was her manager, usually barked condescending orders at whatever band with which she appeared, and had her uvula accidentally cut out of her throat in a tonsillectomy accident when she was a child, resulting in her characteristically husky voice. Oh, and that she was a heroin addict. But everyone knows that.

The definitive live footage of Anita O’Day remains her performances of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Tea for Two” from the great film Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a beautifully artistic documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. (She admits to being high on heroin during the concert.) But this documentary sounds pretty good, and in anticipation of the film opening at the Rialto in Santa Rosa this Friday, I’ve been throwing her records on the turntable every night this week. Here are her best, and yes, they’re all on Verve.

 

Anita Sings The Most (1957): This is O’Day in great style with a supremely great backing band of Oscar Peterson’s quartet with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis. A wonderful song selection and fantastic performances. The whole album is loose with plenty of interplay, and O’Day is especially inventive on songs like “’S Wonderful”—and rips it up on “Them There Eyes.” A too-slowed-down version of “I’ve Got the World on a String” is the album’s only misstep, especially coming just before the perfect closer, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.”

 

This is Anita (1955): Anita O’Day’s stellar first album for Verve Records—and in fact, the very first album released by Norman Granz’s then then-brand-new Verve Records. Contains O’Day’s incredible version of “Honeysuckle Rose”—it saunters like syrup—and a buoyant take on “You’re the Top” revised with jazz references to Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Art Tatum. A delicate “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is the quintessential wintertime song, with wonderfully drawn-out consonants and vowels. If you don’t have any Anita O’Day records, this is a damn good place to start.

 

Pick Yourself Up With Anita O’Day (1956): Still one of my favorites, after all these years, not the least because it contains her well-known version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” from the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Make sure to hit up the lesser-known tunes on this fantastic session: “I Never Had a Chance,” “I Used to be Color Blind,” and the bouncy “Let’s Begin.” Buddy Bregman is the arranger, adding a Latin feel to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (and Ellington interpolations here and there), and overall, O’Day rides along smoothly with skill and frivolity. Yes, it looks like she’s shoplifting a toaster on the cover.

 

Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May (1959): As close a pop album as O’Day ever came to, combining the widely recognized songwriter with one of the brawniest arrangers of the day. The results work remarkably well, and May’s creative arrangements keep the jazz spirit alive and well. “Just One Of Those Things” kicks the album off like a horse out of the gate, and it rarely lets up from there as O’Day dominates Porter classics like “”I Get a Kick Out of You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and the wink-wink “All of You.”

 

Anita O’Day and The Three Sounds (1963): Sounds crazy but after all these years of listening to Anita O’Day, I reach for this album most frequently. In 1962, O’Day was saddled with drug problems and just about through with her Verve contract. She only sings on about half of the songs here, with the Three Sounds providing instrumentals for the rest. There’s something addictive about O’Day’s detachment on this record; it’s the very rare sound of her “phoning it in,” which of course sounds better than most singers when they’re trying. I consider it Anita O’Day’s equivalent of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, providing the most beautiful wrinkles in a wasted fabric. I’ve talked to other O’Day fanatics who have the same feeling of affinity for it. Worth seeking out.

 

Anita O’Day at Mister Kelly’s (1958): Recorded in her hometown of Chicago and opening with the rarely-heard verse of “But Not For Me,” this nice nightclub date is notable for containing three tunes by Joe and Eileen Albany: “I Have a Reason For Living,” “My Love For You,” and the poignant “Loneliness is a Well.” O’Day goes out of her way to introduce the composers on each of these songs, causing one to wonder exactly what kind of backroom deal she struck with the Albanys. The person who previously owned this LP wrote an exclamation point on the track listing after “The Song Is You,” but it’s actually kind of a wack closer. Still, a good live record.

 

An Evening With Anita O’Day (1956): Hell yes, a very great nightclub recording from early on in her Verve contract. Stellar guitar work by Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel runs a close second to O’Day’s own impeccable singing on songs like “From This Moment On” and “Let’s Fall In Love.” The recording quality is outstanding, the songs are well-chosen, and O’Day even chimes in with an original—“Anita’s Blues.” It’s amazing how perfect O’Day’s voice could be in concert.

Vinyl, Mp3s, Sermons, Reissues

Posted by: on Mar 10, 2008 | Comments (0)

While researching my Bohemian article on the independent music industry phenomenon of including free mp3 download coupons inside of vinyl LPs, I had the pleasure of talking to a number of labels whose records I’ve listened to and loved for half my life. Vinyl comes and goes pretty quickly these days, and there’s a lot of records that everyone owned at one point but somehow sold, lost, or loaned out for good. So it was exciting to find out during my interview that Merge Records will soon be introducing a “Merge Classic Reissues” series, revisiting out-of-print or previously-unavailable-on-vinyl titles and repressing them on LP. Matador did this with the first three Pavement records recently, and it’s fucking awesome that Merge is starting it too.

The first three titles to be reissued: A Series of Sneaks and Girls Can Tell by Spoon, and The Charm of the Highway Strip by Magnetic Fields, all elegantly pressed on 180-gram vinyl. Here’s hoping they press 69 Love Songs and Red Devil Dawn, which have criminally never been on vinyl, and No Pocky For Kitty, which is just a damn great record, in the near future.

Also, Jon Collins over at Dropcards was telling me about all the various projects they’ve worked on, including a Hannah Montana card for Disney and a huge promotion for Vitamin Water. I asked him what the weirdest project they’ve done, and he told me about a Southern baptist preacher who ordered an mp3 of his sermon on a bunch of Dropcards so he could hand them out to his congregation. Crazy.

Collins also used to work at an independent record distributor in Philadelphia, and I think it’s pretty cool that a guy who now does business with Kelly Clarkson,  Red Bull and SnoCap has a record collection that looks like this.