A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my Top 40 Albums of 2012 (check it out here). The first half of the list is always easier to compile than the final 20. With this, the top half of the list, I find myself swapping albums from one spot to the next, trying to refine my list to the perfect order. Of course, this “perfect order” is never truly found. On one day I’d much rather listen to my number 17 than my number 5 and vice versa. I can promise you, all of these albums are fantastic. In order to come up with a definitive order, I took into account the overall significance of an album, not just which has the best collection of songs, but which is the perfect album – the themes, the order of the songs, the cultural significance. Within those parameters, I had no doubt what would be the number one album of 2012. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
This year, my SXSW experience felt a bit like a walk down memory lane with performances by such 80s and 90s legends as Jesus and the Mary Chain, Corrosion of Conformity, Built to Spill, and Pennywise. All these bands, although aged and weathered, put on inspired performances that were highlights of my week. Despite the daily rekindling of my youth, I also discovered more bands this year than I have in years past. As with every year, below you will find some of my favorite performances, showcases, and the less than stellar experiences of the week.
For a song that is supposed to be about “Real Love”, it sure has a bittersweet sound. The lyric “Will we ever meet again?” doesn’t help things.
49. “Bang Pop”
I had a summer love relationship with this song. I couldn’t get it out of my mind; I listened to it any chance I had. But now, I can’t stand the sound of it. I destroyed my adoration by loving it too much. It should probably be higher on this list, but my current feelings for it have hindered its position. Like the Delorean song “Real Love” discussed at #50, maybe this song and I will meet again five years from now and our love will be rekindled.
48. “I Used to Do”
The Clogs 2010 release “The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton” is all over the place. One song features what resembles a choir of whooping birds, another is a simple folk song featuring Sufjan Stevens, and others resemble baroque love serenades. Despite all these textures, my favorite song is the most unassuming. “I Used to Do”, an instrumental swell of sound, catches you when you least expect it and builds off of that emotion. Don’t be surprised if you hear this in an episode of “Friday Night Lights” next year.
47. “Heaven’s On Fire”
The Radio Dept
The introductory audio of Thurston Moore raging against “the bogus capitalist process” would lead you to believe you are about to hear either a passion-fueled punk rock song or an ambient build-up a la Mogwai. But neither happens. Instead, out of Thurston’s rant arises a happy-go-lucky love song about Heaven being on fire. This combination boggles my mind…yet I love it. Maybe it comes down to the fact that Thurston’s dream won’t happen until Hell freezes over, so we might as well love like Heaven’s on fire.
46. Joanna Newsom
“Good Intentions Paving Company”
While Joanna’s 2010 release was a little self-indulgent (3 CDs!), it has its moments with “Good Intentions Paving Company” being Joanna at her best: great lyrics about the journey of a broken relationship, Newsom’s endearing, warbling voice, and a melody that survives the eight minute journey unscathed.
45. “Who’s that? Brooown!”
A song dedicated to another song? It would have to be a pretty damn good tune to deserve such recognition. Well, it is. Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” to be more specific.
44. “It Happened Before Our Time”
“It happened before our time. They disguised themselves as pirate invaders. They set out to sea and threw their love lockets overboard, as the salty air sweeps their hair.” Now that’s a romance novel I’d read.
43. “Fot i hose”
When I was eight I would have liked this song because I would have thought the bass line sounded like a dwarf farting….wait – that’s why I like it now.
42. “Let Spirits Ride”
Somewhere Rob Halford is smiling.
41. “F Kenya RIP”
What? You think this song is simple and repetitive?
Then why are you still listening to it?
And now you’re singing along to it?!
40. “Texico Bitches”
Broken Social Scene
This would have been the #1 song in America if they’d only gone with “BP Bitches.”
39. “Younger Us”
I like to listen to Japandroids because their energetic punk rock anthems brings me back to my carefree youth. And now they’re singing about the yearning to be young again? Double whammy.
38. “I Walked”
“I Walked” is an auditory “choose your own adventure” book. You have two options: be happy or depressed. If you choose to be depressed, listen to the lyrics of a man walking away from a relationship knowing that without his lover he’ll be lost and won’t get very far. Or you can choose to be happy by listening to this sugary-sweet pop song and block out the lyrics by shouting, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”
37. “No Barrier Fun”
“No Barrier Fun” is about a man (or a beast), trapped (or hiding) in a basement (or a dungeon). He hears (or imagines) the footsteps of a girl (or a woman), which makes him decide to emerge (or escape) from his dark hell (or heaven) to meet (or murder) her.
36. “How I Got Over”
The Roots (featuring Dice Raw)
Over the past few years a lot of bands have been trying to recreate the funk/soul sound of the 70s, utilizing a variety of retro-recording techniques and employing large horn sections. Then in one full swoop The Roots come out with their own recreation of the classic sound with “How I Got Over”, and in the process they show everyone else up. If that won’t lead you to not giving a fuck, I don’t know what will.
35. “Let’s Go Surfing”
Having your song featured in a commercial is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives you the opportunity to gain new listeners that you may not have reached otherwise. On the other, you alienate those who love your music by beating your melody over their head and cheapening their affection. For me, the endless loop of “Let’s Go Surfing”s whistling on car commercials has moved me to revulsion, when only months ago I couldn’t get enough of it.
My favorite documentary of the year was probably “180 Degrees South”, although I’m not sure how many other documentaries I actually saw in 2010. Throughout the film, glimpses of Mason Jenning’s “Machines” emerge, but the big pay-off comes when Doug Tompkins reaches Patagonia only to find that industrialization has scarred the majestic terrain. The lyrics support this message with Mason singing an outro of “The machines are gonna cut us down!”
33. “Butt-House Blondies”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Of any song this year, “Butt-House Blondies” is the one I sang the most around my apartment. Not a day goes by that I don’t stroll around my humble abode singing, “Butt-house Blondies! She used to care!” For the first month, my roommate would always ask what song I was singing. Eventually, he figured out it was Ariel Pink and learned to ignore me. But one day he returned to his questioning ways asking, “What is a Butt-House Blondie anyway?” I hadn’t thought about it. Then, after reading the lyrics of “She used to be a square at 16; now all she knows is she can breed” I figured it out. This song is about Jodie Foster’s character in “Taxi Driver”!
“Excuses” has a dreamy, innocent 1950s sound, but I doubt Ricky Nelson ever sang about taping his “tongue to the southern tip of your body.”
31. “White Sky”
What if instead of Africa, Paul Simon recorded “Graceland” in Super Mario World?
30. “Answer To Yourself”
The Soft Pack
I recommended this album to you back in June, and I also included the same video clip below for the best song on the album “Answer To Yourself”. If you still haven’t bought The Soft Pack’s 2010 release, you can answer to yourself why you’re so lame.
29. “Pimpin’ Chipp”
Method Man, Ghostface, Raekwon
Me, me, me, me, me. These days, that’s all rap is about…that is except for the members of Wu Tang who still understand the art of the narrative. In “Pimpin’ Chipp” the three MCs create a comical story of a pimp, his hoes, and a run-in with Ray Charles.
28. “Real Life”
When Michael Vick wins the MVP this year, I’m hoping NFL films has the foresight to play “Real Life” over highlights of him. Just look at the lyrics and tell me this isn’t Vick’s swan song in 2010:
“For a minute I was lost,
I looked away
Trouble was, I was alone,
Trouble was, I was alone.
You might think I’m still that way.
It’s only natural
It was a past life thing-
It was a past life thing-
It wasn’t anything at all.”
27. “Castles in Snow”
“You’re my favorite daydream. I’m your famous nightmare. Everything I see looks like gold. Everything I touch turns cold.” So yeah, not only does it sound like a 1980s song, but its lyrics could have easily been pulled from the journal of “American Psycho’s” Patrick Bateman.
26. “King of the Beach”
I like to sing along to this song, but I change the chorus lyrics to “Bash at the Beach!” and giggle to myself, imagining this as a theme song to an old WCW pay-per-view.
Just like every other year end list I’ve done for 2010, I decided to up the anty with my top tracks list by taking it from 50 to 100 songs. I know…I know…it may seem like a bit much. I can explain. Every year I compile my best songs list while making the 18 hour, cross-country drive to my parent’s house for the holidays. As I drive, I explore my i-Pod for the year’s stand-out songs and jot down titles into a notebook when I feel one is worthy of the list (not the safest driving method, I understand). By trip’s end this year, my list totaled 114. I had a lot of fat to trim, and as I reached the 100 mark, it became more and more difficult to cut great song after great song. As a result, I’ve doubled my workload, but I don’t mind. These tracks have meant a lot to me this past year – the least I can do is give them the recognition they deserve.
PS I Love You
What better way to start a 2010 list than with a song titled “2012″? Okay, it doesn’t make much sense, but I couldn’t help but squeeze this song on as the caboose to the list.
99. “Who Fingered Rock n’ Roll”
Back in the mid-90s Cornershop scored a hit with “Brimful of Asha”, a groovy track saturated with sitar and lyrics about using bosoms as pillows. Unbeknownst to me, Cornershop survived the 90s and are still kicking out strange middle-eastern versions of the theme to “Wonder Years”. And they do ask a great question: who did finger rock n’ roll? My bets on Richard Marx.
Its nice to see Damien still thriving in the music world. His 2010 “Saint Bartlett” shows him taking his sound back to the sparse environs of “Ghost of David”, but the stand out song of the album, “Arkansas”, is probably the most produced. In the tradition of love songs to states, Jurado focuses his break-up with Arkansas. It doesn’t necessarily have the double meaning found in a “Georgia On My Mind”, but then again, I did once date a girl named Rhode Island.
97. “I Don’t Believe You”
“I Don’t Believe You” is one of the only songs on The Thermals 2010 release “Personal Life” that features distorted power chords and – SHOCKER – it’s the best song on the album. A lesson in not straying from what works.
96. “Thank You For Your Love”
Antony and the Johnsons
A few months ago a fellow BDWPS contributer, PtheStudP, asked me if I’d purchased the new Antony and the Johnsons. I replied by saying, “Nah, I think I’m kinda done with Antony and his voice.” He of course berated me and called me a fool. His verbal beating forced me to give The Johnsons one more chance, and I was quickly humbled by my disrespect. Antony and the Johnsons – I want to thank you for your music.
95. “Racer X”
The Japandroids covering the Big Black song “Racer X”? YES PLEASE!
94. “What To Say”
2010 was a rough year for Born Ruffians with their disappointing release “Say It”. Amidst the sloppy collection of songs, “What To Say” is a stand-out due to its memorable melody and its discussion of the age old inability to talk to women. Is it sad that a 32 year old man still relates to this teenage dilemma?
93. “Ain’t No Grave”
Would it be wrong of me to accuse Rick Ruben of manipulating Johnny Cash near the end of his life? I understand that Ruben’s production helped give Cash a rebirth in the music world, but now that Cash has died, more and more music keeps coming out from their sessions together, and it seems lik 90% of the tunes are about dying. I’m just saying… Despite the discomfort associated with listening to the ghost of Johnny sing on the 2010 release “American Recordings VI”, I can’t deny what an excellent song “Ain’t No Grave” turned out to be with its layers of dragging chains, spooky organs, and creaking piano keys. “Ain’t No Grave” is more evidence that Rick Ruben, manipulator or not, can make a good song great.
92. “38 Souls”
Although I loved the music of 2010, I have to admit that the year was truly defined for me by Pavement. I spent most of my life scoffing at the suggestion of Pavement, but this year I opened up to the possibility that they may actually be good, and damn it, they were! As a result, I spent a large portion of the year searching for the modern equivalent of Pavement. I thought Bottomless Pit could fill that void, but I found that they are influenced by more than just Pavement. For example, on “38 Souls”, a song about capturing souls, the band is able to conjure the ghosts of the 90s, channeling the sounds of Jawbox, Sebadoh, and even Dinosaur Jr. Now if they could just capture the soul of Stephen Malkmus.
91. “One Polaroid a Day”
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
This song stood out to me simply because it shows Ted Leo trying something new. Instead of his usual falsetto rantings, this is a slow groove with Leo exploring his lower register. He’s no Isaac Hayes, but the change of pace was welcomed in 2010.
Doesn’t Beck sound happy on this song? That’s the sound of a man escaping the clutches of Danger Mouse. Rejoice!
89. “Be Yourself”
I’ve always thought that Fleet Foxes sound a lot like CSNY, so it’s probably fitting that the best song on the tribute album to Graham Nash be by Robin Pecknold.
88. “Jail La La”
Dum Dum Girls
Only the Dum Dum Girls could make being “covered in shit” sound adorable.
87. “In Every Direction”
If I were to make a year end list for video games (which I have no right attempting), I would put “Red Dead Redemption” at the top due to its never ending landscape that I wasted hours of my life exploring. My favorite part of the game’s storyline though is when you first enter into Mexico – the game shifts from its annoying harmonica music to an actual soundtrack of Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away”. A month after passing the game, I purchased Junip’s 2010 release “Fields”, and everytime I listened to it, Jose’s voice would bring back the image of John Marston entering Mexico where there is nothing but desolation “in every direction”.
86. “General Patton”
When your nickname is General Patton, you better have a song that lives up to Patton’s legacy, and Big Boi steps up to the challenge with this song, an operetic-orchestral chaos that is more fit for Darth Vader than Patton. It’s possibly the only song that will have you nodding your head to the chants of a concert choir.
85. “Heartbeat Song”
When I posted my list of the “Best Summer Albums of 2010″, my friend Tim emailed me, pointing out that I once made fun of him for liking The Futureheads. I was forced to admit defeat writing, “Yeah, that’s because I’m a pretentious douche”. Not even a pretentious douche can deny the melody of “Heartbeat Song”.
84. “Angry World”
Neil Young was a bit misleading with he called his new album “Le Noise” a folk metal album. Lyrics about the plight of polar bears and bison aren’t necessarily the most metal of subject matter. If only the album had more songs like “Angry World”, matching the wave of distortion with lyrics that delve into the darker side of the human psyche. I’d like to believe “Angry World” presents what it may have sounded like if Neil had joined Black Sabbath when Ozzy left.
83. “Roman Candles”
I present to you the Seven Dwarves of indie rock! ”Roman Candles” is a reminder that whistling was fun before Andrew Bird came along.
82. “July Flame”
Most depressing 4th of July song ever.
I don’t necessarily love this song. It’s more of an addiction to the disorientation felt while listening to the sickly guitars. Not even Robitussin can save you from the nausea of “Norway”.
Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” pissed me off. When did they become a dance band? Unfortunately, “ONE” made it very difficult to hate them for long. I would be lying if I said I’ve never danced to this song while cooking pork chops with a plum-ginger sauce. I’m straight, I SWEAR.
79. “Early Warnings”
Love is All
What if John Lennon woke up and didn’t fall out of bed, rather knocked his head on a bookshelf? What if instead of dragging a comb across his hair he almost choked on his toothbrush? Yes my friends, we’ve discovered the anti-thesis to The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.
The actual city of Odessa, Texas is not nearly as fun as this song would suggest.
77. “Kids On the Run”
Tallest Man on Earth
With “Kids On the Run”, Kristian Matsson ditches his acoustic guitar for a piano, and surprisingly it’s the best song on the album. It could be due in part to the poignant lyrics that reveal a story of two scorned lovers, still running away from their past like children. Basically, it’s “Born To Run” except in this version Wendy is trying to escape Bruce and his velvet rims.
76. “Fuck You”
Cee Lo Green
Yesterday I was riding in the car with my mom when this song came on the radio. Even though I’m a grown man, I still felt uncomfortable as the chorus arrived, knowing the YouTube sensation lyrics of “Fuck You!” were just ahead. Then, just when it arrived, the lyrics “Forget you!” came out the speakers as my mom sang along. I took comfort in knowing my mom was oblivious to the actual lyrics, and it made me realize this song is great, with or without the cursing (although I’ll take the cursing version if I must choose).
South By Southwest 2010 turned out to be one of the strangest yet in my seven years of attending the music festival. There were some disappointments (both GZA and The Title Tracks were no shows), some major changes (Todd P and his legendary day shows decided to pack up and head to Mexico), and there was, at least in my perspective, an unexpected Canadian take-over of Austin (it will make sense later). We also began our first real promotion for BDWPS.com, plastering homemade stickers all over the city of Austin. I even handed out a few business cards, which is just plain silly when you think about it.
Bob Dylan looking over a stranger’s shoulder at the Liar’s show.
But one thing that had the biggest impact on our experience this year was the absence of my long-time SXSW comrade SongsSuck (as he would like to be referred to now). He did make the trip to Austin but was gone by 6 a.m. on Thursday, opting to forego the remainder of the festival in order to fulfill what he refered to as “a life-time dream” by watching a kid he coached in high school compete at the College Wrestling Nationals (I think he should change his name from “SongsSuck” to “LittleBoysInSingletsRule”). Nonetheless, Johnny Good Year and I still had another great week at SXSW, despite all the changes taking place.
Best Band Discovered- Pivot
One of the best parts of SXSW is coming home with a list of new bands I need to check out. Unfortunately, this year I didn’t have many of those “Holy crap, this band is amazing!” moments. This is probably due to SongsSucks not being around, the ying to my yang when it comes to going to shows. 60% of the shows he takes us to are hardly tolerable, but those other 40% have the potential to give a jolt to your musical senses. Without SongsSuck, we went primarily to shows with bands I wanted to see. This worked out great because I enjoyed almost everything we attended, yet that discovery element was almost nonexistent.
One of the few moments of the week where I found myself mesmerized by an unfamiliar band occurred at The Phoenix. Johnny Good Year and myself were at the swanky bar to check out the Born Ruffians and caught the last few songs in Pivot’s set. They are a psychedelic/electronic outfit from the UK who approach dance music from an epic stand-point. Although I don’t have a clip of them playing, I did find a video of the song that first caught my attention, “O Soundtrack My Heart”.
Worst Venue- The Phoenix
Although both Pivot and the Born Ruffians put on excellent sets, the setting for the show left a bad taste in my mouth. On first impression, The Phoenix overwhelmed me with a dramatic decor of velvet walls, elegant chandeliers, and wall sized paintings of Victorian imagery that seemed to be moving like the haunted painting in “Ghost Busters II”.
Vigo? Are you in there?
I thought the environment of the bar was cool, like something out of “Interview With a Vampire” (back when vampires were still cool). After Pivot finished up, Johnny went to buy drinks and returned to tell me that it cost him 18 dollars for two drinks. SXSW beer prices are usually hiked up, but this was ridiculous. Then we noticed on the table in front of us there laid a silver bucket and a note that read: Do not sit here unless you paid for a bottle to be brought to your table. ”This must be one of those uppity bars on most nights,” I commented to Johnny, thinking that the bottle deal didn’t apply during SXSW since the room was jam-packed with sweaty, hairy, music fans rather than the high-class clientele I imagined usually enjoyed the velvet womb. When Johnny left to hit the restroom, a waitress approached me with a large group and informed me that they paid to sit on this couch. I guess I was wrong. These people were douches year round, regardless of SXSW.
Despite my irked mood, Born Ruffians still put on a great set, including the following clip I filmed of a new song that will be on their upcoming album (you can see the glow of the blue chandelier on singer Luke LaLonde’s face):
Best Venue- Lovejoy’s
You would think after seven years of attending SXSW and six years of living an hour away from Austin that there wouldn’t be any venues left that I haven’t set foot in, yet every year, I find myself entering strange new environs. This year I made my first stop at The Phoenix, The Long Branch Inn, and the Trailer Space Record Store.
My favorite venue of the week though was actually one I’d been to before. Lovejoy’s, a hole in the wall bar located on a side street right off 6th Street, is both a brewery and a brewhaus featuring a couple dozen beers on tap. In the past the little watering hole seemed quaint and unassuming with its walls covered in beautiful murals and intricate artwork spreading across the rotting ceiling tiles and beams.
What made the brewery stand out so much this year was the fact that each day they held a day party, each serving free beer. Oh sure, tons of day parties offer free beer and liquor but not of the quality of Lovejoy’s! Whether it be Flying Dog’s “Raging Bitch” or Ska Brewing’s “Mopus Hoperandi”, Lovejoy’s opted to serve free cups of hoppy goodness all week. These beers, packed with flavor, were a huge step up from the Miller High Life and Lonestar of most day shin-digs. We visited Lovejoy’s so much during the week that by Saturday’s DC Show, the bartenders were handing us fresh glasses of free Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA before our cups were even empty. Free Dogfish Head? Yes, a free glass of beer made with Sam Calgione’s love and filled with joy.
Lovejoy's: an unofficial sponsor of BDWPS.com!
Best Day Party- Rachael Ray’s Feedback Festival
If you’re not an avid reader of BDWPS.com, then you might not know my love of Rachael Ray and her recipes (I’m probably the only straight male in his 30s who subscribes to her magazine). For the past several years, Rachael has hosted a day show at SXSW, featuring free drinks (mojitos, margaritas, etc), free gourmet appetizers, and an array of great bands (the fact that she had Holy Fuck at her 2008 show proves Rachael is no prude). Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get into one of her shows. In the early years she had an RSVP. Last year would be her first show open to the public, but the line wrapped around Maggie Mae’s way before the party’s noon start time. This year I went so far as to email Rachael’s talk show, thinking I could be one of those people who wins a prize, in this case a backstage pass, and then screams into the phone over tears for 10 minutes. Of course, those tears never got the chance to shine.
What did happen was a cold spell hitting Austin late Friday night. The frigid temperature and the unforgiving wind both caused problems for any day party set outdoors on Saturday. This included Rachael’s party that took place at Stubb’s BBQ. By the time Johnny and I stumbled by the party, there was no line and still tables stacked with mounds of classy hor dourves. Soon the two of us were stuffing our gullets while She & Him performed on stage. Our menu consisted of Tex-Mex sliders, pulled pork tortillas, quesadilla suiza stacks, and albondigas subs along with a couple strawberry margaritas that were heavily spiked for good measure. After a week of eating cold cut sandwiches in a parking garage and inhaling late night slices of pizzas, Rachael’s fine dining hit the spot.
Worst Band- Voivod
On SongsSuck’s only day of SXSW festivities, he wanted to see the classic Canadian speed-metal group Voivod at the Austin Music Hall. Since he didn’t have a wristband, SongsSuck dished out $15 dollars to see the band, a sign to me that the aging rockers would put on a top-notch show. Boy was I wrong. The decrepit cast of characters moved about the stage slowly and stumbled their way through the music like a band of zombie gypsies. After the first song, SongsSuck turned to me in disgust. “Sorry dude…these guys used to be metal giants.” Now they are simply Metal geriatrics.
I tried to shake the camera to make it look like they were lively.
Best Band- Lullabye Arkestra
I’ve had Lullabye Arkestra’s 2009 album “Threats/Worship” for five months now, and overall, I’m a big fan of the married couple’s approach to hardcore. As much as I enjoy their music, I always felt that the Canadian duo’s album was a bit tongue in cheek. With Justin Small’s main musical project Do Make Say Think, I saw Lullabye Arkestra just being something he did as a favor to his bass-toting wife. Their performance on Friday at the Red7 would prove the sexist in me wrong. Small, a guitar player for his other band, tore his way through one raucous song after another on his lit up drum kit while Kat Taylor’s fingers plucked up and down the neck of her bass spastically. Like a modern-day Death From Above (think Canada), the two love birds showed that being married doesn’t mean you have to be boring.
Although the sound quality stinks on this one, you get just a glimpse of their raw power:
Worst Crowd Interaction Moment- Japandroids
Once again my bald head made Pitchfork's SXSW coverage (can you spot me?). This is during "Young Hearts Spark Fire" when the audience still cared.
Another Canadian duo to swoop onto the indie rock musical scene last year were the Japandroids. I saw them this summer at a small bar in Boise, Idaho with a crowd of a dozen people, so I looked forward to catching them at Emo’s during a day show on Friday with what would be a crammed house. At first I stood back, watching their performance, but quickly the music took over and I made my way for the heart of the crowd – I needed to dance. Once out amongst the throng of on-lookers I joined in on the fist pumping and po-going through the band’s biggest hit from last year, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”. When the song came to a close, the crowd settled down faster than an anchor. Despite my efforts to keep the energy up, all the young hipsters looked at the crazy bald man, me, with annoyance. I felt a bit like Pierce on “Community”. Despite my eagerness to enjoy an energetic punk rock show, I still felt these kids had some learning to do. Heck, even the 12 Boise natives at the show this summer could produce a better pit than this sad, slew of Twittering introverts.
With the crowd so dead, it was easy to film a steady shot of their show, although the beers seemed to be trying to keep my bouncy cam alive (take note of how their drummer looks like Hedo Turkoglu):
Best Interaction- The Very Best
When we arrived to the Beauty Bar for The Very Best’s closing show of the night, I could tell something crazy was going to happen. It was packed. I don’t know if a show has been that overcapacitated since the last Great White show. We could barely manuever through the throng of people as Shout Out Out Out Out finished their set. Johnny couldn’t hack the sardine like surroundings and chose to leave, while I decided to stick it out to see the band perform. I use the word “band” loosely, knowing that The Very Best consist of a couple DJs and Esau Mwamwaya singing his African inspired melodies.
The stage set-up consisted of a table with a DJ kit, and two inflatable palm trees. A DJ came out and basically pushed play, making the performance as close to karaoke as it gets. Yet, somehow, when Esau Mwamwaya came out onto the stage with a pair of African dancers, all negative thoughts subsided and soon I joined in with the other 100 white people in the room, dancing to the tribal music. Near the end of the set, the guest rapper (I never caught his name) asked a girl up front onto the stage. Bad idea. Soon the entire audience poured onto the performance area like they had just beaten Kansas in the NCAA tournament. By the song’s end the crowd surfing palm trees were deflating fast and the performers were forced to climb the speakers in order to escape the bedlam.
His climb above the crowd reminded me of Bilbo emerging from the tree-tops of Mirkwood Forest...yes, I'm a nerd.
Best Solo Artist – Ty Segall
For some reason I didn’t attend any “real” solo shows this year. I’m not really sure why. I’m still a folky at heart, but it just didn’t happen. Due to this lack of singer/songwriters in my pool of artists viewed, I’m going to use this category as an excuse to promote Ty Segall some more (even though he technically has a band). Regardless, the accolades for Ty are definitely earned. Once again Ty Segall put on a stellar show at SXSW, this time in an eclectic bar on the southside of town called the Longbranch Inn. While the lame-o’s at the Japandroids show stood in what Isaac Brock would call a “cross-armed stance”, the handful of lo-fi fanatics at the Longbranch were up and po-going away throughout Ty’s set. With the unfortunate passing of Jay Reatard, I’d like to believe that Ty Segall can keep that retro-pop-punk sound alive and well.
Even when videotaping Ty I couldn’t resist hopping up and down. I would make a horrible camera man:
Best Look-Alike- Jack Black
In the early years of SXSW, we used to always enjoy spotting “celebrities” on the streets (although my celebrity spottings were almost always former MTV VJs). In recent years these spottings have become less and less, although when the Florida metal band Torche took the stage, I swore that lead singer Steve Brooks was actually Jack Black. He looked just like Jack, had the body of Jack, and even made the facial expressions of Jack. In fact, I’m beginning to think Jack Black may have went the Hanna Montana route and used his Steve Brooks alter-ego to pursue a real life career in the metal world (no matter how great their music, Tenacious D will always be considered a comedy band).
"No one can destroy the metal! The metal will strike you down with a mighty blow!"
Biggest Surprise- Local Natives
I’ve heard a lot of hype about the band Local Natives in the past month or so, and I gave them a chance, downloading their latest release “Gorilla Manor”. After a couple listens, the music neither annoyed me nor did it excite me. It was just there – a milk/toast sound that reminded me a bit of The Cold War Kids, another band I gave up on simply because they left me in a blank stare stupor. ”Gorilla Manor” does have its moments, specifically the cover of the Talking Head’s “Warning Signs” but overall it just didn’t enthrall me.
After a recommendation from a friend, a week or so ago, I decided to give them another shot. She seems to have good taste in music, plus they were playing the Frenchkiss Records show. The Frenchkiss show I attended at SXSW four years earlier would go down in infamy, so I had plans to give this year’s Les Savy Fav headlined set another go-around. Local Natives came out to a packed house, and I stood in back with my arms folded, awaiting disappointment. When the band began strumming their guitars for the introduction to “Wide Eyes” my eyes actually got wider. Not only did the song have me nodding my head and watching in awe, but it sounded so much better than I remembered it on the album. In fact, every song they played sounded better: the bass more plodding, the drums more frenetic, the harmonious vocals resembling a new age Fleet Foxes. I have since given “Gorilla Manor” another shot, but once again was left in disappointment. Not because it bored me as before, but because I knew it could be so much better.
You know it had to be a good show when this was my viewpoint, and I still loved it.
Best Showcase-Arts & Crafts.
As much as I enjoyed Local Natives, I didn’t enjoy the large crowd. I know a lot has changed with Frenchkiss Records in the past few years with both the sound of their bands and their association with a major label that will remain un-named, but I still would like to believe that at its core, it’s still the Frenchkiss I knew and loved from their showcase four years ago. Unfortunately, the show felt sterile. There wasn’t any of the camaraderie I remembered from a few years prior when members of all the bands sat by the stage drinking and pulling pranks. Where were the Fatal Flying Guilloteens when you need them?
With the community vibe gone, I made the tough decision to miss Les Savy Fav for this year and head over to The Parish to catch the Arts & Crafts Showcase featuring the headliner Broken Social Scene. Once I climbed the creaky stairs leading up to the bar, I could feel that warmth that seemed absent from Frenchkiss. As I entered the door I was greeted by the guy selling CDs and t-shirts. Walking up to the bar several folks nodded and smiled. These people weren’t industry insiders…they were Canadians! After USA’s devastating loss to Canada in Olympic hockey I wanted to hate our northern neighbors, but these damn Arts & Crafts Canadians wanted to ruin it all by being nice.
That same cozy feeling would spread throughout the bar and all the way to the stage where all the bands hung out in the wings supporting their fellow Canucks as they took to the stage. The first band we caught was Zeus, a classic rock band filled with multi-talented musicians who could switch instruments on a dime and all sing like choir boys. At one point I thought in my head, “They’re like a Canadian Beatles” and moments later Johnny Good Year leaned over and said, “They remind me a bit of the Beatles.” Yes, that’s two for two on The Beatles comparison; par for the course as far as I’m concerned.
Next up was Jason Collett a guy I loved before this week and hated after it. Despite my adoration of his album “Here’s to Being Here”, he came off as an arrogant prick in both performances I caught during the week. Plus, his once folk stylings have been replaced with a disco-dancey pop blend. He’s our generations Rod Stewart, moving from “Maggie May” to “Do You Think I’m Sexy”. The only saving grace of his set was his back-up band, comprised by none other than Zeus. You could tell that Arts & Crafts were a family of musicians (Jason Collett would be the step-cousin no one likes but tolerates).
Finally, Broken Social Scene took the stage and Zeus stood aside to take in it all in. For the first 30 minutes of the show the band enveloped the crowd with their soothing tones, jumping from classics to new material effortlessly as Kevin Drew had the audience hanging on every word. Finally, the medley of songs came to a close, giving the crowd the sense that the band was finishing. Then Drew stepped to the microphone and mumbled, “Okay. That was the start of our set.” Of course, the audience went crazy.
A little later Drew asked the audience not to take anymore pictures or videos claiming, “the internet is destroying our memories.” It sounded a bit pretentious, but the entire audience respected his request (including me). He followed it up saying, “This is our moment” and then broke into another new song. Throughout the show Drew seemed to be trying to create something different for all of us, at one point even asking for the house lights to be on so he could see the crowd’s faces. Strange, yes, but I had to respect his efforts to connect with the audience.
By the night’s end, the Broken Social Scene’s set would be a two and a half hour marathon of music. The band’s cast of characters changed from one song to the next with guests jumping on stage to join in on the Canadian three-ring circus. At 1:50 A.M., when everyone was suspecting that the show was finished, Kevin Drew informed us that he had another surprise up his sleeve. “Every Sunday I go to the same bar back home to see The Beauties, so I decided you guys should hear them too.” He turned to the side of the stage and shouted, “Come on up guys! Play us a couple songs.” Right before our eyes, another band jumped up and grabbed the guitars, breaking into a great punk song. Kevin Drew hopped down into the crowd and stood a couple feet from me taking in the show as if he was one of us. And really, he was. Tonight wasn’t about Broken Social Scene, Jason Collett, or even The Beautys. It was about the music, regardless of who played it. We were all a part of this show, this moment, this family. No photograph or video could truly capture what happened that night in The Parish. Thankfully, it will remain intertwined in my memory for years to come.
I don’t have any pictures or videos due to Drew’s request, but here’s a link to their website where you can hear some of their new songs:
Let me start off my saying Man Man put on an incredible show. Amazing. I’ve seen the band countless times and this performance ranks up there with the best of them. Honus Honus was brilliant as he pranced around spitting water and beating the living crap out of his organ. The band sounded as boisterous and jumpy as ever. There wasn’t a disappointed person in the house…well, that is, except for me.
Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite place it. I scanned over the cast of characters and noticed a big hole in the scene to the left of the stage…but what was it? I flipped through my Rolodex of memory, trying to place the missing piece…The cooky guy! With the tiny biker’s cap that played the metal drum! The guy with the great falsetto! Where was the guy with the falsetto?! Throughout my many Man Man experiences, one of my favorite performers, other than Honus, was Marlette Seveir. While many in the band seemed to be putting on a performance, Marlette always came across as truly insane. Maybe that’s why he had been kicked out of the band, unbeknownst to me.
In an instant, my mind flipped back to when I saw the band at the SoKol Underground in Omaha, Nebraska almost five years ago. A morose Seveir sat on the stage by himself pre-show, staring blankly at the floor. With SongsSuck and I standing stage side, we decided to talk to the lonely looking fella. When asked how he was doing, Marlette replied, “Not so good. The band’s fighting.” At the time I saw it as a little band spat, but now, watching the band minus their joker, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the beginning of the end for Marlette.
The remainder of the show my eyes kept being pulled toward the empty spot on the stage. No matter how great the performance, I couldn’t help but notice that the falsetto singing wasn’t quite as strong, that the banging upon the metal can didn’t have the same ring, that the stage theatrics didn’t seem quite as chaotic or authentic. And then I realized one other major piece was missing: my good old friend SongsSuck. I’d never seen the band without my partner in crime, and I’d never been to SXSW without him by my side.
Sure, Man Man sounded great without Marlette and SXSW 2010 was a blast even without my friend, but in both instances, it just wasn’t the same without that ornery, unpredictable character keeping things interesting.
Dinosaur Jr pisses me off. In 1989 Lou Barlow left the group due to inner-group tension, and as a result, we were robbed of 18 year of amazing music. Don’t get me wrong, the post-Barlow era of Dinosaur Jr still had some great albums but they fail in comparison to such classics as “Bug” and “You’re Living All Over Me”. Fortunately, they finally got over their little quarrel and got back to rocking a few years back. If you thought the band’s kick-ass 2007 reunion album “Beyond” was a fluke, “Farm” serves as evidence that you are gravely mistaken. Usually when bands reunite, they sound dated and contrived, but somehow, Dino’s reunion material sounds fervent and fresh. Yes, J. Mascis is keeping the guitar solo alive, and it’s never sounded better.
9. Sunset Rubdown
“Dragonslayer” is a grower, not a show-er. The first few listens may be difficult to wrap your head around, but once you’ve grounded yourself in Spencer Krug’s peculiar realm, you’ll find yourself swept away by his story of the struggle between friendship and love. Soon, Krug will have you wondering aloud “Why DID Anna change her name?” or “how did you get held up at yesterday’s parties?” Krug buries his tale beneath a pile of vivid metaphors, yet, you still sense there is a narrative haunting around the tombstone. “Dragonslayer” is a lot like a T.S. Elliot poem: the more you listen to it, the more you want to hear it, to know it, to understand it. “Dragonslayer” is the indie-rock opera the Decemberists were aiming for with “The Hazards of Love”, and Anna is our generation’s Pinball Wizard (I still don’t get why she had to change her name though).
8. Jay Reatard
“Watch Me Fall”
You haven’t heard songs this catchy since The Beatle’s ”Hard Days Night”, although if Jay were a member of the Fab Five there would have been a lot of chicks with black eyes (No one charges Jay Reatard without receiving a souvenir). Don’t be fooled by “Watch Me Fall’s” up-beat, cheery sound; this encourageable little pup’s got bite. Although “Watch Me Fall” is grounded in punk, it shows Jay maturing with his sound, relying more often upon his acoustic guitar and songwriting that is complex and finely tuned. Complex punk? If you don’t think it’s possible, take it up with Jay.
“Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free”
The cover says it all – there is no other album in 2009 that represents America’s trials and tribulations better than “Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free”. It of course has the folk backbone throughout, but along the ride, the band takes you through various styles of American music, from big band, 60s psychedelia, 40s doo-wop, 90s hip-hop, to the punk-rock noise of the 70s and 80s. Like a musical Betsy Ross, Akron/Family have taken all the genres of music that have grown out of the “land of the free” and created an intricate, multi-faceted, harmonious quilt of where we’ve been. Throughout, these sounds are intertwined naturally and performed wonderfully by non-other than Akron/Family.
6. The Thermals
“Now We Can See”
I would have loved to have the members of The Thermals in my English class. They understand all the basic Literary Elements: themes, metaphors, foreshadowing, symbolism, etc. Their 2007 release “The Body, the Blood, and the Machine” relied heavily upon allusions to the bible, using the imagery of the ancient book to tell stories and make a statement about our origin. “Now We Can See” continues with the origin theme, although in this case they use the motif of evolution. Every song makes references to the scientific theory that we “grew from the dirt ”, then ”took off (our) skin” and “crawled to the sea” “to swim!”(these four lyrics were taken from three different songs- now that’s an extended metaphor!). Within these Darwinian tales, the band tells stories of facing your fears, the perils of alcoholism, and the eventual demise of modern society. Yes, this album is an English/Science teacher’s dream come true. Oh, and did I mention that the songs also kick ass?
5. The Very Best
“Warm Heart of Africa”
I didn’t know how to evaluate The Very Best’s first album due simply to the fact that most of the songs featured music by other artists, whether it be M.I.A., Vampire Weekend, or the music from the “True Romance” soundtrack. Although the music was undeniably delightful, could the band have the same result with their own backing tracks? “Warm Heart of Africa” shames me for doubting. Mwamwaya’s voice is still as smile-inducing as ever, and Radioclit’s contributions are stronger than anything on their self-titled effort. The African vibe is felt throughout, but Radioclit is able to carry the songs discreetly through a series of genres, whether it be new wave or trance. In a time where regionalism has become almost nonexistent due to technology, The Very Best exemplify what is possible when cultures meld their ideas into one masterwork.
At its core, “Blue Album” is a metal album- yet it is so much more. The band takes all of their eclectic influences and somehow combine them naturally into their powerful assault. Nothing is forced. Every song evolves organically, taking the listener through an obstacle course of compelling riffs and devastating drums. Metal is often associated with death, but the “Blue Album” is life its self, a blue flower blossoming in your ears, and then unexpectantly gashing your ear drums with their savage thorns.
About a month ago I had a student I trusted run out to my car to grab a folder I left on my front seat. Of course, I didn’t remember that under the folder laid the coffee table book “Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution”. When he got back to my room his face was all aglow. “You like punk Mr. S?” he asked in amazement. It was like he had just learned that Santa Claus indeed did exist. Like an authoritative dick, I asked him to go to his desk and told him we could talk about it after class. This resulted in him standing in my room for 15 minutes during my lunch time, listing all the bands he was into, none of which I’d heard of. He then pulled out his I-POD and commenced having me check out mediocre emo band after emo band, the 21st century’s version of punk. I tried to think of a band to suggest to this kid, to save him, one that would guide him down the right path. Minor Threat? The Wipers? Rancid? No. I had to come up with something new; this kid didn’t want to listen to an old guy’s music by old punks. Then it hit me: Japandroids. Nothing screams youth more than two kids from Vancouver singing lines about wanting to leave there stomping grounds, living life without concern, and kissing french girls. I told him he had to get to lunch soon, but that I would play him “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, and as I watched this kid discover real, earnest, punk rock, the young heart in me may have even pumped out a couple heartbeats.
2. Bill Callahan
“Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”
While “Woke On a Whaleheart” showed Bill trying find himself without his band Smog, “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle” is an overwhelming statement that Bill can in fact do this on his own. While his band explored stranger terrain, Bill focuses on the tangible here, relying mostly on only the live instrumentation of pianos, guitars, and violins. The album may seem intimate at times, but there are moments where Bill reminds us that his music can be larger than expected. For example, when the strings break out on “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”, you’d swear it was a sequel to “Eleanor Rigby”. But my favorite character has to be the mysterious guitar that lurks in the shadows of the album. Every song you’ll catch a glimpse of it, a basic electric guitar, no effects needed, meandering in the background. The only thing to upstage the unassuming guitar is Bill himself with his croaking baritone voice that speaks straight to your soul (I swear even the deaf can hear Bill’s voice). If Bill Callahan only released his lyrics in poetic form, his words alone would be music to your ears. Oh, but we are luckier than that my friends. Not only is Bill a master wordsmith, but his music speaks volumes as well. Just imagine if Dylan Thomas could sing and play guitar?
1. Animal Collective
“Merriweather Post Pavilion”
On New Years Eve, the group I was hanging out with got into a discussion of who was the biggest band of the decade. The first answer to come to most of our minds was Radiohead. But driving back to Texas, I thought about the question longer and decided we may have been wrong. TV On the Radio? Arcade Fire? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs? No, none of them created music as influential as Radiohead, but there is one band that did, and maybe even more so: Animal Collective (stick with me here…)
If you look back on Animal Collective’s resume for the past ten years, they’ve released eight albums, four EPs, and a multitude of side projects (Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch” is unquestionably one of the top ten albums of the decade). If you simply compare “Here Comes the Indian” to “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, you’ll see in an instant how much the band has grown. Every album presents a new way to aproach music.
“Merriweater Post Pavilion” is quite possibly the band’s best album to date, the perfect culmination to a productive decade. In this case, it’s not an insult to say that it is their most accessible album because to an outsider, “Merriweater Post Pavilion” would still seem pretty alien. I hate to say the band has matured because it would be a damn shame, but they have definitely learned how to approach their music from a melodical stand-point (and you’ll never hear them scream once, which has slowly become a crutch for them over the years).
Even the lyrics speak of growing up and facing adulthood. Yet I insist, they have NOT grown up. If anything, the album brings me back to my childhood, sounding like the soundtrack to “Fern Gullie”. The sounds are enchanting, exciting, and will have you conjuring up images of elves and gnomes prancing around a magical mushroom in no time. It’s too bad Jim Henson is dead because I can only imagine what he could have done with the mystical world on “Merriweater Post Pavilion”. I guess as a consolation you can always rent “Fraggle Rock”, turn the sound off, and blast “Merriweater Post Pavilion” out of your stereo. Who needs drugs when you’ve got “Merriweater Post Pavilion” and Muppets?
(Note to reader: Sad to say goodbye to our best of 2009 lists? Never fear! Over the tenure of 2010, Paul will be moving methodically through decade, listing what he deems the top albums for each year. Look for it in the coming weeks!)