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Top 40 Albums of 2010 (40-26)

It would be an understatement to say 2010 was a great year for music.  Throughout the year I found myself listening to new album after new album and thinking, “This will definitely make my Top 20 Albums list.”  Which of course explains why I’ve doubled the list this year from 20 to 40.  While 2009 left me disappointed with many of my favorite artists releasing less than stellar albums, everyone showed up to play in 2010. Let the games begin.

Honorable Mention:

Blitzen Trapper “Destroyers of the Void”

Erykah Badu “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)”

Meursault “All Creatures Will Make Merry”

Sam Amidon “I See the Sign”

Shearwater “Golden Archipelago”

40. S. Carey

“All We Grow”

[Jagjaguwar; 2010]

While Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon was off exploring the world of hip-hop with his Kanye West affiliation, his band mate and disciple Sean Carey carried the Bon Iver flame in 2010 with his solo album “All We Grow”.  But while Vernon’s music is often barren and cold, Carey’s exudes the warmth of a winter’s fire.  The cover art of an aged childhood photo builds off this intimacy and helps stir the embers of memory within the listener.  Manned with simply a guitar, drums, and a piano, Carey build’s compositions that crescendo with emotional swells and soften for moments of contemplation.

39. Shining

“Black Jazz”

[Indie Recordings; 2010]

Back in July, I wrote of Shining’s “Black Jazz”: “On their latest release, “Blackjazz”, the doom-heads decided to try combining the two most devilish music forms from the past 100 years (jazz and black metal), resulting in an album of hellacious proportions.  Upon first listen, “Blackjazz” seems to be simply a polished black metal album, but beyond the familiar machine gun drums and crunching guitar riffs, this is more than simply black metal.  Shining rely heavily on synth, but instead of providing simply an ominous cloak, the keyboard is twinkled sporadically like a possessed Duke Ellington, venturing through scales and chord progressions more familiar to jazz night clubs than church burnings.  At times the album doesn’t even resemble music, rather a Jackson Pollock of sound, splattering up and down the malicious jazz scale in search of melody. The jazz meanderings are more obvious when Jørgen Munkeb picks up the saxophone and honks out notes like a line of tumbling dominos, notes rising and falling at will as the horn meshes with the chaos surrounding it.  These Norwegians have exorcised the true, dark spirit of jazz and unleashed it back into the world to wreak havoc.”

38. Perfume Genius

“Learning”

[Matador; 2010]

Perfume Genius’sMike Hadreas is a master storyteller, using his lo-fi, piano-motivated songs to reveal one heartbreaking tale after another.  With so many emotional stories of suicide, molestation, and drug abuse, you would think that Hadreas moonlights as a psychiatrist.  And maybe he should because beyond his captivating narratives, he also whispers one memorable melody after another, counteracting the depressing nature of the album.  His soothing melodies lift up the down-trodden characters, giving them a voice and in a strange way, giving them hope.

37. Grinderman

“Grinderman 2”

[Anti-; 2010]

On “Grinderman 2”, Nick Cave unleashes the sexual deviant within, throwing all of his 50 year old caution out the window and letting the women know that him and his “loch ness monster” have arrived with its “two great humps”.  Yes, this is 9-straight songs about Nick Cave’s penis (what I’m saying is this album pretty much dominates).  On “Grinderman 2” the band took a loose approach to their songwriting, taking a improvisational stance, and the songs thrive because of it.  Without restrictions, the album is free to be as dirty and untamed as it wants to be.

36. Caribou

“Swim”

[Merge; 2010]

Caribou’s Dan Snaith is such a show off.  On each album he’s produced a completely new sound, showing that there really is nothing he can’t do. We get it; you’re talented! On “Swim” Snaith takes the opportunity to show us all that he can make a great dance album.  Think of all those struggling other bands in the genre that have been trying to hone there sound, and then along comes Caribou and blows any progress they’ve made out of the water.  Not only does Snaith create some groovy dance beats, but he also provides a poppier sensibility to the world of club music.  And I guess that’s his secret – these aren’t dance songs at all, rather pop songs disguised in a dance beat garb. Where’s a glow stick when you need one?

35. Big Boi

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty”

[Def Jam; 2010]

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty” has the potential to be the best album of 2010, but a handful of less than stellar tracks hold it back (Jamie Fox…really?!).  Still, when this album is on, “it is on!”  The story of this album has become one of legends with the label not knowing what to do with it when Big Boi first presented it to them.  They asked, “but where’s the hit?”  Morons. The only explanation I can come up with is that with so many great songs they couldn’t tell which was the best.  The problem probably arose because what Big Boi brought to them sounded like nothing they’d ever heard before in the hip-hop world with it’s funky bass, 70s style chorus chants, and lyrics that require more than an urban dictionary to understand.  You dig home skillet?

34.Les Savy Fav

“Appetites”

[Frenchkiss; 2010]

Everyone loves a come back story, so when Les Savy Fav returned in 2007 with their album “Let’s Stay Friends”, their first album in six years, it was cause for rejoice. But now, three years later, “Appetites” didn’t receive nearly as much love, which is a damn shame because the band is still as potent as ever with track after track of raucous art rock.  “Let’s Stay Friends” gave hints toward a more melodic approach and “Appetites” continues this tradition, expanding more upon this friendlier stance. I can’t lie, I will always prefer the earlier Les Savy Fav stuff that is completely reckless and insane, but I still can’t deny myself of a great song, especially with Tim Harrington’s lyrics as biting as ever.   The band is far from finished as shown when Tim shouts in the opener, “WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE!” Let the feeding frenzy continue.

33. Four Tet

“There is Love in You”

[Domino; 2010]

I hate the term “background music” because it implies that the music isn’t worthy of your attention, yet I almost just typed that “There is Love in You” is a background album. This would be misleading.  Yes, it works perfectly as the soundtrack to your day, to your work, to your play, but to suggest it’s easy to ignore? Unwise. In fact, if the music of Four Tet’s 2010 release does anything, it intrudes your mind with a wide range of thoughts and ideas, and through its hypnotic beats you are capable of organizing your thought process.  The title “There is Love in You” implies that we all have love, but if you don’t (ahem…me) this album will nourish your heart with it’s upbeat rhythms and give you a great big hug.

32. The National

“High Violet”

[4AD; 2010]

In the latest issue of SPIN, comedian Patton Oswald was asked to listen to some of the top albums of the year, and I felt his take on The National needed to be repeated. “Is this guy lying on a couch about to fall asleep? ‘Dude, do you want to have a half-hour nap before we record? Because we have time. We don’t need to do this right now, you look really jet-lagged.” While this would seem like an insult, the lethargic, overly dramatic presentation is what makes The National’s music so spellbinding.  It would be easy to say that Matt Berninger’s voice is the source of all the syrupy sentimentality that makes “High Violet” such an absorbing listen, and I think that’s the band’s goal. But back behind Berninger’s vocals hides the Dessner brothers with their astute songwriting that lifts the emotions to a higher shade of violet.

31. Frog Eyes

“Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”

[Dead Oceans; 2010]

I’ve seen Frog Eyes perform live a handful of times, and I’ve always enjoyed their wild live shows with singer Carey Mercer spastically shaking through each song. But for some reason, I pigeon holed the band as simply a great live band not thinking much about their music beyond the stage. Not only is “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph” a (ahem) triumph, it’s one of the most ambitious albums to come out in 2010. The record is broken into four parts, all adding depth to the overall story of an escape from the constraints of life, the perils of war, and the mourning that comes with death. The guitars fight for space, battling for supremacy as General Mercer transfers his manic energy into a war cry that will chill you to the bone.  So much love is paid to Mercer’s friend Spencer Krug, but with “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”, it might be time to give Frog Eyes the respect that is due.

30. Tobacco

“Maniac Meat”

[Anti-Con; 2010]

I’ve never really gotten into Black Moth Super Rainbow, and prior to this year, I’d never heard of front man Tom Ferc and his side project Tobacco.  Then of course after a chance run-in with his remix of HEALTH’s “Die Slow”, I gave into the temptation and bought Tobacco on vinyl.  Now my addiction to its grimy sound is in full force: the affected vocals, the crunchy synth that seems to be run through a twisty straw, the basic drum tracks that call back to the age of old school hip-hop. When my friend Justin heard me listening to Tobacco he asked, “Is that an 80s band?”  While the lo-fi, 80s feel is in full effect, nothing like “Maniac Meat” ever existed in the age of Reagan.  A lot of artists take sounds from the 80s and recreate it for nostalgic purposes. Not Tobacco.  Ferc has taken the 808 drum beats of Run DMC and the synth sounds of the Eurhythmics and created something completely original.  This is what “Walk this Way” would have sounded like if Annie Lenox moved in next door to Run DMC (oh, and if Annie Lennox had throat cancer, God forbid).

29. How to Dress Well

“Love Remains”

[Lefse; 2010]

Imagine all of your childhood R&B tapes getting water damaged in your parent’s basement. Instead of throwing away all your PM Dawn, Bobby Brown, and Billy Ocean away, you decide to give them one more listen.  You locate your dusty Walkman and begin relistening to your old favorites, quickly realizing that the damage has altered these once crystal clear, overly produced 90s standards. Yet, instead of just stopping the tape, you continue to listen.  The mold and mildew have created a cacophonous atmosphere, muffled the once pristine beats, created a ghostly R&B world where love songs have turned sour with sorrow. Then you realize that you aren’t listening to your old tapes, that you aren’t in your parent’s basement, and that you don’t even own a Walkman anymore. You’re just listening to How to Dress Well’s “Love Remains” (no flood damage required).

28. Ty Segall

“Melted”

[Goner; 2010]

My friends who have kids try convincing me of the joy associated with fatherhood.  And despite what they may think, I get it.  As an obsessive music fan, I’ve watched someone like Ty Segall grow up.  On his first self-titled release the songs are ornery and fun, yet not fully developed with his barebone tambourine drums set-up (he started as a one-man band on the street corners of San Francisco).  On “Lemons” his songs grew up with a full piece band backing him, yet his songwriting seemed to be going through an awkward stage, not quite as self-assured and free as seen on his first release. But now, with “Melted”, Ty Segall is all grown up.  The songs are still youthful in spirit but more mature and confident in form.  For me, listening to “Melted” is like watching my son get his diploma (and I didn’t even have to change a diaper).

27. Kylesa

“Season of Mist”

[Spiral Shadow; 2010]

The double lead guitar has been a mainstay in metal for years, but what of the double drum lead?  Kylesa beg to answer this question with a double drum set assault that beefs up their psych metal assault. The two drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry create intricate rhythms that bounce off each other like atoms on the verge of explosion.  These pummeling beats back up a band that has created some striking metal riffs and melodic anthems for 2010.  The Devil went down to Georgia, not to find a soul to steal, but to keep metal alive within the likes of Kylesa, Baroness, and Mastodon. And based off the out-put of these bands in the last few years, the Devil did his job quite well.

26. Liars

“Sisterworld”

[Mute; 2010]

The scariest album of 2010 is not by a black metal band; it’s by a little band that was labeled as “disco-punk” early in their career.  Since that label, the band has explored a wide range of sounds, venturing off into other territories musically.  On “Sisterworld”, Liars have taken a major journey away from their roots towards what I would describe as the auditory equivalent of the “Twilight Zone”.  The music is not of this world, rather an eerie environ where danger lurks around every corner.  Or maybe it’s not another land at all, rather similar to a trip to the Overlook Hotel where the mind takes its own jaunt to the dark side.  Whatever the case, this is Liars most complete album.  They are able to transport the listener to a nightmarish soundscape and keep them planted within the horror for the entire 42 minutes.   While past releases have shown the band’s versatility, on “Sisterworld” they remain locked in the “Sisterworld” where dissonance and death reign supreme. Disco is officially dead.

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Top 100 Tracks of 2010 (25-1)

25. “Tuning Out”

Eddy Current Suppression Ring

On face value, this is just another punk rock song, but if you listen a little longer you’ll hear exactly what makes Eddy Current Suppression Ring different than others within the genre.  While most bands would wrap this song up at the two minute mark, ECSR have just begun.  The next four and a half minutes of “Tuning Out” Eddy Current takes front stage, manipulating his Stratocaster to its limit, making a gluttonous amount of squeaks and howls, showing exactly why this is his band.

24. “Crank Resolutions”

Meursault

Back in Septemeber, I wrote of Meursault and this song: “While most bands are forced to rely on a more polished production value to push the sense of urgency to a higher level, Meursault rely solely on a strange mixture of popping beats and crunching piano riffs that are reminiscent of a CB radio broadcast.Crank Resolutions’ features a beat that is beyond description (which is a good thing).”

23. “Don’t Look Back”

Kylesa

Usually, Kylesa are pretty damn scary, but on “Don’t Look Back” they sound strangely inspirational. Tony Robbins better watch his back (on second thought Tony, heed Kylesa’s advice and don’t look back).

22. “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: Innocent”

Besnard Lakes

I saw Besnard Lakes perform this song at SXSW this past year, and since then, I haven’t been able to remove the soothing chorus of “Ooh, you’re like the ocean” out of my head.  You can put your ear up to my cranium like it’s a seashell and hear the sounds of “Like the Ocean” softly echoing inside.

21. “Hey Cool Kid”

Cloud Nothings

“Hey Cool Kid” is a story of an outsider, realizing that his idol is nothing but an asshole who will “beat me back into the ground”.  Despite this, his insecurity pushes him to still keep asking for the cool kid “to come around”.

20. “Suburban War”

Arcade Fire

When I first heard this song I liked it because the guitar lick reminded me of The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter”.  Then of course I made the mistake of listening to the lyrics, and this once upbeat song spawned sorrow for those friends I’ve lost in their pursuit of adulthood:

My old friends
I can remember when
You cut your hair
We never saw you again
Now the cities we live in
Could be distant stars
And I search for you
In every passing car

19. “Sleepless in Silver Lake”

Les Savy Fav

As far as I’m concerned, there are way too many songs about Los Angeles. Where are the songs about Bozeman, Montana for Christ’s sake!? Despite the saturation of “I Love L.A.”s and “Under the Bridge”s, Les Savy Fav present a fresh take on the City of Angels with “Sleepless in Silver Lake”:

The walking wounded wrap their face in gauze.
These kids’ll kill ya just because they can.
Their teeth are bleached and their tits are tan.

18. “Black Bubblegum”

Title Tracks

I’m 86% sure that this song is about Sherry Becker who chewed Black Jack bubblegum, wore an orange dress, and witnessed Jerry Seinfeld returning Tropic of Cancer to the library in 1972 (or was it Dentyne?).

17. “The Tree”

Blitzen Trapper (featuring Alela Diane)

Another highlight of 2010 for me was my last minute trip to Portland with my brother. The two of us rented a little Vibe and drove around the area, hiking whatever peaks we could fit in within our three-day stay.  While hiking along the Cascade Ridge, we came upon 300-year-old Sitka trees – an army of menacing patriarchs, standing judicious and strong, looking down upon all that pass by.  Whenever I listen to the 2010 release from Portland’s own Blitzen Trapper I can’t help but think back to that trip, more specifically this song with its lyrics of a tree that “grows never-ending”.   Upon each listen, I’m brought back to that day, standing with my brother and looking up at the majestic beasts that surrounded us.  The addition of Portland’s first lady Alela Diane to the song only sweetens the song’s enchantment.

16. “Take It Easy”

Surfer Blood

Starts off with a tropical feel, moves into an early 90s alternative chorus, and ends with an 80s U2 outro: this is what we call a song quilt.

15. “The Boys are Out”

Hanoi Janes

Whenever I play this song I feel guilty. I bought the Hanoi Janes latest release, and after listening to it all the way through a couple times, I found myself continually going back to this song (ignoring the rest).  There is just something about the little freak out that arrives at the 30 second mark- maybe it’s the drumstick cracks, or it could possibly the call-and-response guitars that reverberate from one speaker to the other- whatever it is, “The Boys are Out” is the most fun you’ll have in under a minute thirty.

14. “The Winner”

Kris Kristofferson

“Twistable, Turnable Man” was an album of Shel Silverstien covers that came out this past year, and despite an impressive list of bands featured on it (My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, Lucinda Williams) the best cover is performed by old reliable, Kris Kristofferson.  His raspy baritone naturally works with Silverstein’s narrative songwriting. When I listen to this song, I imagine the narrator is LeBron James and Tiger Man the Cool is Michael Jordan.  It just seems fitting after finding out this past summer that James doesn’t understand what it takes to be a winner.

13. “My Gap Feels Weird”

Superchunk

I would prefer if this song were about having a pain in your taint, but it ends up ol’ Mack wrote it about going to a show and realizing you’re the oldest one there. I hate to admit that I can relate.  At least I can take comfort in knowing old folks are always welcome at a Superchunk show.

12. “Night, Night”

Big Boi (featuring B.o.B. and Joi)

“Night, Night” is one of the finest rap call-outs you’ll ever hear, not pointing out one specific MC, rather annihilating all the fools that can’t hold themselves up to Big Boi’s standard.  To back up his flow built on intelligence rather than empty threats, Big Boi blends a funky bass with a spunky female choir that is completely devoid of auto-tune.  It truly is “something new.”

11. “Marimba and Shit Drums”

Moonface

Earlier this year, I wrote of this song/album: “There is only one 20-minute song on Moonface’s EP “Dreamland” and it is called “marimba and shit-drums”.  The title is straight to the point because, in fact, the song is comprised of just that: a marimba and shit-drums.  Of course, you also hear Spencer Krug’s voice, but otherwise it is simply a marimba and shit-drums; nothing more, nothing less. The constant pulse of the marimba gives the song imminence; a feeling that the echo of the wooden bars being struck by a mallet is building towards something, racing toward a culmination.  Then, of course, the shit-drums kick in and it’s on.  The crackling of the harsh rhythm plays as the perfect antithesis to the happy-go-lucky marimba.   Krug has taken the joyful sounds of the African instrument and somehow given it tension, made it angrier, made it sound more, dare I say, hardcore.  With only two simple instruments Krug creates music that is just as dramatic and heartfelt as anything by Explosions in the Sky.  Creating explosions with only two instruments?  In essence, Krug is the MacGyver of the music world.”

10. “Glitter”

No Age

When Dean Spunt sings “I want you bad underneath my skin”, he’s encapsulating addiction. It could be a dependence to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or maybe even an abusive relationship; whatever it is, the speaker knows it will cause harm yet craves it.   For me, the addiction is to the screeching distortion that lurks in the background of this song.  To many, I’m sure this sounds like simply noise, but I keep coming back. Not because I enjoy pain, but because I’ve found beauty within that dissonance. I can’t get enough of that needling noise underneath my skin.

9. “Dance Yrself Clean”

LCD Soundsystem

I present to you an auditory cleansing. The first three minutes will help you relax, help raise your spirits. And then, well, then it’s time. James Murphy’s pumping beats and throbbing bass line burst through the speakers and spray you with an energy you didn’t have moments ago.  Suddenly, without warning, you’re on your feet moving; washing away your worries; shaking away your negative energy; dancing yourself clean.

8. “Desire Lines”

Deerhunter

If you asked me a year ago to name the top ten songs of the past decade, Deerhunter’s “Nothing Ever Happened” would have easily made the list.  Its fluid movements from one riff to the next continues to leave me in awe.  I didn’t think the band could ever top the song. Then along comes “Haclyon Digest” with the song “Desire Lines”, and I’m thrown for a loop.  Not only does this song follow the same transformational model (three minutes in the madness is unleashed), but it also features an even catchier chorus to start things off.  “Nothing Ever Happened” probably remains the quintessential Deerhunter song for me, but they are sure making things difficult.

7. “Post Acid”

Wavves

Only a year ago, everyone hated Nathan Williams for his meltdown in Barcelona, even his drummer. But now it’s officially time to exonerate him of his past mistakes.  Not only are his songs more instantaneously satisfying, but he’s also apologizing in “Post Acid” when he sings “I was just having fun with you.” Ah shucks Nathan; we forgive you.

6. “Wide Eyes”

Local Natives

The harmonizing voices, the machine gun drums, the twinkling guitar riffs: “Wide Eyes” is an example of a band finding their true potential. While much of “Gorilla Manor” is milk-toast mediocrity, this song proves that when all the pieces are put in the right place, Local Natives are capable of making extraordinary music.

5. “Round and Round”

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

All of the parts of “Round and Round” work together like a merry-go-round of melody, moving round and round, up and down, creating an experience that will have you begging for another ride through simpler times.

4. “Snakes for the Divine”

High On Fire

The metal anthem is not dead, despite what sports arenas around the country would suggest. They’d like you to believe that fist pumping and head banging died with AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica.  Wrong. Imagine if you will, your favorite sports team running onto the court/field/ice as the opening to “Snakes for the Divine” rumbles through the stadium, building a frothing mass of furious, energized fans, filled with bloodlust for a win, shaking, twitching, standing on the verge of a completely chaotic riot…. actually, it’s probably a good idea to keep High On Fire out of the stadiums (especially Detroit).

3. “Monster”

Kanye West (featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nikki Manaj, and Bon Iver)

When Kanye West sang his song “Runaway” at the VMA’s, most thought it was an admission of guilt to Taylor Swift. Not so fast my friend. Soon after “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” came out and all thoughts of apologies disappeared.  On “Monster” Kanye erases any suggestions of humility or guilt When he spouts, “I’m living in the future so my presence is my past. My presence is a present kiss my ass.” This is the musical version of Hulk Hogan joining the NWO; Kanye takes pride in his villainous portrayal.  The scariest part of “Monster” is not the flows of Rick Ross, Kanye, Jay-Z, or even the soothing vocals of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. That honor goes to Nicki Minaj’s venomous verse that electrifies and brings this monster of a song to life.

2. “A Cold Freezin’ Night”

The Books

Set to what resembles the theme music to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “A Cold Freezin’ Night” features samples of a little boy ranting about how he will kill you with a rifle, a shotgun, and cut your toes off.  In response, a little girl admits that boys are better than girls, even going so far as to wish she was a boy.  And somehow, all these chauvinist, psychotic threats are joyful due simply to a great dance beat (and a short harmonica solo never hurts). If only it was this easy to make little kids tolerable in real life.

1. “Caesar”

Ty Segall

Earlier this year I bought a record player and soon after found myself with a vinyl obsession.  Most of my records were used purchases, but I also dabbled in buying the vinyl of new releases. With many labels including a free download code with a purchase, it just seems to make more sense to get the larger than life packaging/artwork. One of my earliest purchases was Ty Segall’s “Melted”, and it quickly became a mainstay on my turntable.  Every time I listened to the album, I would get up and push the arm back to the beginning of “Caesar” to hear it one, two, maybe even three times in a row.  A month ago as I was compiling this list I put “Melted” on again only to find that during “Caesar” my record now skips.  While the loss of this song saddened me to no end, the scratch also symbolized my undying affection for this pop-punk gem. Fortunately for you, you can listen to the clip above as many times as you like without fear of a scratch (but you won’t get the full effect without it  crackling out of a record player).

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You say Arena; I say Urina.

A few weeks ago, due to a series of mistakes by both Delta Airlines and myself, I found myself sitting in first class, sipping on a complementary vodka Red Bull, listening to The Walkmen’s “Lisbon” and stretching my lanky legs to their limit without fear of kicking or bumping a nearby passenger.  For the first time ever, I was enjoying a cross-country flight.  As I motioned the waitress for my 4th complementary drink, I thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to sit in coach again.”

Of course, I will; for the rest of my life as a matter of fact due to my lack of funds. But just like other facets in my life, the finer things have tainted my opinion of the commonplace.  Why eat a Pink Lady when you can have a Honey Crisp? Why drink a Bud Light when you can have a Dale’s Pale Ale? Why feast on a corn-fed flank steak when you can have a grain-fed t-bone? I refuse to sit in the upper deck at Spurs games after my unforgettable experiences in the lower deck, including the time I sat behind the team’s bench and witnessed David Robinson’s final game (oh, and did I mention they won their second championship that night?).  Not only do I prefer the up close and personal experience over viewing the game from 100 feet away, but the people down below seem more passionate, and dare I say, more knowledgeable of the game.

I’m the same way when it comes to live musical performances, although it’s actually much cheaper to see a band up close in an intimate venue rather than the sterile arena setting.  On average, people pay much more to sit in uncomfortable plastic seats located far, far away from performers  than they’d ever have to dish out at a local venue.

I hold this same sentiment toward outdoor music festivals. Last weekend the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival took place, and like every other year, people who know me as a lover of live music always ask me if I’m going. Back in 2004 I attended the festival, and I haven’t been back since. The experience wasn’t all bad; I did get so see artists like Cat Power, Broken Social Scene, and The Pixies, but I just can’t find enjoyment in the disconnect felt between the artist and the audience.  The bands perform miles away on a double barricaded, bouncer infested monstrosity of a stage.  Frank Black and the rest of The Pixies actually resembled pixies from my vantage point.

I'm pretty sure Kim Deal sat out and let Tinkerbell play the set.

The mixture of people milling around ACL didn’t make the experience much better – a mish-mash of hippies, yuppies, and families with babies in tow (it’s never too early to introduce your child to pot smoke and loud music!).  I have friends who find ACL to be a yearly highlight, but it’s just not my thing.  I’d rather see bands up close in venues with character, surrounded by like-minded patrons who are there for the music and not just an excuse to break out their tie-dye shirt.  If a Sam’s Club style bulk performance weekend is the reason you enjoy festivals like ACL, the South By Southwest Music Festival offers more bands (over 2000 in fact) and the majority of the performances take place in the cozy bars that line 6th Street.

You can go to this:

Or go to this:

In the smaller venue, the “arena detachment syndrome” disappears, and memories are made: Man Man giving the audiences instruments during the set, Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington nuzzling both me and my friend’s beards mid-set,  The Very Best inviting the entire crowd onto the stage, Death From Above 1979’s Sebastian Grainger jumping off his drum set and bull rushing the crowd with microphone in hand. This is what live performance is all about. While arena shows have their pre-planned skits, laser lights, movie screens, and choreography, the primal unpredictability of rock and roll still breathes in the smoky bars across this country.

If Lady GaGa really wants to be unpredictable she can take a cue from Tim Harrington and accost her "lil monsters" on stage.

The last real “arena” show I attended was Pearl Jam way back in 2003 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (just a hint: if you are seeing a show at a venue that is named after a corporate entity, the show will invariably stink).  Sleater Kinney opened for Pearl Jam, and they sounded great from row 83.  And that’s about all I can say: they sounded good. I wasn’t overtaken by the music, nor did I feel a connection with the ladies giving it their all on the enormous, barren stage.  There was such a wide fissure between the band and I that mid-way through the set I got up to grab some nachos and take a pee.  It’s not like I was missing much – I could always listen to their CD when I got home.

Fast forward two years: my friend PtheStudP and I were standing five feet away from the ladies of Sleater Kinney, doused in sweat and battling with the sea of lesbians that pogo-ed around us.  Sleater Kinney were tearing it up, sending the audience into a frenzy, all yearning in unison for more and more of Carrie Brownstein’s devisive guitar angst and Corin Tucker’s haunting howl that reverberated throughout the legendary SoKol Underground in Omaha, Nebraska.

After six songs, my friend informed me that he had to go to the restroom, an issue I had been dealing with myself.  Unlike my easy submission to nachos at the Pearl Jam show, I wouldn’t give in this time. We would tough it out. Two songs later, on the verge of peeing my pants, a decision had to be made. And here in lies the difference between an arena show and a small venue: at the Pearl Jam show I urinated in a urinal as the show went on; at the SoKol Underground my friend and I both pissed into beer bottles that soon after found themselves on the cement floor.  I can guarantee you’ll never see that level of commitment at an arena show.

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Top 100 Albums of 2000 (40-31)

40.  Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun

When this came out, people hyped like they were the first band to make their music even more pretentious by making up and singing in their own fake language.  Well, they are not (but I guess I could use a history lesson on a few subjects as well).  Listening to Agaetis Byrjun makes me feel like this (basically a grown up, creepier version of their album cover):

— Kid Kilowatt

39.  Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele*

The hungriest and most consistent rapper of the last 15 years.  An amazing lyricist.  21 tracks, so expect some filler and some cartoon skits.  Well worth it.  My second favorite Ghostdeini joint.  – Dr. Anonymous

38.  Faraquet – The View From This Tower *

Faraquet is the culmination of two decades of Dischord records.  They are conceptual like Fugazi, melodious and raw like Jawbox, dramatic like Shudder to Think, and as earnest as anything Minor Threat ever did.  On The View From This Tower the band masterfully takes all that is Dischord and blends it together into something that can only be defined as Faraquet.  – Android50

37.  Ulan Bator – Ego: Echo

Ego: Echo’s producer said this about recording the album: “Adrenaline, stress, heat chaos, and panic, combined with the language barrier (they’re French, the engineer was Italian), forced us into places we never expected to end up in, which to me, was incredibly elating.”  I quote this because it helps one to understand the music.  Ego: Echo’s procucer was Michael Gira and it came out on Young God Records.  I mention this because it reminds me of the Swans at times and because almost everything on Young God or involving Gira is pretty great.  Andy Kellman from All Music Guide compared them to ‘80s era Sonic Youth.  I allude to his assertion because it has some truth to it.  Mark E. Smith said, “Repetition, Repetition Repetition,” when referencing his music ( I think he said that).  I point this out cos this album reminds me of it.  — Pthestudp

36.  Dirty 3 – Whatever You Love, You Are

With the use of only drums, a guitar and a violin, this trio created something more beautiful than any other band with an army of instruments in 2000.   This album is just devastating, something you’ll want to listen to over and over again.  Probably their best album, in a long line of excellent ones.  – Suzy Creamcheese

35.  Elf Power – The Winter is Coming

The most underrated of the Elephant 6 groups (Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo).  Their 3 album run ending with The Winter is Coming is one of the best of the 90-00s.  Psychedelic, dark lo-fi pop and fuzzy sunny melodies at their best.  You know how albums carry memories along with them?  Well, after having my driver’s license suspended for a year, I listened to this on the way home with my brand new license burning a hole in my pocket.  Fitting.  – Pthestudp

34.   Les Savy Fav – Rome (Written Upside Down) EP*

This 18 minute EP chronicles the band’s transformation from humans to machines.  Tim Harrington sings, “I hope Adams are enough, cos Eve sure ain’t coming.”  It seems Eve couldn’t hand the new machine army and their hyper angular shards disguised as guitar riffs they brought with them to the party.  Fuck her, she can have her fig leaves and fruit from the forbidden tree.  I’ll take Rome.  – Ho Chi Unser Jr.

33.  Trans Am – The Red Line

I like to sometimes explain what an album sounds like by comparing it to other, similar sounding bands.  Something like this: “track 12 of Trans Am’s The Red Line, “I’m Coming Down” sounds like Brian Eno fronting Spacemen 3.”  Now that really describes that song perfectly.  But the problem is, on The Red Line, Trans Am took all their influences and went so far out with them, that they ended up sounding like no one else but Trans Am.  Sure, one can hear all sorts of Krautrock, some Suicide, New Order, ambience, vocoders and classic rock, but I cannot figure out the recipe for how it all goes together so well, because this shouldn’t work at all (especially 73 minutes of it).  – Willie Rambo Strider

32. Clientele – Suburban Light

It’s weird how things come full circle.  I remember listening to this album after losing my dog, a rottweiler named Max, to a dude who liked to drive down our dirt road too fast.  And now, 7 or 8 years later, I listen to this as I think about how much shit I am in after losing an old ladies’ dog while house sitting for her, due to it being able to run much faster than me.  At first the album kinda runs together (it is a compilation of the band’s early singles and scattered recordings), cos every song sounds the same.  But the more you listen, the more every song becomes distinctive and takes you down a different lane (albeit it’s autumn and every lane is tree lined).  But that’s me; see where it takes you.  – Pthestudp

31. A Silver Mt. Zion – He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corners of Our Rooms

Remember Y2K?  I sure as fuck do.  I had a high school teacher obsessed with it.  I don’t know where he heard about it, but he told us well ahead of time that shit was going to hit the fan.  I hadn’t been so excited for anything that I could remember.  I couldn’t wait to see what would happen and was ready to start my career as a revolutionary early (I’ve always been obsessed with Che and Fidel).  My excitement boiled over in all types of forms, imagining how I would survive (easy, I lived on a farm), practicing my marksmanship, and writing all my assigned papers on something to do with it.  But mostly just being really fucken stoked about it, I didn’t know what all was going to go down (although I had a healthy imagination and the media fueling some big ideas), but it was going to be better than that Sublime (April 29th, 1992) song and maybe even better than the Revolution of 1776.  I woke up that morning and probably had the most disappointing day of my life.  Not one damn thing happened.  At least I have this, the soundtrack to what Y2K would have been, had it not been some scaremongering media sham (swine flu anyone?).  Features guitarist Efrim Menuck, bassist Thierry Amar, and violinist Sophie Trudeau of Godspeed You Black Emperor. — Songssuck

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SXSW 2007

“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re too old to go to South by Southwest.  People back home in Midland think we are crazy because we once drove 400 miles to see Rod Stewart, but we absolutely adore his music.  If it’s something you love, don’t let anyone stop you from enjoying it.”

old lady at hotel in Waco talking to us over a continental breakfast of Fruity Pebbles

Using the same categories as last year and a few new ones, my best of SXSW list triumphantly returns! I also got all high tech and fancy, allowing you to click on the artists’ names to check out their music while reading this drivel.

BEST OVERALL BAND

Times New Viking

When I heard TNV’s CD I enjoyed the charming, low-fi pop punk sound but it didn’t go further beyond that.  This opinion changed once setting foot in the Exodus last Friday night, as the trio unrelentingly pounded their way through two minute songs as chaos broke out in the audience.  Before I knew it, Paul and I were amidst the insanity, bouncing through the throng of fans as the band passionately performed.  It may have been the day long free beer binge, or the free energy drink chugged down only an hour earlier, but Times New Viking brought the best out the both of us.  Amy Phillips, a blogger at Pitchforkmedia.com, even mentioned us dozen or so fans at the front of the stage saying: “Ohio’s Times New Viking recently signed to Matador, but they already have a committed fan base. There was quite a bit of slam-dancing and general hysteria in the first few rows of the crowd as the trio slammed out high-energy, melodic noise-punk, and keyboardist Beth Murphy pumping her fist in the air and showing off her luxurious armpit hair. By the time their Matador debut is out, that excitement will probably have spread far enough to fill up a room.” She even included this picture, that features Paul and I with our mouths gaping in excitement:

I understand the lo-fi recording style gives an album an authentic, recorded in a garage sound, but when your band sounds this much better live, aren’t you doing your music fans outside of Ohio a disservice?  Hopefully Matador can clean these kids up (they can shave her pits while they’re at it) and send them out to take over the world.

WORST OVERALL BAND

Todosantos

I wanted to like this band; I really did.  I talked to one of them while waiting for the restroom and he told me about how they moved from Venezuela to New York in hopes of making it big.  He told me all about them recently making connections, and when asked what they sounded like by another guy in line he responded, “It’s hard to describe, you’ll have to see it for yourself.” He was a friendly guy and peaked my interest with his band description.

As the band set up I became even more excited when Paul pointed out a cute blond girl with a keytar strapped around her neck.  A Venezuelan band with a keytar player: could they NOT be good?

Well, the answer is yes.  They were miserable. So bad that we had to leave due to Paul’s inability to stop laughing.  Think early 90s dance music minus any semblance of melody.  Poor kids.

BEST SOLO ARTIST

Bill Callahan

As Saturday unfolded, I slowly became more and more sick with a chest cold. By six o’clock I was not in the mood to see anymore bands and took a nap in the car while Paul went off to see the Kill Rock Stars showcase.  Two hours later I awoke, slightly refreshed, and ventured back out onto the streets ofAustin alone.  A few blocks up the street I came upon a Presbyterian church where Smog front man Bill Callaghan was performing a solo gig.  As I entered the church he was just beginning his first song, with a violinist at his side and Joanna Newsome tucked behind the piano (you know I love!).  Since the church was completely filled, I squeezed into a space in the back pew and soon found myself absorbed by Bill’s croaking, baritone voice and vibrant guitar.  I’m not a big fan of the whole church thing, but this venue provided the most ambient, soothing sound of the week.  The guy next to me soon entered into some type of Zen like state, several people sped out during songs with their faces drench in tears, and a few left their pews and sat in the aisle up front.  I sat cursing the fact that Paul was missing possibly the best show of the week, when lo and behold, St. Paul appeared in the doorway.  Once the song was finished he motioned that he was going up front and I followed him as we sat at the feet of Bill like little Sunday School kids waiting for the weekly children’s message.  He even played “Cold Blooded Old Times”, a shared favorite by Paul and me.

WORST SOLO ARTIST

Yacht

This douche isn’t really worth discussing.  He pushed play on his computer and proceeded dancing around a la Napoleon Dynamite while singing karaoke style.  At first it was funny in a “He’s making an ass of himself” kind of way, but when the dancing act continued throughout the remainder of the show I had to side with Paul that he was just plain miserable.

BEST BAND DISCOVERED

Old Time Relijun

Paul played me their CD on the long drive south, and I enjoyed what I heard.  It was bluesy, howling, folk rock with a twang.  I agreed to go see them with Paul thinking of it as a nice littler filler before going to the big shows in the night ahead.  I completely underestimated what I was about to see, with the raucous band bounding about the stage fervently as singer Arrington de Dionyso  spit out lyrics in a voice resembling David Byrne.  Imagine a southern gospel blues band being possessed by demons hopped up on crack and Pop Rocks: it’s that good.

BEST SOLO ARTIST DISCOVERED

Marisa Nadler

Paul has recently been on a metal binge, gobbling up any new metal bands he can find.  I, not being so much the metal fan, found myself sitting at several less than stellar shows (Oxbow just scared me). One of said shows contained Zoroaster and Boris.  Sandwiched between these two acts was Marissa Nadler, a Massachusetts folk artist preoccupied with death.  Her voice matched her ghost-like appearance, performing like a spirit in an Edgar Allan Poe poem.  While Paul roamed to the other stage inside to see more metal, I sat cross-legged amidst drunken metal heads and listened to her tales of gloom.

BIGGEST LET-DOWN

Boris

I’ve been hearing about this band for a while now from several people but had yet to actually hear them.  Some say they are Japanese Metal, others Japanese Psychedelic Rock, while even others will claim they are a Japanese Jam Band.  I guess one thing they all agree on is that they are Japanese. Whatever the case, I anticipated what was about to be seen on stage as they set up a giant gong.  Once the waif of a guitar player, who Paul claimed was amazing, took the stage, Boris commenced playing a 45 minute set.  Within this set they played one song…one 45 minute song.  It was neither metal, nor psychedelic, nor even jam band for that matter: Boris was just boring.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The Walkmen

I’ve been digging on the new Walkmen album big time over the past few weeks but feared what they may sound like live.  On their albums singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice sounds like a hybrid of Bob Dylan and Roger Daltry, a perfect combination.  I didn’t know how this would translate on the stage, but I soon found I was foolish for being a doubter.  He sounded BETTER than he does on album.  He’s also a true rockstar, spending a night in jail during the week at SXSW this year.

BEST VENUE

Poke-E-Jo’s

It has become a yearly tradition for us to see Frog Eyes perform at SXSW.  With only a day left of shows, we decided to try making it to Poke-E-Jo’s in time to catch our beloved Frog Eyes.

The paper said it was on 5th street, which meant it wasn’t very far away from 6th streeet, at least in our eyes.  What soon followed was a 20 block walk up 5th street with me bitching about not getting a bus the entire way.  When we finally found Poke-E-Jo’s, we felt like Indiana Jones finding the Holy Grail. The stage was set up at the end of a sand volleyball court with picnic tables dispersed throughout the area.  Since the show was free and located so far from the SXSW hub-bub of downtown, the majority in attendance were Austinites out looking for free happy hour beer and some good music.  This gave the show a more relaxed, down-home feel.  With free Shiner beer a flowing, we sat and enjoyed yet another great set by Frog Eyes.  They sounded better than ever, although singer Carey Mercer didn’t seem to be hopped up on speed like usual.  I guess it’s okay to sacrifice showmanship for sound quality.  When they were finished the Absolutely Kosher party was over, yet the bartenders continued filling our cups with Shiner.  Before we knew it, some friendly Austinites were loading us into their car and taking us to see Public Enemy, which leads me too…

WORST VENUE

Dew Music Festival Town Lake Stage

SXSW always caters to the locals, offering free shows for the entire family to come enjoy.  This is where the Town Lake Stage comes into play, an outdoor stadium-type stage at a park near downtown. When we arrived at Public Enemy we were surrounded by families pushing strollers and drunken frat boys screaming “Flava Flav!!!”  We quickly approached the stage, but soon found we couldn’t even get close to Chuck D and the gang.  We stayed for handful of songs, and finally left due to disappointment.  The whole point of SXSW is seeing great bands in smaller venues.  Seeing a band in a stadium or festival setting is just not satisfying anymore.  There’s no connection there; there’s no feeling that anything could happen next.  It’s so protected with guard rails and bouncers.  If I want to watch Flava Flav on a screen, I’ll flip to VH1 for one of their many “Flavor of Love” marathons.  Does that make me a snobby ass? So be it.

BEST LOOK ALIKE

This is very random, but I thought the new guitarist for the Rosebuds looked like my JV basketball coach Jared Cecil, who I fondly remember making us run marathons everyday in practice.  Maybe I just have Cecil on the brain since he coached his girls’ basketball team to a State Title a week ago.

BEST OVERALL SHOW

Frenchkiss Records Showcase

The show began with a guaranteed great performance by The Fatal Flying Guillotines.  At a show in an abandoned Mexican church a few years earlier, we saw them play wearing Girl Scout uniforms while spitting on and kicking audience members mercilessly.  By the end of the show a girl attacked one of the guitarists, beating him with her purse.  After the beat down he approached the mike saying, “I’m sorry we’re not Franz Ferdinand” and then spit at her friends as they broke into another song. As expected, they were chased out the back door of the church.

FFG didn’t disappoint this year, continuing their habit of spitting, jumping up on speakers, and leaning onto the crowd randomly in a psychological game of trust.  At various points one of the guys would attempt to walk on people’s shoulders and heads without warning, as if he was Christ walking on water.  As you’d expect, most people would cave under the pressure of a man walking upon their heads.  At various points, one of the members would just stop playing, and glare with piercing eyes at a random person in the audience. Then suddenly he would dive at said person and attempt to reach them as if he wanted blood.  Eventually he’d return to the stage and find someone else to glare at.  At one point one of the more timid guitar players said, “Come on now, you promised no fights tonight.”  I’m guessing what we saw at the Mexican church wasn’t a one time occurrence.  Believe me; everyone in the bar’s attention was fully upon the band, knowing if they lost focus they’d get a lugie or foot to the head.  I loved every tension filled minute of it.

Next up was Thunderbirds are Now!, a safer, poppier, more user friendly Les Savy Fav.  They put on a great show also, although lacking in the lugie department.  What made the show even more interesting was The Fatal Flying Guilloteens attempting to throw bottles at the band or trying to disconnect their equipment.  Thunderbirds played composed and seemed to find humor in the drunken Guillotines. They were finally forced to put up police tape in hopes of stopping the ruckus, which of course just heightened the violence.  The Thunderbirds were more than just a performance piece though; I will definitely be buying some of their music very soon.

The final act of the night was the most anticipated of the week, Les Savy Fav.  I’ve read about Harrington’s crazy behavior during shows, including a tryst with mud wrestlers and kissing random audience members, but had yet to see the crazed maniac in person.  Before starting, FrenchKiss Record’s head man, Seth Jabour, pointed out that it was next to impossible to one up The Fatal Flying Guillotines, but I felt he said this as a challenge to Harrington, who didn’t disappoint.

Harrington started the show in jeans and a pink polo shirt, undressed to completely nude, tucked his junk a la “Silence of the Lambs”, and finally put on a full body spandex jumper with Speedos over top. He then donned a pleather coat, shades, and a graduation cap.

By the end of the show he would be nude again at one point, and would finish the show wearing only red Speedos, a hilarious, cringe inducing sight considering he’s an overweight, red headed bald man with a mad scientist beard.

Other crazy antics: he crawled along the curtain rod on one side of the stage, almost ripping the curtain down.

Later he ran across the bar making one of the frat boy looking bartenders sing a song.

He spilled beer all over himself and then abducted a man from the crowd, rode him like a horse while singing a ditty.

And finally, in a move I’ve never seen before, he stuck the mic in his Speedos and thrust it in an adoring fans face who screamed the lyrics into his crotch.  (No pictures of this for obvious reasons)

My favorite part of all though had to be when he sat down on the monitor speaker and began caressing Paul’s beard, singing to him.  Classic.  Watch the shitty quality video in my heroes section that someone put up on YouTube.  About a minute and fifteen seconds he leans down out of the shot to feel Paul’s face.  A fat naked man petting Paul: most hilarious SXSW moment ever.

I could keep going on and on and on.  Most freaked out, shock inducing, laugh out loud, pump my fist concert experience ever.  Unfortunately, this was the first show we saw all week, making most of the remainder of the week a let down.  Anytime a singer jumped into the crowd I got douche chills knowing he wouldn’t commit and stick his balls in someone’s face. What a shame.

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