Best of 2012 – Music January 25, 2013Posted by Matt in Best of 2012.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, albums, best of 2012, Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, Jack White, Japandroids, Lucero, Mumford & Sons, music, Neil Young, Patterson Hood, Rodriguez
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I thought I would find the time to write synopses of all the albums I loved last year, but alas, the busyness of everyday life and the sheer amount of required words has made that dream impossible at this time. Instead of my rambling thoughts, I’ll just give you the list and you can look them up and listen as you see fit.
50. Green Day – Uno!, Dos! Tres!
49. JEFF the Brotherhood – Exotic Nights
48. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
47. Cory Branan – MUTT
46. Paul Thorn – What the Hell is Going On?
45. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs
44. Soundgarden – King Animal
43. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
42. Fun. – Some Nights
41. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
40. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
39. Calexico – Algiers
38. Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables
37. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky
36. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
35. The Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
34. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
33. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
32. Big Boi – Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
31. Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth
30. Nas – Life is Good
29. Glen Hansard – Rhythm & Repose
28. Cat Power – Sun
27. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
26. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
25. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
24. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
23. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
22. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
21. Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu
20. Dr. John – Locked Down
19. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
18. Baroness – Yellow & Green
17. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel
16. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
15. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
14. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
13. Heartless Bastards – Arrow
12. Grizzly Bear – Shields
11. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
10. Rodriguez – Searching for Sugar Man
9. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
8. Jack White – Blunderbuss
7. Patterson Hood – Heat Light Rumbles in the Distance
6. Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears
5. Mumford & Sons – Babel
4. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
3. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
2. Lucero – Women & Work
1. Bob Dylan – Tempest
Best Albums of 2011: 11-20 December 21, 2011Posted by Matt in Best of 2011.
Tags: albums, Best of 2011, Cults, drive-by truckers, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Mastodon, music, My Morning Jacket, Raphael Saadiq, Saigon, TV on the Radio, Wild Flag, Yuck
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It’s no secret that I’ve had a longstanding love, going back some ten years, of the Drive-By Truckers, but because I hold their earlier albums (Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, and The Dirty South) in such high regard, it affects my view of their more recent works. This was especially true with 2009’s The Big To-Do, which I really liked from the first time I heard it, but it took time and a few shows for that to grow into a true appreciation for it. This story repeated itself with Go-Go Boots because I must admit I was not particularly impressed with it at first. Over time, though, it has blossomed in my eyes and ears and now I am more convinced than ever that it belongs in the holy canon. There are several standout tracks, including a new live staple and probably the most uncharacteristic track on the album, an R&B-tinged cover of the late Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love.” Others to check out are the dark title track, a very DBT-esque tale of an adulterous, murderous Southern preacher, and “Used to Be a Cop” with its bass line made to be played live and its story of a mentally disturbed former police officer, but the real highlight from the album in my eyes is the closer, “Mercy Buckets,” a song that really captured my attention with a transcendent performance earlier this year in Memphis. With lyrics like “I will bring you buckets of mercy / And hold your hand when you’re crossing the street / Pay your bail if you need it / I will be your saving grace,” it’s a love song as only the great Patterson Hood could tell it. If you want to know why I’m obsessed with the band, start here and work back. You won’t be disappointed.
Though it may seem like it at times, not all of the music I enjoy is gloom and doom, with intricate intellectual themes weaved through the notes and words. No, sometimes there are bands like Cults who blow the entire dark-hued obelisk to bits, the type of band who can act as the lone sunbeam on an otherwise dreary day. Much like other recent bands like Camera Obscura, Brooklyn’s Cults reach back to 1960’s pop for their influence, dispensing rays of upbeat happiness like a lighthouse in the dark. This is an album full of pop gems, of innocence and puppy love that are sure to put a smile on your face and skip in your step. The catchy sing-along lines of “Go Outside” (I really want to go out / I really want to go outside / And stop to see your day) will ingrain themselves in your brain and it’s borderline impossible to not tap your foot along to the nostalgic beats of “Most Wanted.” Just put this one on and enjoy yourself. My kids love it, too, so that’s an added bonus.
Some two decades ago, rap legends Public Enemy made the declaration, “Don’t believe the hype,” and it’s true that hype is a tough thing to reach. That being the case, when it was announced that two of the biggest and most revered hip-hop artists were going to join forces for an album, an impossibly high bar was put in place. It’s tough not to be guilty of high expectations, though, considering that Jay-Z is responsible for classics like The Blueprint and Kanye West released what I think may be the greatest rap album ever recorded, My Dark Twisted Fantasy. With expectations at that level, it’s hard for anyone, even those regarded as being among the elite, to reach that kind of height. Watch the Throne is a good album, one that may be regarded as excellent by another act, but it is hard to separate oneself from the legendary status of their past work when judging it. Jay-Z’s swagger is in full effect on songs like “Ni@@as in Paris,” when he doles out lines like “What’s fifty grand to a motha****er like me / Can you please remind me?” and in “Otis” (with its great Otis Redding sample” when proclaims, “I’m ‘bout to call the paparazzi on myself.” Kanye isn’t one to be outdone, though, when he blasts out in “Gotta Have It,” saying “LOLOLOL to white America, assassinate my character.” In the end, the album is somewhat underwhelming when compared to their past work, but it is still worth getting, with its great beats and rhymes from two of the best in the business.
First off, I must admit that I’m a bit of a late comer to TV on the Radio. Sure, I had heard some of their stuff in the past, but had never been moved enough to reach out and grab any of their albums. But the overwhelming positive reaction to the band was more than I could hold out on any longer and I grabbed a copy of Nine Types of Light soon after it came out. Needless to say, it was a great decision. This genre-hopping outfit is not easily defined, but that fluidity is perhaps their greatest asset as they effortlessly flit between soul to the sound of early 80’s post-punk to jazzy excursions, from electronic bleeps to distorted guitars, mixing it all together into a glorious whole, turning chaos into a sublime experience. You can feel the heartbreak in songs like “You,” where Tunde Adebimpe sings “You gave no reason for letting go / I just thought you might like to know / You’re the only one I ever loved,” and then the hopes for reconciliation in “Will Do,” (But I’ll be there to take care of you / If ever you should decide / That you don’t want to waste your life / In the middle of a lovesick lullaby). It’s a very personal work and one that requires several listens to fully appreciate, but once it reels you in there is no escape and that’s really the best thing you can ever hope for with an album.
Back in the late 1990’s, the riot grrrl movement of left-wing, feminist activism found an audience through the music of great punk-influenced indie rock bands like Sleater-Kinney. They certainly made their mark on the music scene, but by the mid 2000’s, many of those bands were no more and, though there were a number of great female-led groups, few matched the punch of those earlier ones. Finally, though, somebody stepped back in to fill the void. In 2010, Carrie Brownstein, guitarist and co-founder of Sleater-Kinney as well as a music contributor to NPR, announced her new project, Wild Flag, a collaborative effort between people from a few different riot grrrl era bands, and by September of this year their triumphant debut work was released. Despite having a sound that harkens back to a decade ago, the album sounds fresh and important, timely and needed, its indie pop calls for reckless abandon, for letting go of your worries and dancing without concern. When Brownstein urges the listener to “Shake, shimmy, shake,” you want to do it, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. It’s a great throwback and a lot of fun.
At the risk of sounding like someone far beyond my years or mindset, they just don’t make music like they used to when it comes to soul and R&B, so there has long been a gap existing in the music community, waiting for some eager people full of that special, heart-wrenching spirit to fill. Last year hip-hop artist Cee-Lo stepped up, producing an album of incredibly fun tunes with a sound akin to a potty-mouthed Stevie Wonder. This year another artist who has been around for some time, Raphael Saadiq, is picking up the soulful baton and taking his own turn. Saadiq first came to prominence in the late 80’s-early 90’s R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone! (“Feels Good,” “If I Had No Loot”) and since then he has worked as a producer for other top-selling artists as well as creating his own acclaimed music, but this is the first solo work of his I have acquired. Needless to say, I’m hooked. Listening to Saadiq, I hear a huge Sly and the Family Stone influence, particularly on the opener “Heart Attack,” while other tracks seem to draw from the likes of Ray Charles and other greats of times past. Make sure and check out songs like “Over You” and the title track and I’m sure you’ll agree: this is old school soul at its best.
Over the past ten years, there have been a number of bands that have entered and become fully planted in my consciousness, so much so that I wait with great anticipation for every release and passionately yearn for them to visit our city. There are those like the Drive-By Truckers who I have seen numerous times and then there is a band like My Morning Jacket, who I follow religiously but have somehow not made their way to Memphis in the time I’ve been living here. Their latest release, Circuitous, is another stellar release, complete with their trademark hazy, reverb-drenched sound and a bunch of excellent songs from Jim James and the boys. Following the incredible Z and the psychotropic freak out of Evil Urges, which I loved even more, MMJ fans wondered about the direction in which the band was headed. Would they return to their earlier sound or continue down the rainbow hued path to the always-elusive hallucinatory nirvana? Well, the answer is somewhere in the middle and this may be just as good, if not better, than either of those releases. The trippy seven minute “Circuital” (Circuits / Connect the Earth to the moon / And link our heavenly bodies / Not a moment too soon) is a must hear, as is the wonderfully weird “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” (Oh black metal, so misunderstood / Don’t turn yourself into Lucifer’s fool), but it is the carefree joy over somber tones of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” (I’m going where there ain’t no fear / I’m going where the spirit is near / I’m going where the living is easy / And the people are kind / A new state of mind), that for the moment is my favorite cut on the album. Once again, MMJ strikes gold.
The story of Saigon is a rags to riches story of the best kind. While doing time for assault in the late 90’s, he became friends with a fellow inmate named Hakim, who rapped and employed both positive messages and an impressive vocabulary. After his release, he began to pick us some underground buzz and flew just below the mainstream radar for the next decade, collaborating with some of the biggest and most acclaimed artists in the genre while fighting with his record label over creative differences. So, the album sat on a shelf for some time before he was finally dropped by Atlantic in 2008, a situation he described in the song “Believe it” saying, “”They rather me pretend to be something that I’m not / I’m the new Public Enemy / I’m different that Young Joc.” The album finally broke through to the public earlier this year, having been released on an independent label, and this rap tour-de-force proved to be one of the best hip-hop collections of the year. His penchant for speaking candidly about social problems using the context of his own hard luck background shines throughout the work, though he’s certainly not above the braggadocio of hip-hop, claiming that “My flow is like the Cuban Missle Crisis” in “Come on Baby,” while saying in the title track that his personal story “is realer than 9/11 / I rhyme about lyin’ reverends / While showin’ all total respect to the Big Guy in Heaven / I rap about politicians, how money’s their acquisition / To get it they gotta keep us without a pot to piss in.” If you like good, socially conscious rap music, this is definitely one to check out.
Having come of age in the 1990’s, it’s only natural that I would be a bit nostalgic for the music of that era, so it is refreshing to find artists whose vision of the past is similar to mine. Over the years, the results of this endeavor have varied wildly, but occasionally a band breaks through the ever-thickening shroud of time and channels the energy of that fondly recalled era with such flair that you feel as though you’ve stepped into a flannel-covered time machine. Yuck, despite their name, is one of those wonderful memory-laden bands, their loud and fuzzy guitars eliciting a sense of euphoria rarely felt any longer. If Thurston Moore and Stephen Malkmus had a child who was then raised by J Mascis, it would sound like Yuck. It opens with “Get Away,” and a guitar that sounds as though it’s being played through a wall of white noise and the repeated intonation to “Tell me when the pain kicks in.” From that point on, the band rolls through a grunge litany long thought extinct, from the lovely “Georgia” to the distortion-filled “Operation,” making us believe again that stalwart indifference may be the answer to all of life’s questions.
As a teenager, metal music played a vital role in my music development, from Metallica (Black Album and earlier) to Megadeth to the savage violence of Pantera, but over the years I lost interest in the genre. Part of that may be from my aging sensibilities, but much of it, I believe, stems from my grumpy old man insistence that they don’t make it the way they used to. Then I heard Atlanta natives Mastodon and, once I recovered from the initial face-melting experience, I was hooked. The band made their mark with loud, intricate concept albums, Leviathan being loosely based on Moby Dick and their last album, 2009’s Crack Skye, telling the story of a quadriplegic traveling the astral plain before getting stuck in Tsarist Russia. The Hunter eschews the use of a central concept in favor of collecting a number of incredible songs showing their killer musicianship. It all kicks off with the guitar blast of “Black Tongue,” with its undeniably great riffing, then follows that up with the excellent, almost 70’s riff rock sounding, “Curl of the Burl” with one of the most awesome opening lines of the year, “I killed a man ‘cause he killed my goat. / I put my hands around his throat.” They may never be a household name like Metallica (and that’s a good thing because you can see how that turned out), but they have made an indelible mark on the world of metal over the past ten years and, if The Hunter is any indication, there is a lot more greatness to come.
Best of the Decade – Music Edition (51-60) December 17, 2009Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: albums, Band of Horses, Beck, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, decade, Kings of Leon, MGMT, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, The Gaslight Anthem, The Jayhawks, The Killers, top 100
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Don’t worry, I have not forgotten about my top 100 of the decade list even though it has been more than a week since I updated it. Today we continue our look back at the greatest albums of the past ten years. In case you missed them, you can read the other entries below:
60. Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans (2004)
Undoubtedly the most spiritual of the young singer-songwriter’s album catalog, Seven Swans is bursting with life, despite being one of Stevens’ sparser efforts. Most of the songs from this release consist of Stevens’ earnest, wavering voice and his trusty banjo, without much of the orchestration and electronic sounds of his other works. Stevens openly displays faith as a motivator behind his music career on songs like “Abraham” and “The Transfiguration,” and it works far better than any CCM artist.
59. Beck – The Information (2006)
From the opening line, “One, two, you know what to do,” to the last, Beck weaves together an altogether fun album reminiscent of his work in the 90’s. The danceable rhythms, stoned-sounding vocals, and the occasional Spanish phrase thrown in for good measure are vintage Beck and that’s a great thing. I’ve been a big fan for going on 15 years and his fun sense of creativity hardly ever disappoints. Check out songs like “Elevator Music” and “Cellphone’s Dead” to get a good taste of his mid-2000’s greatness.
58. Spoon – Gimme Fiction (2005)
Speaking of danceable tunes, Spoon has put out a ton of them in this decade and every collection has proved to be excellent. This was the first album of theirs that I bought and it quickly turned me into a fan. This is the way good pop music is supposed to sound. Listen to “I Turn My Camera On,” and “The Delicate Place,” and I promise that you’ll agree.
57. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (2008)
This breakthrough album took the country by storm in 2008 and with good reason. “Time to Pretend,” with its resonating tale of youthful hopes and dreams being dashed to pieces against the disappointments of life, is one of the best songs of the decade. These relative newcomers have a great future ahead of them and I look forward to hearing their future releases. In addition to aforementioned tune, be sure to check out “Weekend Wars,” and “Electric Feel.”
56. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2006)
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut album broke new ground soon after it was released by becoming one of the first word-of-mouth hits of the internet era. Though it had little radio support in the beginning, positive attention from music blogs soon pushed the band out of the shadows and into the spotlight, cementing their place in the 2000’s indie rock canon. Among the best songs that you should hear from this release are “The Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth,” and “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away.”
55. The Gaslight Anthem – That ’59 Sound (2008)
In case you ever wondered what would happen if a young Bruce Springsteen had fronted the Clash, here is your answer. The Gaslight Anthem blaze through songs that seem like snapshots of real life in small town America with a punk rock ferocity. Like the aforementioned Springsteen, they name-drop characters (like Mary, unsurprisingly) all around, lending an air of realism to each of these slices of Americana. Check out the songs “That ’59 Sound” and “Great Expectations.”
54. The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music (2003)
The Jayhawks were among folk rock’s elite few when this excellent album, thus far their final one, dropped in 2003. With harmonies that echo The Byrds and a plethora jangling melodies, this release is there to make one smile, even when the subject matter wouldn’t normally lend itself to that kind of reaction. Among my favorite tunes on the album are “Stumbling Through the Dark,” and “All the Right Reasons,” but the entire thing is great.
53. The Killers – Hot Fuss (2004)
This debut album from The Killers, with its retro-1980’s sound reminiscent of bands like Duran Duran, was a huge hit in the mid-2000’s and with good reason. It’s catchy and fun dance rock that sticks in your head for days after you hear it. Listen to “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside,” and then see if you can get them out of your mind.
52. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin (2007)
At times their sound echoes contemporaries My Morning Jacket and classic rocker Neil Young, but this album really set BoH as their own band and as a force with which to be reckoned. Their reverb drenched vocals and decidedly Southern sound need to be heard. Check out songs like “Is There a Ghost” and “Detlef Schrempf for a nice primer on the band and then pick up the whole album.
51. Kings of Leon – Only By Night (2008)
These sons of a traveling Pentecostal preacher slowly built up their status in the U.S. over the decade before breaking through in 2008 with this magnum opus, turning them from bluesy, southern rock purveyors to arena rock headliners. Though not my favorite of their works, the huge sound of Only By Night is made for the big stage. Listen to “Crawl,” “Sex on Fire,” and “Use Somebody.”
To be continued…
Ten For Tuesday: Music to Play LOUD! July 28, 2009Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: albums, Beastie Boys, Black Keys, Green Day, guns n roses, Jane's Addiction, loud music, Pantera, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, volume
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What is it that makes us want to turn some types of music up loud, raise a fist in the air and rock out? There is just something about it that makes us want to blast the decibels to an extreme, eardrum-bursting level and lose ourselves in a cloud of crowd-pleasing power chords. Some albums are just that way and, despite the fact that they will no doubt contribute to me needing a hearing aid by the age of 40, I’m glad to have them. Below are ten albums, in no particular order, that I love to blast out loud. Enjoy.
10. Beastie Boys – License to Ill
I thought about including my favorite Beastie’s album, Paul’s Boutique, but their testosterone-fueled party anthem-filled debut seemed more applicable in this instance. Just try to keep the volume low on classic songs like “Rhymin’ and Stealin’,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” “Brass Monkey,” or “Fight for Your Right,” it can’t be done.
9. The Black Keys – Rubber Factory
You can’t go wrong with this loud and crunchy blues-rock duo, whose Jimmy Page-like blues riffs can knock anybody flat on their back. From the opening track, “When the Lights Go Out” (If you’ve seen “Black Snake Moan,” you’ve heard it) through the rest of this great collection, they hit as hard as anyone in the business today.
8. Pantera – Cowboys from Hell
This one will take you back. Pantera burst on the scene with this blast of aggressive metal in 1990 and it still resonates today. Dimebag Darrell was one of the most distinctive guitarists of an era and Phil Anselmo’s vocals are rife with unbridled fury. I put this album, with great songs like “Psycho Holiday” and “Cemetary Gates,” on when I’m tired at work. It perks me right up.
7. The Hold Steady – A Positive Rage
The Hold Steady have been called the greatest bar band in America and this live collection displays them in all of their ragged glory. Songs like “Stuck Between Stations” and “Massive Nights,” are meant for playing in noisy bars with amps turned up loud.
6. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking
There are few songs from the past 20 years that are more mind blowing than “Mount Song” turned up as loud as it will go. Just try it out and thank me later.
5. Radiohead – The Bends
The first of Radiohead’s incredible trilogy of albums from 1995-2000, this strongly rivals OK Computer as the best work by the greatest band in the world. The intricacies of this album cannot be heard at low levels, just pump it up loud and lose yourself in the sonic goodness of “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees.” It is an experience not to be missed.
4. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
I admit that I didn’t always appreciate the artsy noise-rock of Sonic Youth. Today I don’t know what I would do without them. This breakthrough album from 1988 is a blast from the beginning with “Teenage Riot” to the 14 minute “Trilogy” at the end.
3. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine
This debut from everyone’s favorite rap-rock Marxists is violent, rage-filled shotgun blast that took the country by storm in the early-90’s. “Killing in the Name Of” is, without a doubt, one of the greatest, loudest anti-authority anthems ever put down.
2. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
What do you get when you mix 70’s stadium rock, punk sensibilities, and a good dose of sleaze, drugs, and debauchery from the streets of L.A.? Guns N’ Roses. And this is definitely their best work. “Paradise City” is one of the greatest rock anthem ever recorded and it cannot be played at low levels.
1. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
Not the best collection on the list, but it is my favorite from the current year and I happen to be listening to it right now, so this incredible concept album definitely needs a spot. Like many others on the list, this album is meant to be experienced as a whole, so I would encourage you to eschew the Itunes-fueled idea of downloading individual songs and get the entire thing. You won’t be disappointed.
What about you? What do you like to turn up to 11?
Best of 2009…So Far – Part 3 June 19, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: 2009, albums, Best Of, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, K'Naan, mid year, music, The Decemberists, U2
Over the last two days I have been giving my mid-year music list, first covering the albums ranked 11-15, and yesterday the ones ranked 6-10. Today we will look at the very best of the year, the top five albums at the halfway point of 2009. Let me know what you think.
5. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
There are few bands working today that are as interesting and inventive as the Decemberists. Their sound harkens back to huge, 1970’s prog-rock productions, only with a strange twist that seems unique to them. On this, their second concept album in three years, the band tells a tale of a woman named Margaret (voiced by guest-vocalist Becky Stark) who falls in love with a shape-shifting forest-dweller (voiced by Colin Melloy) and their ensuing conflict with a jealous forest queen (guest vocalist Shara Worden). It’s a very strange piece of work, especially when compared to other contemporary artists, but somehow it works together spectacularly. This is meant to be an album experience, so it is not easy to recommend individual songs, but here goes…
Download: The Rake’s Lament, The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid
4. K’naan – Troubadour
Somali-born rapper K’naan has a message for American rappers – you think you have it tough? On this sophomore album, he exposes the trials and troubles of life in Africa without the gangsta glamorization or braggart talk of those from the West. The world of K’naan does not revolve around nice cars and big houses and women, instead his rhymes deal with people looking for food while trying to avoid warlords and pirates and the other dangers of everyday life for the poor African. His style incorporates elements of modern rap music, traditional African instruments, and reggae, and along the way, he has amassed an array of guest stars on this album, including hip hop legend Chubb Rock, Mos Def, and Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett. Whether or not you appreciate hip hop music, this is a great piece of work.
Download: T.I.A., Somalia
3. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
After three decades, U2 have proven themselves to be one of the (if not the) greatest bands in the world. That being said, it has been a long time since I have truly loved an album from Bono’s group. So, it gives me great pleasure to give my endorsement to this work as their best since 1991’s Achtung Baby. The album is full of sonic textures and layers that few other bands can approach and the songs are again top-notch and comparable in quality to much of their early work.
Download: Magnificent, Moment of Surrender
2. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream
It feels almost traitorous to put the Boss’s latest incredible work in second place, for in any given year this would almost surely be number one. I’ve listened to this album over and over again, yet still it continues to astound me. Bruce Springsteen is an American music treasure, on par with legendary artists like Dylan and Woody Guthrie, whose greatness will be recognized for decades to come, long after he has gone from this earth. And, despite being eligible for senior citizen discounts, he still rocks like few others in concert, as I was witness to myself back in April. If you don’t have this yet, smack yourself and get it.
Download: Outlaw Pete, Kingdom of Days, Queen of the Supermarket
1. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
Let the calls of heresy begin because, yes it’s true, I just placed Green Day’s latest magnum opus ahead of Springsteen, U2, and Dylan. Just put it on, turn it up loud, and enjoy, and I guarantee that it will calm your calls for my head on a platter. Billie Joe’s band has come a long way from their early-mid 90’s roots in songs of self-gratification to today, when they are possibly the most important of all American rock bands. Though they have retained some of their punk sensibilities, this is far beyond anything that has ever been done before under the umbrella of punk rock. 21st Century Breakdown is their second concept album in a row, following 2004’s American Idiot, this time following the lives of a young couple named Christian and Gloria in post-Bush America. It is a tour-de-force of an album and one that is really meant to be heard in its entirety, for this masterpiece may be seen in the future as a defining moment for the first decade of the new millennium, a bookend to an era. Really, it is that good. My 6 year-old’s favorite song of the moment is “Know Your Enemy,” but, if you insist on only downloading individual songs, below are the ones I would choose.
Download: Viva La Gloria!, Murder City, American Eulogy
Best of 2009…So Far – Part 2 June 18, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: 2009, albums, Best Of, Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews Band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Justin Townes Earle, music, neko case
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Yesterday I gave my rankings for the 11th-15th best albums of the year so far and with this entry I will continue in that same vein, giving choices 6-10. Let me know what you think.
10. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
It’s no secret that I think the vast majority of today’s country music is embarrassingly bad, so it probably just as well that artists like Jason Isbell are making the best common man anthems below the radar. This former member of one of my favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers, released an excellent solo debut in 2007, but I think this one may be even better. If you have a soft spot for southern music like I do, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
Download: Seven Mile Island, However Long
9. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies
This progeny of the aforementioned Steve Earle is the second reason to believe that the genre of country music has not been entirely destroyed by the record companies and the radio. Earle’s songs are pure old-school, sounding much more like something you’d hear from a person pickin’ and grinnin’ on their front porch than an overly sanitized tune from the country charts. From bluegrass to honky-tonk to good old-fashioned hurting songs, this is essential listening.
Download: What I Mean to You, They Killed John Henry
8. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
You know its been an incredible year for music when the latest release from the legendary Dylan gets pushed all the way back to 8. Employing a distinct Southwestern sound mixed with Cajun and the blues and, heck, anything else he can jumble together, Dylan’s music genius continues to hack away the boundaries people try to set up for him. Every time I’ve listened to this album, it makes me want to hang out with him in some smoky border town cantina.
Download: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, My Wife’s Home Town
7. Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King
I’ve been a fan of DMB since the band’s debut some 15 years ago, but their recent releases have seemed to be lacking something that the earlier ones had. Though their live show was still incredible, the quality of their studio albums seemed to be in decline….until this one. Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King, recorded on the heels of saxophonist Leroi Moore’s sudden death, is a definite return to their early form and may possibly even be their best release yet.
Download: Funny the Way it Is, Shake Me Like a Monkey
6. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
In our home Neko Case is known as “the other woman” because it is no secret that I totally and completely in love with her voice. Her latest continues in a dark, Southern gothic tradition that frames her incredible vocals almost perfectly. I could and would listen to her sing the phone book, but it doesn’t help that this is another excellent collection of songs.
Download: This Tornado Loves You, Fever
To be continued…
The Best of 2008 in Music – The Top Ten January 12, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2008.
Tags: 2008, albums, Best Of, Bon Iver, Coldplay, drive-by truckers, guns n roses, music, My Morning Jacket, Okkervil River, The Black Keys, The Gaslight Anthem, The Hold Steady, Vampire Weekend
Black Mountain – In the Future
Blue Mountain – Midnight in Mississippi
Justin Townes Earle – The Good Life
Ra Ra Riot – the Rhumb Line
North Mississippi All-Stars – Hernando
Motley Crue – Saints of Las Angeles
Thao – We Brave Bee Stings and All
The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
She & Him – Volume I
Portishead – III
The First Ten:
20. The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust
19. Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch
18. R.E.M. – Accelerate
17. Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch
16. Beck – Modern Guilt
15. Lucinda Williams – Little Honey
14. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
13. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
12. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
11. Metallica – Death Magnetic
I am an admitted music snob that mourns the slow, tragic death of the album in favor of single songs purchased from Itunes, but, thankfully, there are still some truly great collections of music being released today. Let me know what you think. What did I get wrong? What should I have included?
10. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
I fell in love with the poppy, Police-influenced sounds of Vampire Weekend the first time I heard them. These Ivy Leaguers make the kind of catchy music that is just impossible to dislike. Kick back and enjoy.
Download: Mansard Roof, A-Punk
9. The Black Keys – Attack & Release
I first came into contact with the great blues-rock of The Black Keys in Memphian Craig Brewer’s offbeat but incredible film Black Snake Moan. I soon caught on to the duo and downloaded all of their albums, which quickly became staples on my Ipod. As would be expected, their latest release if also filled with great blues guitar riffs cranked to the max and, really, that’s all you need. I had the chance to catch the Keys here in Memphis over the past year and let me tell you, these guys are just plain awesome. So, turn it up loud and groove like there’s no tomorrow.
Download: I Got Mine, Strange Times
8. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Coldplay is the kind of band that I’m not supposed to like. Their safe, sanitized sound carefully packaged to appeal to the masses should be the antithesis of what I enjoy. But, I can’t help it, I am a fan. They have made a name for themselves by constructing huge, sweeping stadium-ready anthemic rock while still finding a way to connect personally with the individual, making music for both Ipods and coliseums. It is a characteristic to which all bands aspire but few achieve. The latest release is a great improvement over the undwhelming X&Y and may even be to the level of what is generally considered their masterpiece, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Oh, and I also want to say that Mike the Eyeguy made a perfect observation when he said some time ago that this band was perfect for running to….now if only I could myself on that elliptical gathering dust in the corner…
Download: Viva La Vida, Lost
7. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
I have been a huge fan of the Truckers for several years now and have had the chance to catch them live twice (and they are coming to Memphis again February 27 if anyone wants to go with me!), so I anxiously await each of their releases. Their songs tell distinctly Southern stories, from the myths of old to dark tales of racism, violence, and drug addiction. The lyrics and style of Patterson Hood evoke images of old men in front porch rocking chairs spinning tales about times past, but never flinching from the harsh realities of life. Their latest release, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, continues with these themes, tackling topics like alcoholism, war, murder, and crystal meth…yeah, this isn’t lighthearted stuff.
Download: The Righteous Path, Lisa’s Birthday
6. Bon Iver – For Emma, Long Ago
Justin Vernon , a.k.a Bon Iver, was having a really rough time at the end of 2006, his longtime girlfriend broke up with him, his band disintegrated, and he was suffering through a bout of illness, leaving him lonely and depressed. As a way to, in a sense, recharge his batteries, Vernon moved into a remote Cabin in northern Wisconsin for the winter. Armed with his guitar and some old recording equipment, this album was the product of those three months of solitude, as he dealt with the demons that plagued him. It’s an incredibly intimate album and one that will haunt you long after the last strains of his acoustic guitar have faded away.
Download: Skinny Love, Flume
5. The Gaslight Anthem – That ’59 Sound
In case you ever wondered what would happen if a young Bruce Springsteen had fronted the Clash, here is your answer. The Gaslight Anthem blaze through songs that seem like snapshots of real life in small town America with a punk rock ferocity. Like the aforementioned Springsteen, they name-drop characters (like Mary, unsurprisingly) all around, lending an air of realism to each of these slices of Americana.
Download: Great Expectations, That ’59 Sound
4. Okkervil River – The Stand Ins
I first became a fan of this Austin band following their 2007 release, The Stage Names, but I think this year’s sequel may be even better. Their hyper-literate lyrics stand out in a time in which intelligence is seldom rewarded in the music world. “Lost Coastlines” is another song that is among my favorite for the year and I just can’t seem to get that “La la lalalala,” refrain out of my head for anything. Check them out, you’ll be glad you did.
Download: Lost Coastines, Singer-Songwriter
3. Guns N’ Roses –Chinese Democracy
Say what you want, but one thing Axl Rose has is vision. Some 17 years and all of the original band members sans Axl Rose later, G N’ R have finally returned to the music world with the long awaited Chinese Democracy, a much-maligned album that has undergone a gestation period more than eight times that of an African elephant. Its hugeness and messiness is perhaps only matched by it’s brilliance. Mind you, this collection is far from perfect. It definitely has its misses, such as the James Bond theme song sound of “if the World, but these are more than made up for by rockers like the theme song or “Shackler’s Revenge. It also has its surprises, such as Axl’s nice piano ballad, “This I Love,” and the genre-hopping “There Was a Time.” Whatever you do, don’t base your opinion on just one or two songs, CD is an album that is meant to be heard in its entirety. In this age of Ipods and single song purchases, this release may be the marker for the end of the album era…and it’s a heck of a farewell.
Download: Chinese Democracy, I.R.S.
2. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
I’ve wavered a bit on MMJ’s latest release throughout the year, but its consistent presence on my playlist is evidence enough that I love this album. This collection certainly has its fair share of weirdness, most notably in the Prince-like freak out of “Highly Suspicious,” a song whose presence I would imagine turned off a lot of listeners, but regardless of one’s thoughts on that track, though, the remainder of the album is stellar in its reverb-shrouded psychedelia, repeatedly channeling the greats ones of the past like Neil Young, Pink Floyd, and any other number of 70’s classic rock acts. I just wish I had it on vinyl…that’s how an album like this is supposed to be listened to.
Download: Evil Urges, I’m Amazed, Aluminum Park
1. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
There was no other album in the year of 2008 that enthralled me the way The Hold Steady did. The band once called the greatest bar band in America may now just be one of the best bands, period. I’ve always been a big fan of good storytelling songs and there are few acts around today that do it better than Craig Finn’s group. On Stay Positive, the band blazes through tale after tale of life on the dark side, stopping only for the few seconds between songs to take a quick breath before delving in again. The opening cut, “Constructive Summers,” has a line in it that goes, “Let’s raise a glass to St. Joe Strummer / I think he might have been our only decent teacher,” that I think probably best describes where these guys, with smart songs and classic punk riffs, are coming from. Another of the songs included tells the story of a night gone wrong in our neighboring city (“Sequestered in Memphis”) that has gotten a good bit of play here on an independent radio station and it was really what turned me on to this band in the beginning. I think, though, that one of the greatest songs on the album is perhaps the darkest, most harrowing one as well. “Lord I’m Discouraged,” concerns love in the throes of drug addiction and ends with one of the most heartbreaking couplets in recent memory, “I know it’s unlikely she’ll ever be mine / So I mostly just pray she won’t die.” Yeah, it’s not always easy to listen to, but, take my word for it, this is the best of 2008.
Ten For Tuesday: Top Albums of 2006 January 9, 2007Posted by Matt in Uncategorized.
Tags: albums, Dylan, music, top ten
1 comment so far
Originally Posted 1/9/07
After compiling a list of some of my favorite American rock bands last week, I’ve decided to go ahead and make the top ten list a regular feature on this blog. Today we will delve into the world of music released in the past year and some of my favorites.
10. Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas: Normally I wouldn’t include a seasonal selection, but Steven’s 5 EP compilation of Yuletide tunes and gospel favorites, mixed in with some original recordings is an absolute pleasure to listen to. This is so good I may even listen to it some now that Christmas has passed.
9. Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam: I’m a huge PJ fan and have been since my teen years in the early 90′s, so there is always a great deal of anticipation when a new album is on its way. Recently, though, I was a bit let down by Binaural and Riot Act, so “The Avocado Album” was a pleasant rocking surprise that got me excited about this great band again.
8. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Food: If you have not yet discovered the wonderful music of Neko Case, then you should go out now and get this album. Her mesmerizing songs will no doubt capture you and not let you go.
7. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: Springsteen’s first album completely composed of another artist’s songs is an exhilirating ride through the annals of Pete Seeger’s folksy protest songs. It’s an excellent collection of tunes and Springsteen even sounds perfectly at ease singing along with a banjo.
6. The Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics: I’m a huge Lips fan, so, even though this recording ranks behind the modern day classics Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin, it is still a great listen. It is a politically-charged sonic wonderland as only the great Lips could do.
5. Johnny Cash – American V: It may not be the greatest of Cash’s late-life treasures, but this poignant look at mortality can shake the soul of any man. Just listening to his quavering voice as it struggles through these songs of life and death is just as heartbreaking as it is uplifting.
4. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife: Partly based on an old Japanese folk tale and partly on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the Decemberists’ major label debut is a pure treat and a testament to the recording industry who, not so long ago, would have laughed at such as concept.
3. Beck – The Information: I love, love, love Beck and have ever since I first heard him as a teenager back in the “Loser” days. This may not be a career defining magnum opus of the caliber of Odelay, but it’s still a lot of grooving fun. Just try not to at least tap your foot when you listen to this, I dare you.
2. Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris – All the Roadrunning: This album, seven years in the making, showcases two beloved American artists at their rootsy best. Roadrunning seemed to stay in my CD player of months – I just couldn’t get enough of the beautiful product of this unlikely partnership and I hope that we don’t have to wait seven more years for another one.
1. Bob Dylan – Modern Times: After an average album (Love and Theft) and a bizarre acting turn (Masked and Anonymous), this true American icon returned triumphantly with this new collection of recordings that blew me away. It’s another example of a late-career masterwork – proving that old folks can still rock with the best of them.
What about you? What were some of your favorite recordings from the past year?