In Case You Missed It January 17, 2010Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: Austin City Limts, K'Naan, Mos Def
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Last night’s Austin City Limits with K’naan and Mos Def was incredible. You can watch the whole show here. Their songs are intelligent, socially conscious, and they are among the best rappers around. You should check them out.
Best of 2009 in Music – The Top Ten December 30, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: Best of 2009, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, Grizzly Bear, K'Naan, Mos Def, music, Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers, The Flaming Lips, The Swell Season, top ten
2009 was quite a year in the music world, one that was filled with superb high profile releases and great recordings by artists toiling under the radar. I purchased somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 new albums over the past year, most from either emusic or Amazon, and I have whittled that list down to 25 that I will present now as the best of the year. Monday we looked at five honorable mentions and yesterday at those ranked 11-20, so today will be dedicated to the top ten.
10. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
With their latest release, Grizzly Bear has established itself as one of the premier indie rock bands working today. They seamlessly bend and meld genres, from acoustic folk to jazz to intimate pop with vocal harmonies and large deal of psychedelic sounds to create a unique sound in a crowded music marketplace. This is a definite must-have for indie music fans.
Download: Southern Point, Two Weeks
9. Mos Def – Ecstatic
Employing intelligent lyrics and a strong social consciousness, rapper/actor Mos Def has long been an oddity in a genre that tends toward nihilistic materialism. I do not own a lot of his prior works, so I lack a real basis of comparison when it comes to his career, but this album is very good. If you are a fan of hip-hop and rap, this is a necessity for 2009.
Download: Auditorium, Quiet Dog
8. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
2009 was a year when legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan looked the music industry square in the face and laughed. It was a time for him to say that he was going to do whatever he pleased, regardless of what others might thing. So, the great Dylan released 2 works in 2009, a strange but great Christmas album and Together Through Life, which came as a complete surprise with no press release concerning it until a short time before its release. At age 68 Dylan is still confounding expectations, this time employing accordions and a sound with a strange Southwestern/Zydeco/Blues fusion that somehow works.
Download: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, My Wife’s Hometown
7. K’naan – Troubadour
K’naan has a message for American rappers – you don’t know what a hard life is. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and having lived through the Somali Civil War that began in 1991, K’naan has a perspective that is unmatched by his peers. Adding to his uniqueness is the fact that he is a devout Muslim, something else that sets him apart in the American music scene. His lyrics are socially conscious and tell of things that few of us in America have any idea about and that need to be heard.
Download: Somalia, Wavin’ Flag
6. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
I was a bit disappointed with the Lips’ previous politically-driven release, At War With the Mystics, especially when compared to the preceding classics, The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, so I was apprehensive when I heard the news of their latest work. Soon, though, my fears would be allayed, for this is definitely a Lips record, filled with all of the sonic noises and the loads of just plain weirdness that we have come to expect from this unpredictable outfit. Be sure to check this one out.
Download: Convinced of the Hex, See the Leaves
5. The Swell Season – Strict Joy
The 2007 film Once is without a doubt one of my favorite cinematic pieces of the past decade and much of my adoration for the film is due to its incredible soundtrack, written and performed by the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The duo then took the name The Swell Season, which also happens to be the title of their 2006 debut album, and released this incredible collection. Where Once and “The Swell Season” albums were tales of falling love, “Strict Joy” has been described as the breakup album, all of which mirror the real life relationship of the two artists. This is a great, heartfelt album that needs to be heard.
Download: Low Rising, Feeling the Pull
4. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
I first heard of the Avett Brothers following their last release, Emotionalism, with its unusual fusion of bluegrass and alt rock and quickly became a fan. For their latest work, the band has taken a different approach, though, doing away with rocking a banjo and instead embracing the piano-driven ballad. In doing so, they crafted the most beautifully constructed musical work of 2009. Though their country/bluegrass roots remain, they have been tempered a bit as the Avetts take a stab at near-pop perfection.
Download: I and Love and You, January Wedding, Kick Drum Heart
3. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
Who ever would have thought that a brash 90’s punk band best known for songs about self-induced euphoria would become one of the most important bands in the world? This is Green Day’s second consecutive rock opera, the first, American Idiot, was a Grammy-winning success. 21st Century Breakdown continues in the same vein, this time telling the story of people dealing with the aftermath of the Bush years. It is a modern classic, a burst of punk-driven energy through a classic rock Who-like lens that will completely blow away your senses. I’m a big, big fan.
Download: Viva La Gloria, East Jesus Nowhere, American Eulogy
2. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream
It has been so wonderful to see the Boss get a second wind of creativity this decade after a somewhat sub-par 1990’s and show that he still has a lot to offer the music world. As much as I loved 2007’s Magic, this one may be the best Springsteen offering in a decade full of great ones. “Outlaw Pete” kicks things off as a risky and magnificent opener, clocking in at 8 minutes that sets the tone for this outstanding set. I had the opportunity to see him earlier this year in concert and am now more of a fan than ever before. If you haven’t bought this album yet, do it. Now.
Download: Outlaw Pete, Queen of the Supermarket, Kingdom of Days
1. Pearl Jam – Backspacer
Those of you who read this blog know that I am always singing the praises of Pearl Jam. They have been a part of my life since their debut album, Ten, some 18 years ago and I have closely followed them ever since. Of all of their great recordings over those years, and there have been a lot of them, this one may very well be the best. I absolutely love it. It is an emotionally affecting, beautiful view of the world from a band in middle age, singing to fans who are most likely in their 30’s or older with families of their own. Eddie Vedder’s voice and lyrics haven’t been this moving in years and every song on the album is great, even approaching perfection.
Download: You really need the whole album, but if I have to pick a few songs:
The Fixer, Just Breathe, Amongst the Waves
Best of the Decade – Music Edition November 16, 2009Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: 2000s, Bon Iver, decade, Eminem, Fleet Foxes, guns n roses, Iron and Wine, Johnny Cash, K'Naan, Mos Def, The National, top 100, Warren Zevon
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A few weeks ago I wrote a short entry regarding my plans for compiling a monstrous list of the top 100 albums of the past decade, from 2000-2009. Since the end of the year rarely yields any real gems in the music industry, I felt that this would be as good a time as any to start our list, so below are the first ten, those ranked 91-100, and the rest will follow of the course of the next few weeks. As we move along let me know what you think.
100. Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy (2008)
There are few albums that match the level of anticipation that followed this, G N’ R’s first album of original material in 17 years, but nobody really knew what to expect. The result was, well, interesting. Some tunes like the title song and “Shackler’s Revenge” rock like only Axl & co. can, some, like the excellent “Better” and “Catcher in the Rye” seem to hint that the band still has great things ahead of them, and then there are songs like “If the World,” which sounds like some cheesy James Bond theme reject. It’s no Appetite for Destruction, but it’s not bad.
99. Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)
There are few figures in the annals of country music with the kind of well-deserved stature that Cash had and this album, one of five produced by Rick Rubin, was a fitting goodbye to the Man in Black. His baritone was well-worn with age, but that only added character to this set of songs reflecting on a life well lived. With the end in sight, Cash’s selections were particularly poignant, particularly “Give My Love to Rose,” “We’ll Meet Again,” and the heartbreakingly beautiful “Hurt,” a song originally performed by Nine Inch Nails. Some of the choices go a bit overboard in the sentimentality (do we really need versions of “Desperado” and “Bridge over Troubled Water?” but I guess when you’re a 70+ year old music icon, you’ve earned the right to play anything you want.
98. Iron and Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days (2004)
Sam Beam’s mostly one man band is oftentimes compared to past artists like Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel, and Elliott Smith. His fingerpicked acoustic guitar style is both beautiful and haunting, while still being quite listenable and rarely boring. On an album where the songs tend to blend together, “Naked as we Came” is one that stands out as truly great. After a hard day, this is a great one to just turn on and relax to.
97. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (2009)
Mos Def is an anomaly in the world of modern rap music. His lyrics are intelligent and socially conscious with a style that is as inventive as anybody working today. Songs like “Auditorium” and “Quiet Dog” incorporate interesting samples with good beats that complement Def’s flow nicely.
96. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
This one hasn’t held up as well for me as other albums (hip hop and otherwise), have over the past decade, but it still deserves a spot for its timely shock value and cultural significance in the early part of the decade. Though he soon became a parody of himself, this album really shook things up in 2000, providing a quite a subversive shock through the establishment with infamous songs about dangerously rabid fans and killing his girlfriend.
95. Warren Zevon – The Wind (2003)
In 2002, wry singer-songwriter Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable terminal cancer. Rather than engaging in treatments that might prolong his life but leave him incapacitated, he decided to record this, his final album. The Wind retains much of Zevon’s characteristically dry and somewhat morbid sense of humor, while offering up the poignant views of a man who has reached the end of life’s road. His cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” takes on a lot more meaning when sung by someone in his state and the album’s finale, “Keep Me in Your Heart,” is a fitting goodbye for a singer-songwriter who tasted success, but never let it control his artistry.
94. The National – Boxer (2007)
Best characterized by vocalist Matt Berninger’s deep baritone and their downbeat style, The National had been playing together for several years before becoming critical darlings in the last half of the decade. Their style is expansive and lush, with songs like the politically motivated “Fake Empire” and the incredible “Mistaken for Strangers” (which is probably one of my favorite songs of the decade), this album is definitely one that needs to be heard.
93. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
With vocal harmonies reminiscent to those of past acts like Crosby, Still, & Nash, Fleet Foxes burst on the scene in 2008 with one of the more unlikely success stories of 2008. “White Winter Hymnal” is an inescapably catchy song that will grasp hold of your brain and not let go.
92. K’naan – Troubadour (2009)
I imagine that Mogadishu-born Muslim rapper K’naan just shakes his head at American rappers and their tales of life on the street saying, “You think you have it hard?” His rhymes cover timely topics involving the problems in his homeland, from civil war to pirates. Troubadour, his sophomore release, is heavy on special guests, some of which work better than others, but the overall product is quite good, especially in songs like “Somalia” and “Wavin’ Flag.”
91. Bon Iver – For Emma, Long Ago (2008)
In early 2007, following two devastating breakups (one with his girlfriend, the other with his band) and a strong bout of mono, Justin Vernon retreated to a cabin in northern Wisconsin for three solid months of solitude. Armed with his guitar, some old recording equipment and a load of heartache, Vernon took on the name Bon Iver and created this album. Songs like “Flume” and “Skinny Love,” feature little besides an acoustic guitar and Vernon’s aching falsetto, but that’s really all you need. This is one beautiful piece of modern day Americana.