Monday, May 17, 2010

Best of the '00s: a contrarian chimes in

When fellow higher ed guy Chris D'Orso (@cdorso on Twitter) got wind of our end-of-decade countdown project, he asked if he could also take part. "Of course," we said in unison, even though we were well under way with this project. But being the egalitarian group that we are, we offered Chris the opportunity to submit his list. Well, Chris finally obliged us, but being an iconoclastic sort, he decided to share only those albums we somehow overlooked in our consensus picks. Weighing in to stick up for the supergroups, guyliner bands, '70s icons and other overlooked musical entries of the decade just passed, here's Chris.

So we fancy ourselves music critics, eh? Well, I guess it falls to me to take care of all the bands and artists who aren't all the hippy-dippy Bright Eyes/Tegan and Sara crap. First, a little about me: born in the mid-70s, my musical passions developed in high school with the rise of hair metal and then grunge; when I sang with a band in the early 90s, we played everything from Poison and Def Leppard to Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I listen to music all... the... time; my mp3 player is one of my most prized possessions, and has over 8,700 songs on it these days.

With that, I give you 25(ish) records (what's a "record"?) that my esteemed colleagues missed in their review of the 2000s, in vaguely priority order:


Stone Gods – Silver Spoons & Broken Bones


Born out of the ashes of The Darkness, the three guys who were not Justin Hawkins made an EP and a record that sound exactly like you want it to… riff-heavy melodic rock, just without the JH glam falsetto. Brilliant record that I could listen to over and over. Looking forward to more stuff from these guys, although I don’t believe they have a US record deal.

Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings

The kings of progressive metal put it all together this year for their finest single disc of material since “Images and Words.” They took the metal, the pop, the rock, and the progressive and boiled them down to six songs that are the essence of what DT is.

Silvertide – Show & Tell

One of the best one-off albums I own. Released in 2004, the band broke up shortly thereafter, which is too bad, because eleven songs is just not enough from these guys. In the Allmans/Skynyrd tradition, but a couple of years too early to catch the Black Stone Cherry/Answer train. Hope they find a way to make it back, but I doubt they can capture a moment quite like this.

Tesla – Into The Now

My second favorite band of all time, this is the essential current Tesla album. Catchy, pop-tinged choruses, driving guitars, and Jeff Keith’s trademark raspy squeal. A disc I could listen to over and over.

Thunder – The Magnificent Seventh

The simple brilliance of “I Love You More Than Rock N Roll” is enough for me to put this on this list, but add “I’m Dreaming Again,” “The Gods of Love,” “Fade Into The Sun”, and “Amy’s On The Run,” the best song about crossdressing since “Lola”? Damn, that’s good.

Butch Walker – Left of Self-Centered

A wild pop-rock romp that should have sold millions of copies. Every song is catchy as hell.

Coheed & Cambria – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness

As pretentious as the title would lead you to believe, this is Claudio Sanchez’s world, and we’re all just observers. I honestly have no idea what’s going on in this wild story, which means Sanchez is either brilliant or completely delirious. (Or both.) Either way, once you get past his ear-splitting voice, this album is metal bombast that puts My Chemical Romance to shame.

Baseball Project – Vol 1: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails

A side project from a couple of alt-rock icons, this disc is worth it just for “Ted Fucking Williams.” A great listen for any serious baseball fan.

Marvelous 3 – Ready Sex Go

Say what you will about the direction Butch Walker’s recording career has gone since the dissolution of the Marvs, but if you’re going to go out, go out in style. Completely derivative of its time in early 2000 – crunchy guitars, poppy harmonies – but completely devoid of any mainstream success, the Marv 3 might be the best pop-rock band you’ve never heard of.

Bowes & Morley – Moving Swiftly Along
Luke Morley – El Gringo Retro


I group these two discs together as they came out around the same time (2001-2002) and both feature the main songwriter from my favorite band, Thunder, guitarist Luke Morley. There isn’t a bad song on either disc; “Moving” dangerously presages Thunder’s late-00s cookie-cutter songwriting (consecutive songs are called “Don’t Take Your Love Away,” “Dance The Night Away,” and “You’re Drifting Away”), but every tune will leave you singing.

Counting Crows – Hard Candy

In college, we played “August & Everything After” so many times I’m surprised my CD isn’t broken. Then Adam Duritz followed up with the somewhat darker “Recovering the Satellites” and the forgettable “This Desert Life,” both of which contained a few catchy pop songs… but it’s “Hard Candy” that finds its way into my head over and over. It’s “August” with a pop sheen; catchy as hell from beginning to end.

Darkness – Permission to Land

Oh, The Darkness. Where to begin? It’s hard to get past Justin Hawkins’ voice, either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective. They took everything that was good about melodic hard rock and turned it on its ear, with wailing choruses and inane lyrics about “believing in a thing called love.” But really, what’s so bad about that?

Jet – Get Born

Better than the Strokes, better than The Vines… every song on this album could have been a hit single. (“Look What You’ve Done” joins Train’s “Something More” as the best Beatles songs of the 2000s.)

Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
Kaiser Chiefs – Yours Truly, Angry Mob


I fell in love with “I Predict A Riot,” and the rest of the “Employment” disc and its follow-up are in the same vein; good, honest British punk-pop. The Arctic Monkeys got more critical acclaim, but the Kaiser Chiefs are much more accessible.

My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade

The best of the guyliner bands to come along in the mid-00s, Gerald Way created a universe for the band and put out a dynamic, brilliant power pop record that demands to be played loudly from start to finish. Only Green Day’s “American Idiot” did the pop-rock opera better during the decade.

Tinted Windows – Tinted Windows

What do you get when you smuch the pop of Hanson, the crunch of Smashing Pumpkins, the groove of Cheap Trick, and the quirkiness of Fountains of Wayne? This disc, 35 minutes of pure bubble-gum groovy goodness. Two enormous thumbs up.

Velvet Revolver – Contraband

One of the few supergroups who really make it work. Truly the sum of its parts; Scott Weiland provides the growl, and the backbone from Guns N Roses (Slash, Duff, and Matt) provide the whomp. Sounds a little like GNR, a little like STP, but really a work of its own.

Butch Walker – Letters

Butch got a little more introspective here; “Joan” is a piano ballad about an abusive relationship, and “Mixtape” is a wistful remembrance of lost love. But the rockers show that Butch can still bring that as well, and even though the old hair metal fans wrote this record off as too emo, Butch is very much a product of his times, and like all of his stuff, should get a lot more play.

The Wildhearts – Must Be Destroyed

Most folks don’t realize that pop music can be so blisteringly hard, or that heavy metal can be so melodic. Ginger, prolific frontman of the Wildhearts, melds the two brilliantly. 1993’s “Earth vs the Wildhearts,” sadly out of print, is a masterpiece; this, their big American return, is just as good. (Why is all the good music British?)

Alice Cooper – The Eyes of Alice Cooper

From what I’ve read, Alice fans don’t like this disc. I think it’s the best work he’s done since the 80’s; it’s just Alice. Stripped back, raw, with crunchy guitars and sparse melodies. For a guy who’s reinvented himself so many times (shock rocker, hair metal hero, dutiful Christian, golfing old man), straight rock-n-roll Alice might be his finest.

Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet

For “Party Hard” alone; never has a piano rocked so damn hard.

Wolfmother – Wolfmother

The sturm und drang of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, ostensibly updated for a new millennium – but it’s totally not. Many of these songs wouldn’t have been out of place in the 70’s, but at the same time, it somehow ounds totally fresh. Considering Andrew Stockdale broke up the band after this album and reformed it with entirely different guys, I don’t know that they’ll ever reach this height again. (I’ve tried 2009’s “Cosmic Egg,” but can’t get into it yet.)

Warren Zevon – The Wind

His final album, recorded as he was near death. “Keep Me In Your Heart” – considering the context – might be the most beautiful song ever recorded.

Ben Folds – Way To Normal EP (Fake “Leaked” Version)

In an attempt to outsmart the pirates, Ben “leaked” fake versions of some of the songs from his forthcoming album; the problem was that once the album was released, the “fake” versions of the songs (notably “Bitch Went Nutz” and “Lovesick Diagnostician (Dr. Yang)”) were better than the “real” ones. (Oops.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

music for twentyten

As social tools continue to evolve, the twentyten musicscape creates a landscape to learn by.

Here are a few tunes that have topped my playlists so far this year...

Jay Reatard (May 1, 1980 - Jan. 13, 2010) covers Nirvana
Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle [via brooklynvegan]

off Harlem's first Matador release Hippies
Friendly Ghost (album released in 2010, track released *gasp* 2009) [also via brooklynvegan]

You need good weather songs. Especially in New Mexico. Take Sleigh Bells' Ring Ring [thank you Stereogum] and jj's let go [via gorillavsbear]

Looking forward to hearing more from All Saint's Day (It'll Come Around)... it's a good thing I have the new MGMT to keep me satiated. It's Working and Siberian Breaks are especially not hurting my feelings.

Hope there is something here that you enjoy. :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

The 20 best songs of the year (so far)

It's barely May, and it's already been a banner year for music. Album after solid album has come down the pike, and some stellar tracks have been spread far and wide via MP3 blogs. I'm pretty pleased with the collection I've amassed this year to date, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my favorite songs of the year (so far) with you. Sure, the year isn't even half over, but the fact that we're just a third of the way in and I'm already busting to the gut with awesome songs and amazing albums has got to be a good sign. What will 2010 bring next? Be sure to follow along with my blog, where every Friday I post my top five music-related events/insights/acquisitions of the week.

Tracks aren't arranged in any particular order, though this Magnetic Fields song probably is my song of the year, at present.

1. Magnetic Fields - You Must Be Out of Your Mind



2. Yeasayer - Ambling Alp


3. Tanlines - Real Life


4. The Hold Steady - Hurricane J [link to full album streeam]

5. Local Natives - Airplanes


6. The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio [link to full album stream]

7. Frightened Rabbit - Swim Until You Can't See Land


8. Surfer Blood - Swim


9. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - Bottled in Cork


10. Teenage Fanclub - Baby Lee

11. Caribou - Odessa


12. Hot Chip - I Feel Better


13. David Byrne/Fatboy Slim feat. Steve Earle - A Perfect Hand


14. Vampire Weekend - Horchata


15. New Pornographers - Crash Years [link to full album streeam]

16. The Kissaway Trail - Sdp


17. Mumford & Sons - Little Lion Man


18. Freelance Whales - Location


19. The Futureheads - Struck Dumb


20. Shearwater - Black Eyes