Friday, January 07, 2011

Ten for '10 - My Favorite Albums of 2010

Figured I'd dust of Ye Olde General Admission to do a rundown of my Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2010. I've effectively deluded myself into thinking people might actually care about my opinion, because nothing says Musical Authority™ quite like a person sitting at their computer in a basement who can neither sing nor play an instrument.

Anyhow, I've traditionally thought of myself as an Indie Rock Kid. But, ignoring the fact that I'm 35, the main thing that's surprising about this list is the near complete absence of indie rock. One or two albums made it on the list, but for the most part this was apparently a year of hip hop and dance music for me. Maybe this just wasn't a good year for rock music, but just as likely, this list reflects the fact that 2010 was sort of a downer of a year, and I was trying to shake off the aura of doom and gloom by listening to music that made me want to shake my proverbial money-maker. Regardless, not many fuzzed out guitars to be found here.

So, onward to the list...

(In alphabetical order)

Aloe Blacc Good Things - "Hey honey, I was just listening to NPR on the drive to the store and heard this really good sounding album..." I'm not sure what it means that I'm getting my music recommendations from Public Radio, but -regardless- this album is a revelation. Somehow he's managed to capture the sound of spirit of early 70's soul music while not sounding cliched or derivative. And, even when he's singing about being scorned by a lover or needing a dollar for some cheap wine, his album makes you feel like you are enjoy a lazy Sunday morning.

Arcade Fire The Suburbs - Unlike Funeral, this album didn't didn't have the "thrill of the new" to it. And, unlike Neon Bible, it didn't have the opportunity to be stuck in a car with Sarah and I as we drove around South Africa for a couple weeks. Still, even an unremarkable Arcade Fire album is better than 90% of what's out there in my book. And, like both previous albums, The Suburbs continues to grow on me even after months of listening.

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Dark Night of the Soul - While most of the albums on this list could be described a "feel good" this album is the antithesis of that. A fact that was only driven to home by Mark Linkous' suicide before the albums completion. But, that's not to say that the album is chore to get through, far from it. Instead, its an album for dark nights, rain and wine; an album for recognizing beauty in sorrow and tragedy. It doesn't hurt that, like several other entires on this list, this album features a veritable cornucopia of guest artists, with everyone from the Flaming Lips and James Mercer to Iggy Pop and even David Lynch making appearances.

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim Here Lies Love - Despite my love of all things David Byrne, I have to admit that even I didn't know quite what to make of this album when I first gave it a listen. A two-disk collection of disco and dance songs roughly chronicling the life of Emelda Marcos, that Byrne has been researching and organizing for years. To make matters more surreal, it features a laundry list of famous female singers (including Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper and Natalie Merchant) plus Byrne and Steve Earl singing the various rolls. But, despite my initial reservations, repeat listening paid off and the album revealed itself to be not just unusual but also a lot of fun. "Solano Avenue" is easily my favorite track of the albums, but "Please Don't" (featuring Santigold) is the main single, and features a video of sorts...

Dessa Badly Broken Code - Oddly, another NPR recommendation. And, almost as surreal, a white, female rapper. Dessa's album inhabits a world where everyone is constantly racing into and trying to escape from self-destructive relationships, but thanks to her nimble rap skills and surprising singing voice, it was a world I found myself revisiting. This song isn't as good as others on the album like, say, "Matches to Paper Dolls" but its got a video, so here ya go...

Gorillaz Plastic Beach - A cartoon bands third album, featuring a not so subtle environmental theme.... yeah, that sounds like it should be a disaster. But, despite that conceit, and despite the fact that it lacks the big singles found on the Gorillaz first two albums, Plastic Beach is possibly the Gorillaz strongest album to date. Without a big name producer to help steer the ship, this Gorillaz outing is definitely Damon Albarn's baby. That said, like the previous two outings, the disk is overflowing with an eccentric array of guest artists: Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed amongst others). And, of course, there are the trademarked weird and amazing videos by Jamie Hewlett...

Janelle Monae The Archandroid - When I first heard this album, I was convinced it would be huge in the same way the first Gnarls Barkley CD was. But, while it does seem to have gotten its fair share of love on various critics Top 10 lists this year, it never reached that over-saturated and overplayed level other album did. Probably for the best, I suppose. While other albums on my list lean heavily on guest artists, Janelle takes another route, instead drawing from a huge spectrum of musical influences from the last 30 or so year (ranging from Bowie to Outkast), and somehow jams them together into one cohesive album that lives in a world somewhere halfway between Phillip K. Dick and Metropolis.

Sadly, you can't embed the video for "Tightrope" the featured single, so you'll just have to go here to see Janelle do her thing, in all its pompadoured glory.

Junip Fields - Have you ever been at a party late at night, when everyone's pretty much left, and heard the sound of rock music playing through the walls from some other distant location? Or, have you ever wondered what it would sound like if the Beta Band made 70's folk rock? If you can imagine either of those sounds, you get close to approximating the sound of this Swedish duo. As the parent of a 2-year-old, you grow to appreciate music that is quiet enough that it won't wake your child up from a nap, but upbeat enough to keep you awake yourself. And, while the end of the album flirts with being too jam band-y, one can't deny its hooks and appeal.

Kenye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - I thought I had this list all figured out in early December, but then Kanye had to go and release this album. Nominally a concept album in which the artist himself is the concept, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an overstuffed, Baroque epic that should collapse under its own self-importance. It's self-indulgent, occasionally offensive, and abrasive ...and also pretty incredible and essential listening. In the main single, "Runaway," Kanye urges the listener to raise a toast to the douche bags, assholes and jerk-offs of the world while simultaneously acknowledges himself as one. Well, Kanye, I raise my glass to you.

Mark Ronson & the Business Intl. Record Collection - This is probably my guilty pleasure of the year. This is popcorn fluff of the highest caliber, but it's (I'd argue) also high quality fluff. Apparently Mark Ronson is a wealthy, privileged East Coast producer or something. I'm not too sure, but I do know the album brings a smile to my face and its mix of pop, dance and hip-hop makes me want to dance. Both timeless and soon-to-be-dated. In the album Mark confides that he just wants to be part of our record collection. Well, if I collected records, I would definitely consider it.

So, that's it. My list. I'm sure I'll regret it when I look back on it in a year. It's probably worth mentioning some of my other favorites that almost made the list:

Broken Social Scene Forgiveness Rock Record
Broken Bells Broken Bells
Cee Lo Green The Lady Killer
Charlotte Gainsbourg IRM
The Roots How I Got By
Vampire Weekend Contra

Also, the band (or individual) How To Dress Well was someone who I considered for this list. It sounds like late-80's R&B bounced off the moon and played over a crappy radio. It's an interesting one, and one that I can't help but think will gain some traction in the coming year but, ultimately, the album in its entirety was a little too esoteric. When it works though, it works...

Finally, I'll mention that while the above lists reflect my picks from the 2010 releases, there are a ton of older albums that have been getting a lot of play at the Hill-Stach Manor, including...

The XX
The XX
Mos Def The Ecstatic
Basia Bulat Oh, My Darling (Stella's favorite of the year)
The National Boxer
Blue Scholars Hello From Oof

See you next year!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Landon Airlines

I have a confession to make.

As those of you living the Pacific Northwest no doubt know, the tail-fin of Alaska Airlines' planes are adorned with a two tone image of a "smiling Eskimo". Well, when I was little, I was convinced that it was a picture of Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon.

I mean, even looking at it today, its a pretty honest mistake. Especially when you compare Landon's admirable mane to the fur-lining of a traditional Inuit hood. Plus, at the time, Landon was starring as an angel in Highway to Heaven, so it only made sense in my young mind that his image should be flying through the clouds.

Anyhow, just thought I'd share. Keep flying high, Charles Ingalls.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Om Box

Sorry for basically ditching this blog, but between personal life being busy, and the fact that I now tend to just post links to things that interest me on Facebook, I've been neglectful here.

That's not to say this blog will go away anytime soon. For one thing, Sarah and I use the blog roll on the right to keep up to date with our favorite blogs. And, for another, from time to time, it allows me to post things like this...

...I'm currently reading Monkey. And, I love Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn's work on Gorillaz, so I was fascinated to hear about the stage production version of Monkey they created. I like track 6.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Link-O-Rama: 1/22/10

A run down of the sites and videos that have caught my attention in the last week or so:

This pretty much blows my mind into little tiny pieces. I enjoy CGI work, when its done well. But, usually, I think it tends to lack the... er... poetry of actual good cinematography. Not the case here. This piece is pretty much just atmospheric locations, but the subtle focus details and the richness of detail is incredible. All-CGI, and created by just one person...

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

The 5 year old in me really wishes I had $28.8 million. That way, I could buy my own space shuttle. These are apparently bargin basement prices, since NASA just lowered them from the original $42 million they were asking.

I'm really loving this map of Seattle with all the neighborhoods broken out into seperate typocgraphical treatments. Where do I live? Pretty much at the "H" on Beacon Hill.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Link-O-Rama: 1/7

A run down of the sites and videos that have caught my attention in the last week or so:

I've seen this sort of thing several times before, but this is probably the most sublime and elaborate video of this type I've come across yet. Basically, the artist (in this case DeePee Studios) takes an extended exposure image of themselves moving a glow stick. This allows the glowstick to essentially draw in the air. Then, they repeat this process something like 18 million times, to create glowing 3D animations. If you haven't scene this sort of thing before, you are in for a treat...

As the guy says on the Drawn blog entry I spotted this on: "I swear animators are the most obsessive people around…. they really make every one else look like they have no attention span whatsoever."

Also snagged from Drawn...

Since I don't have cable these days, I haven't watched MTV in literally years. That said, I love this little bumper clips featuring wonderfully designed little technicolored monsters:

MTV Summer 06-07 from Anthony Burns on Vimeo.

And, and finally, a quick reminder of your place in the universe...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Aught to Know: Music

OK, Albums!

Not based on what was technically the best, but instead what I probably listened to the most. Also, some favoritism was given to the second half of the decade because even though Weezer's Green Album got a ton of playtime on my CD player in 2002, I can't bring myself to add it to the list.

In alphabetical order...

Arcade Fire

I actually might like Neon Bible better and (thanks to mine and Sarah's road trip across South Africa) might have listened to it more). But, this was the album where I "discovered" Arcade Fire, so it will always leave the bigger impression. Plus, if I was doing a list of favorite singles from the aughts, "Backseat" would probably be on that list.

"Gulag Orkestar"

Who knew that a 23-year-old kid from New Mexico playing what sounds like Eastern European gypsy folk music in the streets of Paris would be one of my favorites. But, from the time it was release in, like 2006 till now, it's been a favorite. Funky and ecclectic, while also accessible and poppy. His follow up Flying Club Cup is also excellent.

Broken Social Scene
"You Forgot It In People"

Along with their later self-titled album, this was basically the soundtrack to Sarah and I planning our big trip. Like Arcade Fire, this band somehow manages to capture something that reminds me of growing up in the suburbs... I'm not sure why, or why that would appeal to me, but it does. The sing-songy "Athems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl" will be stuck in your head for days.

David Byrne & Brian Eno
"Everything That Happens Will Happen Today"

As much as I love Byrne, most of his solo work hasn't connected the way his Talking Heads stuff did. That said, this is probably the best thing he's done ever, in my opinion. Period. Eno's music elevates Byrne's songs to the rank of "secular gospel" that they aspire to. The album of 2008 for me.


I remember stumbling across the video for their first single, "Clint Eastwood" months before the CD was released in the US, and watching it probably 18-hundred-dozen times. Then, I went to a Canadian CD website, bought the album there, and had it shipped to me here in the US for way too much money. Then, I spent the next year or two listening to it non-stop. Their follow up, Demon Days was excellent too.

Postal Service
"Give Up"

I'm pretty sure I put this album in my CD player sometime in 2003, and didn't take it out until Sarah and I left on our Round the World trip in 2007. Probably, if backed into a corner, this would be the album I'd admit most defined this decade for me.

(On a side note, I remember, when this album came out, I wished there were more albums like it. But, recently, when I discovered the band, Owl City, it actually mad me a little angry to here someone so obviously aping Postal Service's shtick.)

Ryan Adams

Ryan came out with something like 84 albums this decade. And most of them got a lot of play time at the Hill-Stach residence. But, Demolition is probably my long-term favorite. Entertainingly, his never-released "Destroyer" session was probably our second most listened to Ryan Adams CD, and also contains mine and Sarah's wedding song.

The Shins
"Oh, Inverted World"

The song "New Slang" might be a indie-music-hipster cliche, but I still remember hearing it for the first time. In the movie Garden State, Natalie Portman's character shares that song with Zach Braft saying "You gotta hear this one song, it'll change your life I swear." And while that sounds a little hyperbolic, it was one of those songs that stuck me the very second I heard it.

White Stripes
"White Blood Cells"

I might have listened to Elephant just as much (and "Seven Nation Army" might be the song that springs most imediately to mind), but White Blood Cells started it off. In fact, this album sort of kicked off several years of listening to a lot of retro-garage rock bands, but the Stripes are one of the few that still holds up today.

"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"

One of those rare albums that was a critical darling, that I loved and that I listened to a ton. In fact, the song "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" was easily on the Top 10 for my most listened to individual songs. And, has some of my favorite, borderline nonsense lyrics.

Oh, and here are some runners up: The Streets A Grand Don't Come For Free, New Pornographers Mass Romantic, Vampire Weekend's self-titled release, Decemberists Crane Wife, Neko Case Blacklisted, PJ Harvey Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Death Cab For Cuties' Transatlantism, Andrew Byrd Andrew Byrd & the Mysterious Production of Eggs, Blue Scholars Bayani, Outkast Skankonia and, of course, Weezer the Green Album.

Like my previous Best of the 2000s entry, if there are any of these albums you are considering buying, why not buy them through my General Store. Thanks!

(EDIT: D'oh! I can't beleive that I forgot Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! ...Bad, Tyler! Bad!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Link-O-Rama: 12/16

A run down of the sites and videos that have caught my attention in the last week or so:

You know how to make boring photos entertaining? Replace all the beer, wine and liqour bottles with cats using Photoshop. World, meet Boozecats.

This little animated video is a thing of a hilarious thing of beauty. As Drawn describes it:
The TV Show, animated by Sugimoto Kousuke and featuring the music of Takayuki Manabe, features a creative use of colour as a variety of narratives, nested within each other, soon begin to meld together. And what a fun video it is.

If anyone wants to buy me a Christmas present two months after Christmas actually happens, feel free to by me this: "Here Lies Love." It's David Byrne and Fat Boy Slims long anticipated 2 CD, 1 book & 1 DVD set exploring the life of Imelda Marcos. A soundtrack of club music, featuring singing by a host of (primarily) female vocalists ranging from Sia and Santigold to Nelly McKay and Natalie Merchant. In Byrne's own words:

“The story I am interested in is about asking what drives a powerful person—what makes them tick? How do they make and then remake themselves? I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if—as this piece would be principally composed of clubby dance music—one could experience it in a club setting? Could one bring a ‘story’ and a kind of theater to the disco? Was that possible? If so, wouldn’t that be amazing!”

Apparently, BBCs Channel 4 is airing a pilot for a new TV show featuring Will Arnett and David Cross. As a huge fan of Arrested Development I hope that we'll get to watch it over on this side of the pond someday. Until then, we can bask in the glory of the first scene of "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" in this clip:

(Not Suitable for Work, by the way. Unless, of course, they like swearing in the workplace as much as Will's character apparently does.)