Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Singles of 2009

Here's my list of the best singles of 2009 in no particular order. Enjoy!

Roll Up Your Sleeves - We Were Promised Jetpacks
Poised and Ready - Brendan Benson
Losin Yo Head - Monsters of Folk
Kiss with a Fist - Florence & The Machine
Feeling the Pull - The Swell Season
This Tornado Loves You - Neko Case
Islands - The xx
Don't Haunt this Place - The Rural Alberta Advantage
Summertime Clothes - Animal Collective
My Girls - Animal Collective
Nothing to Worry About - Peter Bjorn & John
The Fear - Lily Allen
Daylight - Matt & Kim
Young Adult Friction - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Lisztomania - Phoenix
Rome - Phoenix
1901 - Phoenix
Pulling on a Line - Great Lakes Swimmers
When the Lights are Out - Cheap Trick
Oh My God - Ida Maria
I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked - Ida Maria
Anti-Orgasm - Sonic Youth
Idiot Heart - Sunset Rubdown
11th Dimension - Julian Casablancas
River of Brakelights - Julian Casablancas
You Never Know - Wilco
Said the People - Dinosaur Jr.
Breed (Live) - Nirvana
Silver Hands Trembling - Flaming Lips

Best Singles Coming in 2010
Horchata – Vampire Weekend
Written in Reverse – Spoon
Heaven Can Wait – Charlotte Gainsbourg

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

Here it is. My annual list of the best albums of the year.
Up Next Tomorrow: Best Singles of 2009

Artist: Great Lakes Swimmers
Album: Lost Channels

One of the many folk-pop acts that have flooded the music world over the last few years, Great Lakes Swimmers stands out from the crowd with well-crafted melodies and earnest, simple lyrics. In many ways, you can sense this band is still working at crafting their sound, but listening to them find their identity along the way has been a joy.

Listen to: Pulling on a Line

Artist: Wilco
Album: Wilco (The Album)

Our Chicago darlings still have yet to match the brilliance of their Magnum Opus, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But their latest self-titled album certainly does take a cross section of all the sounds the band has embraced over the last decade and puts on display all of the wonderful musical talents of one of the greatest bands of our time.

Listen to: You Never Know

Artist: Flaming Lips
Album: Embryonic

Channeling Pink Floyd through a distortion-filled, sometimes overly-gimmicky filter, the Flaming Lips latest album, Embryonic, is like a great infomercial. At first, you’re not sure why you’re giving it any attention, but after 10 minutes, you’re fully sold.

Listen to: Silver Trembling Hands

Artist: Julian Casablancas
Album: Phrazes for the Young

Perhaps I miss the Strokes too much, but I couldn't’t help but fall for many of the tunes on this debut by Casablancas. From a Motown-inspired tune to an electro-synth pop song, the album is certainly ambitious—and certainly a good substitute until we can all hear the next Strokes album.

Listen to: 11th Dimension

Artist: Nirvana
Album: Live at Reading

Nirvana brought an energy that nary any other band has ever brought to the stage—and is fully apparent from the very first moments of this album all the way through to the last smash of a guitar. Yes, Kurt Cobain is still missed. But listening to his band at its peak of success will lend some pause to that longing.

Listen to: Breed

Artist: Ida Maria
Album: Fortress ‘Round My Heart

Some music is just meant to be fun: a hot mess of punk, youthful rebellion and energy. And with songs like “I Like You So Much Better (when You’re Naked), Ida Maria fits squarely into this category. With punk-pop, influences and a sometimes raspy, Rod Stewart-esque voice, this Swedish vixen brings a style that seems borrowed but still comes off as new.

Listen to: I Like You So Much Better (when You’re Naked)

Artist: Sunset Rubdown
Album: Dragonslayer

Spencer Krug’s lyrics are those of a cryptic poet—engaging but confusing, melodic yet disjointed, calming but chaotic. And somewhere in the middle of the mess came this great album that harnesses Krug’s talents just enough to make for an accessible sound, but not so much as to smother the creativity. After all, sometimes it’s beautiful when we color outside the lines.

Listen to: Idiot Heart

Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Album: Farm

This is the greatest album that Pearl Jam never made: a collection of melodic guitar solos, heavy-hearted vocals and song craftsmanship that many a great band used to start the grunge movement (and many a horrible band went on to poorly copy and destroy the movement…yes I’m looking at you Creed.) J Mascis is a master at guitar solos and this album shows his skills off with three tracks that are well over five minutes long.

Listen to: Said the People

Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Merriweather Post Pavilion

A collage of accessible electronic psychedelic tunes that borrows from the Beach Boys, Grateful Dead and African tribal beats, Merriweather Post Pavilion is Animal Collective’s finest album by a great margin. Previous works by the band were too ambitious in my opinion, and lacked a cohesive melody and structure. This album is proof that just because you have a plethora of colors on your palette, you don’t need to use every one of them to make a great piece of art. And Animal Collective have done just that, crafting songs that are addictive, ecclectic and toe-tapping good.

Listen to: My Girls

Artist: Phoenix
Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

For much of the year, I liked to think of Phoenix’s latest album as my secret treasure of an album. But then something happened. The rest of the country discovered them and soon they could be heard on radio stations and Cadillac ads. And for good reason. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is an album that accomplishes a rare feat: every track from start to finish is really good. Many highly rated albums—even on my list—have the occasional one to three tracks that are “skipable,” or just not on par with the rest of the album. Using a combination of electronic and pop rock sounds, they’ve created the best album of 2009.

Listen to: Lisztomania

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sometimes I Miss Waiting. Sometimes.

Everything these days is instant. Instant pudding. Instant pop popcorn. Instant messaging. Instant web shopping. Instant coffee. Instant downloads. Instant streaming. And a lot of that stuff is really, really cool.

After all, if any of you remember the days of making popcorn with one of those gigantic popcorn making machines that screeched out an ear-splitting windy hiss as it hurled out popcorn can today appreciate that "popcorn" button on your microwave.

Or you may even recall trekking out during a monster blizzard to your local Blockbuster to rent a movie...all so you could have a night at home out of the snow. So you literally go out in the snow to stay out of the snow. But today, you can now easily download your movie directly from Netflix with a couple button clicks all while in the warm, cozy environment of your new Snuggy.

But there are things for which I miss waiting. Like buying the latest CD by a favorite band. I can recall back in 1994 driving out to the local record shop at a quarter til midnight to get in line to buy the new Pearl Jam album during the shop's special midnight sale. There was an energy in the air; a conglomerate of young, grunge-loving music fans gathered in a coiling queue to be the first to get their hands on the CD.

And immediately after we made our way through the line and got our sweaty hands on the new CD, we rushed back home to pop the disc in and listen to it from start to finish, formulating our opinions in discussion over a few beers. It is a time in my life that is still lodged securely in my memory banks and that I look back on fondly.

Today, it is nearly impossible to have an event such as that. If an album doesn't already leak months before it's release, surely the live recordings of the band testing out the new material will find their way onto the web. And from there, you have thousands of people formulating opinions and reviewing the album long before you can peel the plastic wrapping off of the disc and inhale the first whiffs of plastic and fresh ink.

Or, even if the album does go unleaked, odds are the lot of us will point-and-click our transactions from iTunes, Amazon or other online megastore. No waiting. Just point, click, have.

Sure, this may sound more like a rant against technology and it's effect on society to induce individuals to live in isolation. But I assure you, that is not my point. I miss the waiting as much as I do the comradery of waiting with peers. It's a feeling of anticipation. A coming to grips with an urge to be impatient with an endurance that anticipates eventual reward. There is something very gratifying about those feelings.

After all, how much fun would sex be if the climax came first? Sure it would be kind of neat at first, but then there'd be all of that work afterwards.

Or how much better is an instant message filled with acronyms and abbreviated terminology than dialing up a friend, waiting through the rings and spending a half hour chatting?

And has instant coffee ever been better than the grinding up the beans fresh and brewing a fresh pot? I think not. (Forgive me if you are a Sanka-phile.)

Some things are just better when you have to wait for them. There's a great line in one of my favorite movies of all time, "Ferris Beuller's Day Off," that goes: "Life moves pretty fast sometimes. If you don't stop and look around every once in awhile, you could miss it."

Great words I still remember today because I didn't have the power to DVR the film and let it sit amongst my many other hundreds of instant entertainment options to go unnoticed or overrlooked.

And it's true. We should all stop and look around more often than we do.

So next time you're out shopping, skip past that aisle that has the pudding that is already made and packaged in little plastic cups. Go grab the ole' fashioned powdery stuff in the box and a gallon of milk (though technically called "instant pudding," the term "instant" on those boxes applies to the term as it was defined in 1953 which, considering today's standards, is incredibly non-instant). Go home and make it with somebody whom you love. Give it time to set in the fridge and have a few bites together. You'll be surprised how much sweeter things can taste when you have to wait a little while.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's the End of the World! (Pass it On!)

We live in crazy times. Bad things happening everywhere. People running around blowing each other up or planning to kill people over Danish cartoons. Heck, a story broke out of Columbia about an entire soccer team that was kidnapped and murdered. All of this horrible stuff has many thinking it's near the end of times.

Could this really be the end of days, when whoever your respective God is comes back to Earth and sorts the souls into the good and bad piles? Is this the worst the world has ever been?

A Wilco song called "You Never Know" has an insightful lyric that says:
"Every generation thinks it's the worst. Thinks it's the end of the world."

A good point indeed. I'm sure over the centuries of mankind, many generations have thought that the world was indeed placed into a handbasket enroute to Pitchfork-n-Fire Town. But as centuries have passed, not only did the world NOT end, but we even managed to develop awesome inventions like electricity, instant pudding and TIVO.

So which is it? Is this world on a highway to hell? Or are we all just being a little melodramatic? Let's look back at history and compare it with the present to see if we can find some answers.

PRESENT: The Swine Flu is running rampant, killing thousands of people. Millions scramble to get vaccinations...half of whom were filmed as b-roll for news media reports.
PAST: Between 1918 - 1920, Typhus killed 3 million people. Millions would have scrambled for vaccinations, but were too busy dying.

PRESENT: The economy suffers through a recession as millions lose their homes and jobs. Even fat cat executives are forced to!
PAST: In Italy during the Roman empire, 40 percent of the population were slaves. These slaves never owned property, and I hear their wages were shit!

PRESENT: Wars threaten the world as terrorism destabilizes many regions. Hundreds of thousands of honorable soldiers and civilians (whom deserve all of our respect and prayers) are lost. Tensions grow faster than a political segment on The View.
PAST: During the Ming Dynasty Conquest at the turn of the 18th Century, 25 million people are killed. Sounds like that Ming was a real jerk!

So although there are some very bad things happening in the world today that do command our attention and concern, history does show there has always been bad things happening. The best we can all do is be the good ones that shine some light on the dark days. Perhaps start by sharing a serving of pudding.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Best Albums of 2009 So Far...

Best Albums of 2009 So Far (in No Particular Order):
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
Great Lakes Swimmers - Lost Channels
Sunset Rubdown - Dragon Slayer
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Sonic Youth - The Eternal
Cheap Trick - The Latest
Matt & Kim - Grand
Ida Maria - Fortress 'Round My Heart

Most Disappointing:
Peter Bjorn & John - Living Thing

Band I Have Given Up on This Year:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Still Trying to Get Around to Listening to the New Albums from:
Modest Mouse
Dinasaur Jr.
Dirty Projectors
Grizzly Bear
St. Vincent
Bat for Lashes
The Flaming Lips
Dead Weather
Neko Case

Monday, March 9, 2009

Where the Geniuses Roam

I've figured out the reason why there hasn't been a cure for cancer yet. Incomplete research? No. Underfunding? No. Lack of technology? No.

The real reason there hasn't been a cure for cancer--and other diseases for that matter--is that the true geniuses of the world aren't working in the scientific research field. The most intelligent minds in the world don't come near a microscope.

Who are these genius minds I'm referring to? Well, I'll tell you: the people who write jingles for television commercials. They're the most intelligent, brightest minds--true geniuses if you will--of our generation.

You may be wondering why I would attribute such praise and esteem towards this particular group of people. The reason is that there is no other reasonable explanation that those commercial jingles get stuck inside all of our brains unless they were written by Einstein-level mental wizards.

How many of you have caught yourself singing the following songs and have tried desperately to get them out of your head without success:

"Five.....five.....five dollar foooootloooooongs."

"Give me that fillet o'fish. Give me that fiiish."

"Free credit baby.....saw their ad on my TVeee."

"Five-eight-eight-two-three-hundred, Empire."

Now if you read and hear those simple basic jingles, you realize they have no elaborate lyrics or musical structure. They are pretty simply constructed tunes. Yet, despite their simplicity, they lodge themselves into our head and stay there like some Clockwork Orange project gone mass market.

I like to think I'm a reasonably intelligent adult. And I'll even assume you, yourself, have a developed brain that has the capacity to think freely and withstand basic scams, cons and trickery. But the jingle writers, like the mad scientists they are, have figured out an ingenious way to infiltrate our brains and embed songs about websites, carpeting and fast food into our brains.

And I think that if they're able to do that, why not plop them down in front of a microscope or two and see what they can do by way of curing diseases. I bet they'd have it done before lunch and will have already formulated some mind-controlling jingle to promote the cure by the end of the day.

Think this is a stretch? Think I'm just spewing a bunch of bologna? Well, if that's the case, let me ask you: how do you spell bologna?

Uh-huh. Now do you see?