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Archive for December, 2010

I heard a lot of new things this year.  Some of it was actually new, some of it was relatively new — and some of it was not new at all.  I hardly listened to any new jazz recordings this year.  And I unearthed quite a bit of stuff that I hadn’t listened to in years, for various reasons.  Without further ado, in no particular order, here’s a list of my 20 favorite new releases from 2010, with a little bit of commentary.  Feel free to tell me about yours!

  1. Blitzen Trapper, Destroyer of the Void — it took a few listens to “get it,” but it quickly became one of my favorites this year.  Sprawling, schizophrenic and sweet.  And that’s only the first (title) track.  But mellower tunes like “The Tree” and “Heaven and Earth” made this disc for me.
  2. The Black Keys, Brothersthe boys from Akron return with nearly an hour of their trademark blues, dragged through the sludge, fuzz and scuzz, with some pop hooks and blue-eyed soul ballads.  Recommended tracks: “Next Girl,” “Tighten Up,” and “Unknown Brother.”
  3. Stornoway, Beachcomber’s Windowsill — perhaps the total polar opposite of their predecessor on this list, Stornoway’s sweet-and-melancholy tunes laced with melodic basslines, touches of organs and chiming acoustic guitars helped me find a little peace when I needed it.  Try “Zorbing,” “I Saw You Blink,” “Watching Birds,” “Fuel Up,” or “We Are the Battery Human” for some variety.
  4. The Dig, Electric Toys — spacey and epic.  “Carry Me Home.”  “I Just Wanna Talk to You.”  How ’bout a website instead of a MySpace page, guys?
  5. Miniature Tigers, Fortress — you too, guys.  The happy, bouncy synth-filled pop of “Gold Skull” made many a morning less dreary.  Once it gets moving, “Rock and Roll Mountain Troll” is another keeper.
  6. Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone — my man Tweedy produced this disc from the soul-gospel legend.  Tweedy’s production is a tad more crisp ‘n clean that I would have liked, but there’s still enough grit and muscle behind the tunes for Mavis to cut loose.  The title track proved to be a poignant reminder for me to hold my ground during a rough end to 2010.
  7. The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang — good rock ‘n roll, great at high volume.  There’s a nice series of videos detailing the making of the album on their website here.  The title track is solid, but if I had to pick one from this disc, it’d be “The Queen of Lower Chelsea.”
  8. Futurebirds, Hampton’s Lullaby — another MySpace page.  But it’s the second coming of early My Morning Jacket.  Listen to “APO” and “Ski Chalet.”  Hope to hear more from these guys soon.
  9. J Roddy Walston and the Business, J Roddy Walston and the Business — perhaps the most fresh, invigorating take on pure rock ‘n roll from this year.  I can’t think of anything new to say other than what I said before.  Play this one LOUD, but “Don’t Break the Needle.”
  10. Robert Randolph and the Family Band, We Walk This Road — the young master of pedal steel teamed up with producer T-Bone Burnett for a walk through history where folk, blues, gospel and soul intersect.  Another lap guitarist, Ben Harper, dropped by to inject some fiery playing and singing on “If I Had My Way.”  It’s been a spiritual year, more so than recent ones.  Maybe that’s why “I Still Belong to Jesus” was my favorite from this disc.
  11. The Soft Pack, The Soft PackAw, c’mon!
  12. Soulive, Rubber Soulive — Beatles tracks filtered through the stinging funk, jazz, soul, R&B and more.  Call it fresh or call it sacrilege, but I dug their treatment of “Eleanor Rigby,” “In My Life,” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
  13. Tift Merritt, See You on the Moon — Ms. Merritt won me over this year when she threw pop, folk, soul and little country into a blender, and came out with tunes as fun as “Mixtape” and as subdued as “Never Talk About It.”  But “Engine to Turn” and “Feel of the World” resonated most, with their messages of loss, longing and hope.
  14. Sun Kil Moon, Admiral Fell Promises — I agree with Mark Kozelek when he said the best thing he purchased this year was a Cervantes guitar.  Knowing my extensive reader base, some of you will be bored to tears with this stuff, and some of you will be sucked into the hypnotic arrangements, droning, double-tracked vocals and deft fingerpicking of “Alesund,” “Third and Seneca,” and “Half Moon Bay.”
  15. Spoon, Transference — Carefully crafted and perfectly executed, Spoon’s work is always fascinating. Cementing their reputation as one of the most consistent bands working today, Transference is filled with dirty hooks, stabs of piano and Britt Daniel’s larynx-shredding vocals.  Try “Written in Reverse.”
  16. Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do — the group’s second disc minus Jason Isbell initially was hit-and-miss for me, but I’ve grown to love this one.  In terms of the current lineup, they’re musically tighter than ever, although this is a little polished – and electric – than the rustic country shuffle of the excellent-but-sprawling Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.  Try on “The Wig He Made Her Wear” for a troubling tale of domestic drama, or for a more swampy vibe, “Drag the Lake Charlie.”
  17. The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever — Craig Finn and crew return with another disc about drinkers, dive bars and delinquents, recalling the girl from 2006 track “Chips Ahoy!” in “The Weekenders,” my favorite track from the disc.  Those looking to get their “oh whoah whoah” fix will get it in “Hurricane J.”  And for those fans unsure of the band’s sound or direction without keyboardist Franz Nicolay, the [always] epic closer tells them “this shouldn’t hurt, but you might feel a slight discomfort.”
  18. Gold Motel, Summer House — when it came to bands playing sunny, reverb-drenched pop with a charming frontwoman, I just didn’t latch onto the Best Coast craze, although “Boyfriend” was ok.  I preferred to get my beach fix with Gold Motel’s “We’re on the Run,” “Safe in L.A.” and “Perfect in My Mind.”
  19. Karen Elson, The Ghost Who Walks — with the encouragement of hubby Jack White (the hardest-working man in rock), model Karen Elson stepped out into the light with dark country and folk — and I soaked it up.  I’m still trying to decide if I prefer the title track in acoustic or full-band format.
  20. The Dead Weather, Sea of Cowards — Speaking of Jack White, his second supergroup returned with a follow-up less than a year after they debuted with the outstanding Horehound.  White and Alison Mosshart’s ferocious vocals are only matched by the brutal force behind “Blue Blood Blues,” “Die By the Drop,” and “Gasoline.”

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