Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ryan Miller's Top 10

10. Nada Surf - "If I Had A Hi-Fi". Yes, it's a covers album. And yes, it's great. But when was the last time that a covers album featured songs from Spoon, The Go-Betweens, and The Soft Pack? It doesn't feel like a covers album most of the time. But the already-familiar songs that they put their stamp on were very tastefully done. Covering "Enjoy The Silence" and "Quesiton" from the Moody Blues could have been disasterous. But they nailed them. Still haven't played Milwaukee since an Atomic Records afternoon session while passing through town. (Hint hint! Hint hint! Pretty please!)

9. Avi Buffalo - "Avi Buffalo". The kids are alright. You can put Avigdor's voice on the list of "aquired tastes"....if you can get past it, it's a lovely record. Not a loud record for the most part, but Avigdor's writing is years ahead of where your average under-21 songwriter is. The standout track is "What's In It For", which has a Shins influence, but doesn't sound like they're ripping it off from them. Avi Buffalo opened for Modest Mouse at Summerfest this year, and played an enjoyable set in front of people who were just killing time before MM. The keyboards were actually turned up as loud as the guitars, which won MAJOR points from me. I hate when you can't hear the keyboards.

8. Kathryn Calder - "Are You My Mother?" One of those albums that if you weren't looking out for it, you probably missed it, as not a ton of fanfare came with the release. And if you did hear about it, you needed to have your expectations properly set. If you were expecting a New Pornographers style album, you were disappointed. That said, there were moments that you could tell that some of AC Newman's songwriting has rubbed off on her. From the big OOO's in "Slip Away", to big chorus in "Castor and Pollux", to the syncopated chord changes in "If You Only Knew", it showed off the fact that there's a lot more to Calder musically than just being able to sing Neko Case songs. Color me impressed.

7. School Of Seven Bells - "Disconnect From Desire" I've always kind of liked the Secret Machines...."Now Here Is Nowhere" was one of my favorite albums in 2004. It seemed like a decline for them since, and Ben Curtis found a new project that I'm finding to be just as rewarding as that first Secret Machines album. Throw in twin vocalists Claudia and Alejandra Deheza, and you get this album that was heavy on harmony and creative production work. The wheel wasn't reinvented, but it sounded fresh. I'm skeptical of how they would pull it off live without canning a lot of it ahead of time, but I think "Windstorm", "Babelonia", and "Heart Is Strange" (which opening riff reminds me of music from RC Pro Am) are some of the best songs of the year.

6. The New Pornographers - "Together" This wasn't the fall-in-love-with-album-on-first-listen release I'm used to hearing from them. It took some time to get behind it, but I came around. They haven't usually needed to outsource for additional musicians since they're so versitile already...but the added touch that Zach Condon, Annie Clark, and Will Scheff brought to the table was subtle and complimentary instead of overtly in the forefront. They're still AC Newman songs, and as expected, very catchy. Still haven't had a mis-step.

5. LCD Soundsystem - "This Is Happening" I don't care when everyone else thinks. I thought "Drunk Girls" was hilarious and pretty great. Yes, it was really the only song that could be a radio single on the album, but the lyrics (outside of the repeated chanting of the title) have James Murphy's sense of humor all over them. If you want to call it caving to radio, that's fine, but he did it on his terms, and I think it worked. I don't think there was an "All My Friends" moment on this album for us to hang our hats on, but instead we got an album without any duds on it, that met and exceeded the pre-release hype. And they were amazing on this last tour.

4. Delphic - "Acolyte" - Hey Pitchfork: F*ck off! Seriously. You didn't have to like it, but to compare it to what the Editors have morphed in to is cruel, mean-spirited, the ultimate insult, and above all, NOT TRUE! While heavily influenced by New Order, Delphic finds a way to sound like a blue collar Cut Copy on some tracks. That's a compliment. They recognize hooks, they know how to write songs, and they're not afraid to throw an 8:51 instrumental jam halfway through the album. That epic song is the title track, and they did such a good job with it, that it doesn't feel like filler. The song goes somewhere. They also buried some of their best songs on side B, as "Halcyon" could DEFINITELY have been a Cut Copy song. "Submission" reminds me of "Save A Prayer". And then the single was "Doubt", which screams out New Order in a complimentary way...not a blasphemy way. They had a great set at Turner Hall opening for Temper Trap, even if they didn't have time
play the long song. And any band that uses multiple octapads in their live performance is alright by me!

3. Fang Island - "Fang Island" This was my most pleasant surprise in 2010. It's a band that spent time this year opening in concert for The Flaming Lips, Stone Temple Pilots, and Coheed and Cambria -- and was able to fit in on all of those bills. A little weird, a little rock, and a little prog. While there are some vocal lines in most of the songs, the real melody (and harmony) lines are done by the guitars in a way that makes you want to high-five everyone you're around. I could see Wayne Conte shooting off confetti explosions during the first half of "Sidewinder", while in the second half of the song, they kind of pull back a little bit and the song turns into the closing credits of your favorite TV show from the 80's. I don't think my description does it justice...but it's fun. They made a music video for the song "Daisy" which channels a bit of Feist and a bit of Ok Go in its one-takeness and danciness. Too bad it never had the viral success that the others did. But dancing, doing cartwheels, giving high fives....that's what this album makes you want to do. It's the most fun record of the year for me.

2. Arcade Fire - "The Suburbs". "We Used To Wait" is my song of the year. And it's buried at the end of the album. "Sprawl II", great song, also buried at the end. And that's okay! What a reward for someone who plays the album start to finish. The album has stand-out tracks throughout the songlist, and it's easy to recognize that the record is special. I'm a music-before-lyrics kind of guy, so I plead ignorance and honestly don't care about philosophical commentary on life in the suburbs....I just think they wrote a great album. Good on them for continuing to be themselves, despite whatever pressures the surrounding hype machine applies to them. And their live set at Lollapalooza was all kinds of amazing.

1. Hot Chip - "One Life Stand". Listened to this album more than any other this year. Partly because it came out earlier than most, but mostly because I kept going back to it. While the songs aren't as quirky or odd as in their previous albums, I think they still hit it out of the park. There are still songs to dance to, and slow jams that show off the versitility of a bunch of white music nerds. The keyboard sequence in the background of opening track "Thieves in The Night" reminds me a bit of the effect used in "Silent Shout". "I Feel Better" would have been a top 40 hit if someone other than Hot Chip sang it. But since they did sing it, it's cool (and has a hilarious music video). I love the steel drums in the title track, and it's one of the best songs of the year. I have a whole new appreciation for "We Have Love" after seeing them bring it to life live. And "Take It In" is a great closing track, with a great Hot Chip riff in the verse, a positive/major refrain, and then some harmonies to close the album out. It's a just-press-play record, and my favorite of the year.

Honorable mentions:

Surfer Blood - "Astro Coast"
Superchuck - "Majesty Shredding"

Biggest disappointment:

Belle and Sebastian - "Write About Love". I adore Belle and Sebastian, and in fairness to them, my expectations were probably abnormally high. I have loved all the previous albums and EPs. And while there are a handful of tracks on this record that met or exceeded my expectations, the majority didn't. I expected something amazing, and got something that was, meh, okay. "I didn't see it coming" was lovely and an appropriate opener. "I Want the World To Stop" was a good single. "Write About Love" was released ahead of time, and had some of the swagger that made me so optimistic. "Calculating Bimbo" and "Little Lou..." start with the same downtempo "buh-bump bump" drum line. Norah Jones, really? Sarah Martin not good enough to carry that line? I usually prefer Stuart songs to Stevie songs, and "I'm Not Living In The Real World" did nothing to change that. My beef isn't that I don't like down-tempo songs from them. But I didn't think there was anything special about these. Call it a bogey for the course. And the concert in Chicago? It was okay. The show at the Riverside was miles better. I thought the setlist was awfully safe. It pretty much stayed away from all non-album tracks (I counted just one...a Stevie B-side from the "I'm A Cuckoo" single). There wasn't anything memorable about this show, which is a status that all previous B&S shows I had been to had been able to obtain.


Brian Wilson "Reimagines Gershwin".It's atrocious. He can call it a tribute album all he wants, but it's more offensive than anything else. If I was a surviving member of the Gershwin family, I'd consider litigation. Check out Wilson's take on "I Got Rhythm", with all the flatulent sax you can handle.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Mary (practising trouble in D.C.) said...

can I hug you? I am glad to hear someone else call out Pitchfork for their egregiously poor / uncalled for review of 'Acolyte'. personally, I wasn't as impressed with 'One Life Stand' and 'This is Happening' (I liked Hundred in the Hands's debut better).

my top ten list can be viewed here: