Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Favourite Albums of 2011: A List

Merry Christmas Everyone!

It’s that time of the year again: Time for me to list my favourite albums of the year. These are not necessarily the best albums, but the ones I’ve enjoyed the most this year.

Compared to 2010, 2011 was kind of a quiet year in music. It was a year that didn’t have any overt great albums (like my number 1 &2 last year, Titus Andronicus' The Monitor & Arcade Fire's The Suburbs), but had some pleasant surprises that rewarded patience in the listener.

I decided to do a top 15 list this year because I had trouble narrowing my list down to ten. Give all of these albums a listen. They are all quite enjoyable in their own ways.

Some Honourable Mentions:

Destroyer - Kaputt
F**ked Up - David Comes to Life
Fruit Bats - Tripper
My Morning Jacket - Circuital

Here is the List

15. (tie) Foo Fighters- Wasting Light/R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

I started off with a tie, because I wanted to include both albums on this list, and I had trouble ranking them. They are both pretty similar. Both were albums that rejuvenated a band after a brief period of stagnation.

The Foo Fighters recorded this album in Dave Grohl’s garage, trying to get that raw sound. As a result, Wasting Light is more lively and urgent than previous Foo fighter albums, and shows that Grohl and the band still have some good albums left in them.

REM ended up breaking up this year after 30 years together, but what a high note to go out on. Collapse Into Now, I’d argue, is REM’s best album in over a decade. Tightly constructed, with great lyrics and hooks. I wanted to hear more from them.

Key Tracks on Wasting Light: Rope, Walk, These Days

Key Tracks onto Collapse into Now: Discoverer, Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I, Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter

14. Drive By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

One of the more consistent bands in the past decade, Drive-By Truckers released another solid album. Recorded around the same tame as 2010’s The Big To Do (Number 7 last year for me), this album is more soul and country inspired, compared to the southern rock found on The Big To Do. The band are great musicians and songwriters, and that alone makes this album worth listening to. In addition, the production on this album is amazing. It feels like they are performing in the same room as you.

Key tracks: Go-Go Boots, Used to be a Cop, Everybody Needs Love.

13. Bon Iver- Bon Iver

 I’m not as high on Bon Iver, and its front man Justin Vernon, as some people are. I’m not happy with the many artists they have inspired, who think that recording some boring ass folk tunes on old recorders in the middle of nowhere constitutes great art, and I don’t like the people who prop these milquetoast musicians up as the emotional voices of our generation. I’m pretty sure I could do the same thing. Nevertheless, open mind and whatnot. I listened to this album, and there is some stuff to be impressed about. The album is built around strong soundscapes that take the listener away, and the songs have a semblance of structure, which a lot of the followers lack. A good album and I can appreciate the talent Vernon and his band have, but it's  not a top ten album for me. I see it as the “Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” of 2011. Good album, but not the best as critics claim.

Key Tracks: Holocene, Wash., Calgary

12. Dawes – Nothing is Wrong

The sophomore album from Dawes was a pleasant surprise. More urgent than their sleepy debut North Hills, the band turns up their amps, writing an album that feels like Neil Young could have released it as a follow-up to Harvest. I love good songwriting and lyrics, and they’re here in abundance on this album. Plus this album has a pulse, unlike North Hills. 

(Disclaimer: As much as I make fun of the album, North Hills is quite good, suitable for a lazy afternoon or early evening out in the desert. This is an album for an evening in the city).

However, I need to throw this out here: I like Dawes. I really do. I love their folk sound inspired by the legacy their hometown left (Laurel Canyon, where Crosby Stills, Nash and Young started), their harmonies are strong, and they work really well together as a band. But there’s something that I feel is holding them back from being a great band, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it is because there are so many folk rock bands out there that they are lost in the shuffle, or they haven’t quite found their voice yet, but right now, they have to settle for being good.

Key tracks: Time Spent in Los Angeles, If I Wanted Someone,  My Way Back Home, How Far We’ve Come.

11. This Hisses – Surf Noir

One of the better albums to come out of Winnipeg this year (I will always love my hometown, and my campus radio station), and it shows that there is still some life in the punk scene, which I long stopped paying attention to. It’s different, a sinister surf record. 8 Tracks of well-constructed songs, which rocks from start to finish. Can’t ask for anymore than that.

Key Tracks: Lycanthrope, Gold on Fire, Swagger, Snakewine

10. The Weeknd – House of Balloons

This album was released for free on the Canadian R&B artist’s website,  and garnered attention when Drake mentioned them on his Twitter. And this album, the first of three mixtapes released throughout 2011, I feel is their best. This album is what I feel R&B and hip hop needs; a little grit, rather than glam. Minimalist, sparse production that creates a mood of loneliness, combined with lyrics about the dark side of hedonism, allows the Weeknd to make the top ten. This could be one of the most influential albums released this decade. Check it out on their official website.

Key Tracks: High for This, The Morning, Wicked Games, Coming Down

9. Real Estate – Days

I really enjoyed this album. It's pleasant and soothing to the soul, and boasts some incredible guitar work. Similar in ways to my Dr. Dog pick last year, this album has a very 60’s guitar pop influence. The album brings out strong feelings of warmth and nostalgia as I listened to it. Yes, this album is very hipster-ish, and some would call it inoffensive, but inoffensive isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I find myself listening to this album in the car quite frequently.

 Key Tracks: Green Aisles, It’s Real, Municipality, Younger than Yesterday

8. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

I loved this album when it was released at the beginning of the year. Compared to In Ghost Colours, I felt that it was tighter and more concise, with none of the wasteful transitions that bogged down that album. I loved the world music influence throughout the album, and the sound that somehow feels organic, despite being mostly electronic. This was the best dance record of 2011, enjoyable both being blasted through speakers, or listened to on your bed in headphones and zoning out.

 Plus, it has the best album art of 2011. How can you not love that?

Key Tracks: Need You Now, Take Me Over, Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution, Sun God

7. Adele – 21

I think this could be the most surprising pick on my list, but this album was impossible to ignore. The best-selling album of 2011, it has spent 42 out of 43 weeks in the top five on the charts, and sold at last count, almost 5 million copies. The runner-up*, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, has sold close to two million copies as of this writing.  Why has the public gravitated towards Adele? Is it because the pop market is so saturated with acts that are more spectacle, and she has a semblance of actual talent?

Adele isn’t a perfect artist by any means. Nobody is. But she was good. And in an era where talent is scarce, she’s a beacon of hope. Her voice is amazing and filled with emotion. Not many pop artists have that talent. Besides, you can’t hate on Rolling in the Deep; a perfect pop song. And it’s been stuck in my head. Adele is one of those artists that not only lived up to her hype, but managed to exceed it. I want more from her in the future.

 Key Tracks: Rolling in the Deep, Hiding My Heart (UK edition track), Someone Like You, Take It All.

6. The Black Keys – El Camino

I hate clichés, but here is one that could have some truth to it: The Black Keys could save rock. Not bad for a band consisting of only a drummer and a guitarist.

Much like The White Stripes, The Black Keys write and perform blues inspired rock music that has managed to catapult them from indie darlings to headlining arena acts. Unlike other bands, The Keys have managed to keep their trademark sound basically the same, and haven’t pandered to a mass audience. El Camino follows up their breakthrough album Brothers with 11 tracks or pure, unadulterated, garage rock bliss. Every song on this album I can hear being played on the radio (cliché number 2). What makes the Black Keys special is their ability to make every song feel distinct, despite having only two members.  I love this album, and you should too.

(Note: This album came out in December. I felt that if I ranked it higher, it wouldn’t be right. If it came out earlier in the year, it would be in the top 2).

Key Tracks: Lonely Boy, Little Black Submarines, Money Maker, Run Right Back

5. The Strokes - Angles

After five years away from music, one of my favourite bands returned and showed people that they still had what it took. This was one of my most re-listened to albums of the year. I’ll link to the review I did when it came out.

Key Tracks: Under Cover of Darkness, Two Kinds of Happiness, Taken for a Fool, Life is Simple in The Moonlight.

4. Tom Waits – Bad as Me

 The legendary Tom Waits returns with his first album of new material in 7 years, and it feels like a compilation of what makes him one of the more unique artists ever.. Booze soaked rockers, some atmospheric folky stuff, and even a few touching ballads. Waits’ growl is refined and still as perfect as ever. Bad as me is a thirteen song collection that takes bits and pieces from Waits career pre- and post Swordfishtrombones, and refines into an album that is pleasant to listen to. I would use this album as an entry into Waits for new fans. It also reminds veteran listeners of how good he truly is.

Key Tracks: Chicago, Kiss Me, Bad as Me, Satisfied.

3. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

Before recording this album, the genre defying Brooklyn group TV on the Radio went on hiatus. It seems to have re-energized them. The band had a touch act to follow: 2008’s Dear Science was considered by many publications to be the best album of that year. A lesser band could have delivered a disappointing follow-up, but they managed to refine their sound further.

Nine Types of Light has more emphasis on groove and soul throughout the album. There is still a healthy amount of experimenting on this album, with songs bouncing from glitch, to industrial, and finally closing on a straight up rocker. Chaotic, yet controlled, this is one of the best albums of the year, and a worthy companion to Dear Science.

Key Tracks: Second Song, You, Caffeinated Consciousness, Will Do.

2. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
This will be contentious, I’m sure.

Radiohead fans put the band on a pedestal, and react negatively when an album is not an instant masterpiece. I remember when The King of Limbs was first released in February, the reaction was very mixed, bordering on negative. As the year went on, I’ve noticed the reception changing a bit, but many still consider it a misstep in the band.

Radiohead are a great band. In my opinion, they are the best band since Pink Floyd. They push the boundaries in their genre, and many bands today cite them as an influence. Look at the British music scene before OK Computer was released, and look at the music scene after the album.You can do the same thing for the follow-up masterpiece, Kid A; every band that came around after those albums are trying to sound like Radiohead. Their albums are not instantaneous masterpieces, but reward patience and dedication. I’ll bring up Kid A again. When it was first released, it was very polarizing; now it’s considered the best album of the 2000’s. Will The King of Limbs be the best album of the decade? It’s too soon to tell. We’ll check in a few years.

Anyways, back to the album. High quality album from start to finish. Only one track I skip over (Feral). Easily the best headphone record of the year, and I still notice little details on each listen. The best use of electronics by any band today. The album sounds great performed live (even better than the studio album), and the extra tracks from these sessions (Supercollider/The Butcher & The Daily Mail/Staircase) that have been released are all well done (the latter two especially).

That is why The King of Limbs is my second favourite album of the year.

 Key Tracks: Morning Mr. Magpie, Lotus Flower, Codex, Separator.

1. Wilco – The Whole Love

I’m going to quote from my column that I wrote about this album for The Endeavour, dated November 30, 2011.

". . . The Whole Love is Wilco’s eighth album, and also the first release from their own label, dBpm. Compared to Wilco (The Album)’s more standard sound, this album is best described as a cross between Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth. It is also their best album since Yankee hotel Foxtrot.
Wilco’s strength is their ability to merge the unconventional elements of music with strong songwriting and traditional hooks.  Their songs are carefully constructed, and quite catchy. Each song is unique, from the jazzy shuffle of "Capitol City," to the folk rock of "Black Moon," and the jangly guitars of “Born Alone.” Despite shifting genres, no song feels out of place on the album. It’s a skill that few bands can master. In addition, I believe that this incarnation of the band, who have been together since 2004, is their best lineup yet. They’ve really gelled together in the albums they have played on.
The Whole Love is bookended by two experimental tracks. “Art of Almost” last seven minutes, beginning with some distorted bass, moving towards a simple rhythmic main section, and drives to the finish with one of the best two minute guitar solos you’ll hear this year.
The album closer, “One Sunday Morning,” is about 12 minutes long.  It’s a simple, almost Dylan-esque song, built around Tweedy’s guitar playing and pained vocals. It is one of the saddest songs that Wilco has ever written.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better album this year.  I give it the highest possible recommendation."
Key Tracks: Art of Almost, Born Alone, Capitol City, One Sunday Morning

*Editor's Note: At the time of this writing,  Born This Way was the number 2 selling album of the year but has since slipped to number 3. Michael Buble's Christmas album is the new second best seller.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My first column- 20 years later, why Nevermind still matters

Here is a clipping of my first column for The Endeavour, the campus newspaper at Lethbridge College.

Originally appeared Sept. 28, 2011 Vol. 47 Issue 01

Check it out! Text may be a little too small to read. Let me know, and I'll fix it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Long Lost Review: "Life" by Keith Richards (2010)

Author's Note: I'm a lousy blogger. I need to become more frequent in my updates; This every two months pattern is not good for a future journalist.

Anyways, here is a review that I wrote back in July. Enjoy!

Keith Richards can be described in many ways: a music legend, one of the greatest  guitarists of all time, and also one of the poster boys for rock and roll excess. But, after reading Life, you can add the following descriptor: master storyteller. Much like the first notes of many famous Rolling Stones songs, Life grabs a hold of you and does not let go until it is finished.

The novel discusses Keith Richards’ life beginning as an only child growing up in postwar England. His passion for music is evident at an early age, as he talks about his desire to play his grandfather’s guitar and his love of the blues. After being expelled from high school, he was transferred to an art school. It was during this time that he became reacquainted with his former neighbour Mick Jagger, bonding over the blues albums that they had in their possession. This friendship led to the formation of one of the most popular and controversial bands of all time.

For readers who want to know everything about the Rolling Stones, this is the book for you. Reading Life is the closest that many of us will come to meeting Keith Richards, and being able to pick his brain about anything regarding the Rolling Stones. He describes everything, from their early days trying to be “the best blues band in England” to the recording of the classic albums Exile on Main St. and Beggar’s Banquet. Despite the presence of an additional writer, the voice in the book is definitely Richards’; nobody else could describe the situations he encounters the way it is described in the book. Credit must be given to James Fox for allowing Richards' voice to shine through.

The phrase “brutally honest” has been thrown around so often that it has become a cliché, but it is an appropriate phrase to describe this book. Richards holds nothing back throughout the book, whether talking about his various run-ins with the law or his experience with drug addiction. At times, while reading the novel, it felt like Richards was bragging about his drug consumption and how his fame prevented him from serving serious time in prison. At other times, he seems more responsible than most addicts; he knew his limits, unlike several of his contemporaries. Richards lays it all out, and allows the reader to make their own decisions regarding his actions, which allows him to come across better than some other artists (Anthony Kiedis, I'm looking in your direction).

The deterioration of his friendship with Mick Jagger, whom he calls “unbearable,” was another subject that came up late in the book, and what the media focused on after the release.  It does not come off as sour grapes or jealously. Rather it feels believable that after 40 years of close quarters, the two of them have grown apart. Despite this, Richards insists that he still loves Jagger like a brother, even if they have separate dressing rooms. Recent events, however, show that Jagger is still bitter over the comments made in the novel. I hope they patch it up and tour one more time.

Life also had a personal effect on me. About a year ago, I began to learn guitar, but had stopped playing it. After reading Life, and hearing Keith Richards discuss the guitar in terms that even a non-musician can understand, I picked up my guitar and began playing again. Now, I play almost every night. Life sets the new standard for rock and roll memoirs; other musicians are going to have trouble topping it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (2008)

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written in here.

My absence from posting in this blog is easy to explain. I've just been busy with work and preparing for the fall that writing in this blog hasn't been a priority. I don't like it, but that's life, for better or worse. I hope to get back into the groove soon.

I've been doing a lot of reading this summer. I read everyday, sometimes have two books on the go. It's a practice I've honed during my time at university. when you have a full course load, you master reading multiple books, articles, and essays. And now that I have a Kobo, I find myself reading more. So, I thought to mark my return, I'd review one of the most entertaining novels I've read this summer.

Terry Fallis took an unorthodox method to becoming a publishing success. A former Liberal Party strategist, he experienced little interest from publishers for his debut novel The Best Laid Plans. Rather than getting discouraged, he started releasing his novel a chapter at a time in podcast form, building an audience, and then self-publishing the novel. It was awarded the Stephen Leacock Medal, and then was picked up by McCelland & Stewart for wide distribution.

The novel is most likely inspired by Fallis' experience working for the Liberal party. The novel is told from the perepsective of Daniel Addison, who works for the Liberal Party as a speechwriter. He has become increasingly burned out with politics, his idealism being stripped away after years of working in Parliament. However, after he hands in his resignation to the party leader, he is given one last task before he is allowed to leave. He must find a candidate to run under the Liberal banner in Cumberland-Prescott, one of the safest Tory ridings in Ontario.

Addison has just moved there, and tries to get Muriel Parkinson, an elderly woman who ran in five previous elections to be his nominee. She refuses due to her age and the disease she shares a name with. Finally, Daniel finds a person to represent the party in his landlord, Angus McClintock. Angus agrees to do it, so long as he doesn't have to do anything at all relating to the campaign, and also because it gets him out of teaching first year English for Engineers for the term, a job Daniel takes over in his place.

Much of the humour is derived from Daniel having to run a phantom campaign. He enlists two young punks, both named Pete, to canvass for him, while Angus is more content to play chess, work on his hovercraft, and write in his journal. In the last few days of the campaign, however, the Tory candidate's chances are decimated because of a sex scandal. Suddenly, Angus, who wanted nothing to do with the campaign, has been declared the winner by a slim margin.

Reading this novel, even though it was published in 2008, one can't help but notice parallels between the story and Ruth-Ellen Brosseau. Brosseau, for those who don't recall, won a seat as an MP for the NDP, despite not speaking French, not visiting the riding, and being on vacation in Las Vegas on Election night. It actually makes the satire funnier, as we have basis for this happening in real life. And many areas of politics are satirized, including voter apathy (people in Cumberland-Prescott would rather spoil their ballot than vote Liberal), scandals among the electorate, and Question Period

Throughout the novel, the reader is given excerpts from Angus' journals, in which he writes to his recently deceased wife Marin. These excerpts ground the novel, giving it a sense of poignancy, despite the humor that precedes these entries.

Fallis published a sequel in 2011 titled "The High Road." I would recommend both of his novels not only to anyone who has even the slightest interest in politics, because the humor will ring true to them, but  also to those who don't care for politics, because their opinion on the entire process will be proven right.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Movie Watching Habits/Theater Pet Peeves

I have a few rules for when I watch movies at home.

-The lights have to be off. If I watch a movie during the day, I find that there is too much of a glare on the screen. I try to draw curtains, but it doesn’t always work. So, I have to wait for the evening. Besides, a movie affects you differently depending on the time you watch it. For example, Lost in Translation, as I mentioned in my review, needs to be experienced at night.
-I always finish the movie, no matter how terrible it is. I've done it at home before, but no longer anymore. I can also proudly say that I have never walked out of a movie, though Step Brothers really tested my patience.
-My rule for movies on television is this: if the movie has already started, I will not watch it. I need to watch a movie from the beginning, especially if I haven't seen it before. The exception to the rule is if I have seen the movie a few times before, and need something on in the background on a Sunday afternoon. Forrest Gump and Gladiator are usually the go to movies for these occasions.

-I do not like watching movies on my laptop. Movies were meant to be experienced on a large screen and with Dolby Surround Sound, not through crappy speakers and a tiny screen. Besides, there are too many distractions on a computer, like Facebook or a blog.

-Audio commentaries are a mixed bag. Some commentaries are interesting and you learn interesting facts about the movies. Others are just awkward self-congratulation fests. But, I always check them out. some really good ones include Citizen Kane (commentated on by Roger Ebert), This is Spinal Tap (cast does it all in character), and The Lord of the Rings (There are commentaries by the cast, crew, and set designers).

-Everybody must remain quiet. Some talking is okay, but don’t talk throughout the entire movie. This leads me to…

My pet peeves at the movie theatres:

-Talking. The main reason I rarely go to the theatres anymore. I can’t stand it when people talk throughout the movie, either telling someone what’s going on, or trying to be witty and make snarky comments throughout the movie. You’re not as witty as you like to think you are.

-Cellphone use: I hate the glowing blue screen from the phone of some teenager or adult that flashes every few minutes. Turn your phone off. You can wait two hours before sending a message to that person.

-Parents taking young children to inappropriate films: This is common among newer parents; they’re stressed and they want a night out, but can’t find someone to babysit their child. So they take their toddler to the movie they want to see, usually an action film of some sort. Baby starts crying, it annoys the entire theatre, and then they end up leaving. What they need to learn is that a baby is a major responsibility, and sometimes you have to cut out things that you enjoy because of you child if you can’t find a baby sitter. Rent a movie.

Experienced parents are just as guilty of this. When Watchmen came out, I went to see it in theatres, and a mother with three young children, no older than ten, sat down a few rows in front of me. She likely assumed that since it involved superheroes, it must be for kids. Watchmen is a hard R rated film, and it was clearly advertised in the trailers. I believe after witnessing the violent opening scene, an attempted rape, and a naked blue guy, she and her kids walked out of theatre, wasting at least $50. Parents need to research the movies that their kids want to see, and there are all sorts of websites online that will tell parents the content of the film. Don’t assume that just because it looks kid friendly (superheroes, talking CGI creatures, animated) that it is appropriate for children. I’m reminded of numerous staff room conversations about the first time some teachers watched Family Guy.

-Price gouging: It’s getting out of control at this point, especially at the snack bar. A common scenario: you at the movies on Friday night by yourself (usually what I do; my taste in movies is a lot different from my friends) and you pay ten dollars for a ticket. Not great, but that is the way things are going these days. You head to the snack bar, and by the time you buy a popcorn and drink, you are out another ten dollars. And it gets worse if you have a family, or are out on a date. The snack bar is the biggest ripoff at the theatre these days, and the popcorn isn't even as good as it used to be.

3D movies are another price gouger. Theatres will add an extra few dollars in the ticket price for the glasses, and still charge you even if you bring your pair from another movie to the theatre. I could write a blog ranting about 3D. Maybe the next blog.

That is a list of my habits/pet peeves when watching movies. What are yours?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Strokes - Angles (2011)

The year was 2001. If you were a music fan at this time, there wasn’t a lot to choose from quality wise on mainstream radio. Boy bands and pop starlets ruled the charts, rap was heading full-steam towards its bling obsessed phase, and rock was fully entrenched in nu-metal. Sure, some great albums were being released at this time, such as Radiohead’s Kid A, but a combination of no singles released from the album, along with the challenging nature of the music, kept it hidden from the masses (We should remember; when Kid A was released, it was very polarizing among critics and fans).  If you wanted good music, and not just from Radiohead, you had to look for it. Every once in a while though, good music bubbles to the surface, and the mainstream can’t ignore it. Such was the story of The Strokes.

 Consisting of 5 NYU students who played rock music inspired by The Velvet Underground & The Stooges, The Strokes caught the attention of record companies after their first EP, The Modern Age became popular among critics in the UK. The bidding war for the band was one of the largest for a band at the time. They eventually signed with RCA, and recorded their debut Is This It. The album was very successful, leading to the garage rock revival of the early 2000’s, which had a two-fold effect; it rid the charts of nu-metal for good, and labels began raiding the underground, signing every raw sounding band they could find. Some of these bands were awful (The Vines), but others went on to find great success (The White Stripes, though they were around a couple of years before The Strokes).

As is the case with any band that has a successful debut album, following it up was a process. While Room on Fire was acclaimed for sticking close to their original sound, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth was not well-received for attempting to move beyond that sound, adding more overt pop rock elements. The band went on hiatus for 4 years, each member working on solo projects. The band re-appeared at Lollapalooza in 2010, and announced after that show that they were working on a new album, which is what I am reviewing today.

Angles is the first Strokes album in 5 years. Musically, the album is a cross between the rawness of their first two albums and a strong influence from 1980’s new wave bands. Keyboards are very prominent on several tracks, such as album opener “Maccu Piccu” which is based around a reggae style guitar groove and “Two kinds of Happiness,” which would not be out of place on a Duran Duran album. The band, despite their skill as pop song writers, also remembers that they were leaders of the garage rock movement, and thankfully, don’t forget how to rock. Tracks such as “Taken for a Fool” and album highlight “Under Cover of Darkness” should satisfy fans of that particular style.

Julian Casablancas performing at Lollapalooza 2010
The band all deserve props individually for their efforts on the album, but special attention should be paid to both Albert Hammond Jr. and Julian Casablancas. Hammond is still a great guitarist, working with co-guitarist Nick Valensi to craft strong guitar parts and his soloing is still precise and top notch. Casablancas recorded his vocals separately from the band, which could have turned out disastrously. But, his Lou Reed inspired voice fits in perfectly, and you forget that he didn’t record with the band much on this album.

2011 is already shaping up to be a good year musically, with quality releases from Radiohead, Cut Copy, Les Jupes, & The Decemberists. Now you can add The Strokes to that list. Angles is a cohesive album that not only plays to the strengths of the Strokes, but adds some new influences that allow them to grow their sound. I’d rank it second to Is This It, and if they decide to come to my area of the world, I’ll be first in line for a ticket.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Academy Awards 2010

This year, I don't think people can complain about The Academy nominating movies that the majority of the public hasn't heard of, let alone watched. Out of the ten nominated films:

  • Toy Story 3 and Inception were two of the highest grossing films in 2010. (Toy Story 3 was first, Inception was fourth).

  • Black Swan, True Grit and The King's Speech made over $100 million at the box office. This is impressive, considering they are three genres that studio's assume the public won't watch (Art-house, Western, and Drama).

  • The Social Network and The Fighter finished outside the $100 million total, but still had strong box office performance (approximately $97 million and $89 million, respectively) and widespread critical acclaim.

  • Even the other three nominated movies (127 Hours, The Kids Are All Right, and Winter's Bone) despite grossing less than the other films, still managed to turn a profit considering their budgets.

All things considered, 70% is pretty good for the Academy Awards.

As for my predictions,  I'm personally hoping that The Social Network wins Best Picture, but won't be surprised if The King's Speech takes it. It has everything that the Academy loves: it's a historical drama focused on the British monarchy;  it is promoted by the Weinstein Company, who specialize in this type of film (ex. Shakespeare in Love);it is largely inoffensive, with the exception of that one scene where King George VI says fuck 5 times;  It has the story of a person overcoming adversity or a disability. (stuttering). All it needed was the Holocaust, and Best Picture wouldn't even be a contest.

Despite my prediction of Best Picture, I see David Fincher winning Best Director for The Social Network as his direction was why a movie about Facebook was so successful. Still can't believe Christopher Nolan was snubbed for Inception. I would have nominated Nolan over  David O. Russell (The Fighter). 

Most of the Acting categories are locks. Natalie Portman for Black Swan and Colin Firth for The King's Speech will take the lead acting oscar's. Christian Bale will finally be rewarded for his work, winning Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter. Bale will also win because the Academy will need some younger faces to be nominated in the future, now that Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington are older and entering the "Paycheque" phase of their career. Supporting Actress is the tightest race. I think Melissa Leo will not win for The Fighter for two reasons. 1) Her co-star Amy Adams is nominated, so they'll split the vote. and 2) Her solo For Your consideration campaign may have ruined her chances. Either Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) or Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech) will win this award, but I'm leaning toward Carter.

Gwenyth Paltrow wins best song because Hollywood is intent on forcing the idea of her as a singer on the public.

Final note: How surreal would it be if Trent Reznor won an Academy Award?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 13-20:I Believe in Music

After this past week, I can safely say that I am optimistic about the music industry. But it didn't start out that well.

On Sunday, with a lack of anything else on the television, I settled in to watch the Grammy awards, the music industry's annual back-patting session. With over 100 awards given out, but only ten given out on the broadcast, the show was built around a showcase of today's best music talent. As I was watching, I kept thinking, "if this is the best the music industry has to offer, we're fucked."

Throughout the show, viewers were bombarded by artists who are virtually interchangeable from each other. Their voices are fed through a computer program to ensure note perfect vocals, at the cost of sounding robotic.  They were wearing clothes that nobody would wear outside of a fashion show runway. The music was composed around synthesized beats and samples. Falsified positive emotions. It was all the same, from Lady Gaga to Rihanna.

Country music does not fare much better. Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," the big winner of the night, is a song destined to be a first dance for married couples for the next decade. Just hearing the chorus sends me running for cover.  It also disappoints me that a genre once known for accepting performers who did not quite fit the standard of beauty put out by popular music, seems to have been taken over by the same pop music factory. It's all perky blondes with so-so voices, mixed with the Los Angeles interpretation of down-home heartland charm ('House that built me,' I'm looking in your direction here). Trisha Yearwood, possessor of one of the finest voices in country music, would not even get a look today. (They'd say "She's too fat...Who'd want to have sex with her her?)

Despite the negative introduction,  there were several performances that made me optimistic for the future of the music industry going ahead.

Here's what stood out:
-The Aretha Tribute that started the show was very well done. Jennifer Hudson again showed why she is one of the best musicians to ever come out of American Idol. Not bad for someone who finished SEVENTH.

Christina Aguleira, however, continues her year of bad luck. Her GaGa ripoff makeover flopped, her album was disappointing in sales, Burlesque bombed, her tour had to be cancelled, she flubbed the national anthem in front of 100 million people, and fell over after this performance. She's been playing catch-up for a decade now, relying too much on her looks rather than her actual ability to sing, and it seems to be getting to her. At this rate, it won't be long until she's performing on the casino circuit or develops a drinking problem.

-Bruno Mars, B.O.B., and Janelle Monae were the first performance of the night, and they gave it their all. Granted, B.O.B. was sort of "there", but Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae more than made up for his shortcomings.  Monae in particular carried herself like a true rock star, crowd-surfing as she performed her hit "Cold War." She gave the evening a good boost of energy. Here's hoping for more from her.  Mars has a nice voice, and R&B is in need of a new young star ever since Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna.

-I was torn on Muse performing. On one hand, they were one of two bands there that could be classed as rock. On the other hand, I thought The Resistance was one of their weaker albums. But, they were pretty good here, performing the only good song off that album. And Matthew had a double guitar, which automatically makes him cool in my books. But, whoever came up with the idea of adding gimmicks to the performance, in this case, some anarchists rushing the stage and smashing things, needs to be fired. It's distracting to people at home, and comes off as tacky.
-Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan also had a great performance. Mumford and sons perform good folk rock that can appeal to a variety of listeners, and the Avett Brothers made a fan out of me. Seeing both of the bands perform behind a bonafide music legend was also really cool, and you can tell that these guys were excited to be on the stage with Dylan as he performed Maggie's Farm. However, any voice Dylan had before is gone, reduced to a Tom Waits-esque growl.  The performance was great, and after Arcade Fire's performance, the best of the night.

-Mick Jagger performed for the first time ever at the Grammy's, doing a tribute to the late Solomon Burke, and showed everyone why he is one of the best front men in rock and roll.  His showmanship made all these young stars look second rate. He really is on another level.

-I really tuned in to see Arcade Fire perform for the first time at the Grammy's, and they kept me waiting. Fortunately, they did not disappoint. They livened up a lethargic show when they performed "Month of May," probably the most rocking track on The Suburbs. Best performance of the night, and hopefully, they won over some new fans.

On the topic of Arcade Fire, I was rooting for them to win Album of the Year, but was expecting Lady Antebellum to take it. I was shocked when Arcade Fire won the award. and so were thousands of viewers, who took to Facebook and Twitter to share their disgust. This site catalogued some of the best responses. It's amazing to think how many people thought the band was named "The Suburbs."

There has also been a backlash brewing among the underground community towards Arcade Fire, claiming that they sold out. There is nothing I hate more than that term. just because a band or artist reaches a wider audience doesn't mean they have sold out. To me, the term means that you sacrifice your principles in order to make money. Shouldn't you want a band to be successful, and not playing the same shows in front of the same people? Sure you may feel something special, but this special feeling doesn't pay the gas money for these bands. People who label anything underground that becomes popular as selling out are not real fans of music.

Though, I'm really happy that arcade fire won, and you could tell they were overjoyed as they closed the show. The Grammy's get it right once in a while.


This week continued with the announce that Radiohead would be releasing their new album The King of Limbs digitally that Saturday, later bumping it a day early. Now here is a band that I used to loathe when I was a teenager, mostly because i thought they were boring. Though my opinion changed when I started volunteering at CKUW around the time In Rainbows was released. This album was not released with the pay what you want model that In Rainbows used. you want the album digitally? $9 for MP3, $14 for WAV. i went MP3.

I read a lot of mixed opinions across the internet. I think that people put this album on a pedastal and as a result, they were disappointed. It is not a game changer like previous albums were, but it is still very good. Musically, it reminds me a lot of Kid A, with some added influence from Thom yorke's solo recordings and In Rainbows: it is a challenging listen, built around electronics and minimal guitar. But, you spend some time with it, and songs start to grow on you. The album feels a lot like a concept album about the relationship between technology and the natural world. If you listen to it, you will understand what I mean.

Again, it's a very good album, but it's not for everyone. Choice tracks: "Morning Mr. Magpie", "Lotus Flower", "Give Up the Ghost", and "Seperator."

Though I'm still trying to figure out what exactly a "newspaper" album is...

In case you are wondering, here is how I'd rank Radiohead's albums right now.

1. OK Computer
2. In Rainbows
3. The Bends (very underrated)
4. Kid A
5. The King of Limbs
6. Hail to the Thief
7. Amnesiac
8. Pablo Honey


Maybe we are at a cultural shift.  Maybe last week was the start of something. It's happened before; an era where art triumphs over commerce. These next few years will be interesting to watch.

But, as long as there are artists who continue to make good music, challenge the conventions of their genres, and get rewarded for it, I will always believe in music.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day Playlist.

The best way to show your partner how much you care this Valentine's Day? Make a mix CD with these love songs on them, which are some of my favorites, along with a few of my friend's picks. 14 songs, in an order that best details the path of a romantic relationship in my opinion, and are just some good songs in general.   (Acknowledgements to Kelsey [#3], Russ [#9], Marc [#10] & Mike [#13] for their contributions)

You may thank me later. and you can put these in any order you feel like. Here's my order.
1. These United States - First Sight
2. The Beatles - I Want To Hold Your Hand
3. Mr. Big - To Be With You
4. Garth Brooks- To Make You Feel My Love
5. Billy Joel - Just The Way You Are
6. Radiohead- Exit Music (for a film)
7. Bush - Glycerine
8. Jewel- You Were Meant for Me
9. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Dosed
10. Beach Boys - God Only Knows
11.Pearl Jam - Just Breathe
12. Barry White- Can't Get Enough Of Your Love Baby,
13. Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova - Falling Slowly
14. Daniel Johnston- True Love Will Find You In The End.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Waiting For Superman (2010)

Not about this Superman. :(

When I first read the premise of Waiting for Superman, I was disappointed, yet interested. The disappointment was a result of learning that it was not a film about comic book characters, and people wishing that they were real (alright, I’ll stop trying to be a comedian); but my interest peaked when I learned that it was about education. I have somewhat of an interest in education, which is the understatement of the century. Up until last year, I was studying to be a teacher, but realized that it was not what I was meant to do. So, I left. I still have a respect for most teachers. They have a difficult, stressful, job, and they receive little respect from the public. And we in Canada are blessed with an education system that is one of the best in the world. The same thing can’t be said for the U.S.

In a word, the United States Education system is broken. They rank near the bottom in education scores, and reading levels have remained stagnant since the 1970’s. No Child Left Behind was supposed to fix the education system, but it was akin to putting a fresh coat of paint on a house that just got hit by a tornado. It is admirable to have a standard to strive towards, but when each school district and state have their own standards, it is ineffective.

Throughout Waiting for Superman, we follow five students from different backgrounds, go through the education system that is broken, that their parents know is broken, but still go because there are no other options. The parents of these children want a better education than what they’ve received growing up, and look for any option that will help their kids. Most of the stories are engaging, with the exception of one, and you become attached to the students, and hope that they end up succeeding.

David Guggenheim hoped to use this film as a call to action for education reform, much like his previous feature An Inconvenient Truth strengthened the green movement in 2007. While his film will indeed promote discussion and debate, I feel that it missed the mark in its treatment of the issue, and likely alienated the segment of the population who could have benefited from learning about this issue.

Guggenheim claims that teacher’s unions , the issue of tenure, and a bloated bureaucracy are the reason why American schools are failing, ignoring the fact that number one ranked Finland and other countries that rank higher than the U.S. also have unionized teachers. While I personally believe that unions are another broken system (to paraphrase an education reformer quoted in the film, “the world has changed, but unions have remained the same”), blaming the entire poor state of education of unions and the terrible teachers that are protected by unions and tenure is misguided. If you are blaming the unions, you are also blaming the truly amazing teachers who make a difference. Despite some brief clips from his previous documentary on education, Guggenheim does not show examples effective teachers in the public school system. Why would he? He sends his kids to a private school. He doesn’t feel that the public school system is effective, and showing examples of effectiveness in public schools would undermine his message.

Waiting For Superman is blatantly in favour of charter schools; They are the Superman referred to in the title, swooping in to save the children from a path to destruction! You’d almost mistake the film for an orientation video for the Harlem Children’s Zone. We see graphs that supposedly show that students in charter schools achieve higher scores than their public school brethren, even though there are surveys that show that the achievement rate of public schools and charter schools are basically even. Guggenheim twists data to support his opinion, showing charter schools as beacons of success, with caring teachers that guarantee that your child will be prepared for college when they leave the school. It’s a pitch that convinces the parents of the children featured, along with hundreds of other hopeful parents, to sign up for a lottery to get into the school (the school is required to hold a lottery if the number of students who apply is greater than the number of available spaces).

Guggenheim tells the viewer in the film that it is too late to fix the current education system. Any attempt at reforming the system is doomed to end in failure. Teacher’s unions will block any legislation that will hold them accountable, even if it makes sense. The only hope for a decent education in America is to hope that your number is chosen from hundreds. The scenes at the lottery are heartbreaking as a viewer. You get attached to the kids, and you feel crushed when their numbers aren’t called. Out of the five students featured, only one student’s number is called (the less-interesting one). Fortunately, circumstances change for one of the other students, ending the movie on a more positive note. I would be interested in seeing a follow-up on the students featured ten years from now, to see how their circumstances may have changed or if they're in the same spot as before.

The best way to sum up Waiting For Superman: A missed opportunity. It is a film that could have fired up the people who needed to be fired up about education, and shed some light on the challenges teachers face, and the flaws that need addressing (the disparity between the funding of inner-city schools and suburban schools was not even touched upon). Instead, the people who could have been impacted by this film leave thinking “I can’t change anything. Why bother trying?”

EDIT: Fixed some typos. It should be gramatically correct now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm a Machine

The album that I will be reviewing today is the only full length album Death From Above 1979 released before breaking up. And, after the announcement that the band will be reuniting at this year's Coachella festival, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to revisit the album, and see how well it holds up.

DFA1979 formed in 2001, made up of duo Sebastien Grainger on drums and vocals, and Jesse Keeler on Bass/Background vocals. A literal drum’n bass group, with the occasional synthesizer thrown in, the band played dance inspired punk/metal, wanting to see how far they could go with that style. They played their first show in front of 12 people in Long Island, and their last show was in front of 12,000 people in Calgary. They’ve played with Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Metric, Billy Talent and Alexisonfire, usually as the opening act. Yet, as they were getting more and more exposure, Grainger and Keeler were growing apart, rarely speaking to each other except for interviews and before shows. Due to growing apart as friends, and the dreaded “Creative Differences,” DFA1979 broke up in 2006.

Their album immediately established themselves as a band to watch on the crowded indie rock scene. You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine hits you from the beginning like a punch to the face, and keeps pummelling you for a half hour before strutting away in celebration. Subtlety is not an option for Jesse or Sebastien, musically or lyrically. It’s an all out aural assault; loud, blunt, and to the point. Exactly how rock and roll should be. This album sounds like it was recorded live, in that it adequately captured the energy of one of the bands stage shows. This is something that often gets lost when recording certain bands.

You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine had crossover appeal. Not only was it heavy enough for moshing, but because it was based around drum and bass (the two rhythm parts of a full band), it was groovy enough for hipster kids to dance to, especially in the case of the album closer, “Sexy Results.” Tony Manero could strut along to this. One of the downfalls to a band based around two instruments is that there are only so many sounds you can create before it begins to sound the same. Thankfully, the album is short enough so it doesn’t get dragged down in monotony.

Death From Above 1979’s sound can be heard in many of today’s underground bands. It can be argued that without DFA1979, there would be no Titus Andronicus, Pack A.D., or My Sister Ocean, as all these bands owe a debt of influence on their sound to DFA.  I don't know whether or not this reunion at Coachella is a one time thing, or whether it will turn into something more, but either way, I'm still excited. If it wouldn't set me back $2,000, I'd be in California this April.

Author's Note: Sorry for the delay in posting. I've been really swamped lately, and suffering from a case of writer's block. My next entry will likely be a film review, either The Social Network, or The Outsiders.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

This is the first time that I will review an album for this blog, and I have chosen one of my top three favourite albums to be the inaugural review.  

Wilco formed in 1994 after the demise of Alternative country band Uncle Tupelo. Their first album, A.M. was criticized for being too similar to their previous sound. Their next two albums, Being There and Summerteeth showed hints of growth, merging their previous sound with more alternative/experimental rock elements. They've been dubbed the American Radiohead, pushing the boundaries of their genre, shunning simple categorization. While popular with critics, and having decent album sales, they weren't huge sellers like their new label president expected. Remember, this was in the early part of the 2000's, where it wasn't unusual for an artist to sell 1 million albums in their first week.

In 2001, shortly after recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was completed, Wilco came into conflict with Reprise Record's (A subsidiary of Time Warner) new president David Kahne. Kahne felt that they new album was horrible, was not marketable, and that if Wilco released it, they'd be committing career suicide. Lead singer Jeff Tweedy refused to budge or make any changes, resulting in Wilco being dropped from Reprise. The band managed to negotiate a buyout of their contract, which included the rights to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  The band began to stream the record on their website after some tracks leaked, while touring and searching for a new label. They eventually settled on Nonesuch Records, another subsidiary of time Warner, finally releasing it in 2002. So, in essence, Time Warner paid for the album twice. Ridiculous, but that was the story of the music industry in the past decade.

So, the album had a lot of hype surrounding it, but could it live up to it? Who would be vindicated at the end, Kahne or Wilco?

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" opens the album. It is the second longest song on the album, at 6:56, and lets the listener know what they can expect. It's built around a simple three-chord guitar melody mixed with some electronic sounds juxtaposing the traditional with the avant-garde. Lyrically the song doesn't make sense at first, with lines "I am an American aquarium drinker" and "take off your bandage cause I don't believe in touchdowns," but it becomes more clear as the song builds to its climax, Tweedy saying "I'm the man who loves you" over feedback.  Wilco songs peak around seven minutes long, with more on that later.

The album moves back and forth between experimental rock pieces, songs that are more influenced by their earlier sound, and occasionally combining the two together. "Kamera" and "Jesus etc." are more traditional songs, but have strong songwriting to make them feel less like filler. In addition to being the most accessible songs, they are also some of the strongest tracks on the album. "War on War" and "Ashes of American Flags" start off like folk rock songs, but midway through, switch into something different completely, electronic effects taking over, completely changing the mood. The unsung hero of this album is Jim O'Rourke, who produced and mixed the album alongside the band.  Anybody can add electronics, noise, and samples to their songs, but it takes a skilled producer and mixer to make it sound coherent.

There is a flaw on the album, and it concerns the last two tracks, "Poor Places" and "Reservations." Remember earlier when I said that Wilco songs peak around seven minutes?   Otherwise, you end up with "Reservations", which is seven and a half minutes long, with over half of it being just noise. The first half of the song is fine, but the end keeps going on and on. Ideally, the track would have either been cut in half, or completely cut from the album. "Poor Places" however, feels more like an ideal conclusion to the album, ending with a loop of feedback and a sampled voice repeating the album's title. But, this complaint is minuscule, and does not reduce my enjoyment of this album.

Wilco won out in the end. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot finished high on many critic's "Best of the year list," was named one of the top albums of the decade by Rolling Stone magazine (#3 if I recall), and is also Wilco's best selling album to date, being certified Gold. I wonder if David Kahne was fired for kicking Wilco off the label. It's proof that many music executives are out of touch with what the public wishes to listen to, which is why overall sales have slipped. I know that we can't change the habits of most of the buying public, who prefer the musical equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries, but there is s a growing majority of people who like to be challenged by the music they listen to. They want something different from the norm, something that they haven't heard before. Start catering to that group.

This album is one of my top five favorite albums of all-time. Strong musicianship and lyrics, incredibly polished, hits an emotional core, and unlike anything I've ever heard before. Fans of Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Neutral Milk Hotel, or Arcade Fire should give this album a listen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Top Ten Albums of 2010

Author's Note: Happy New Year everyone!

First of all, I realize that it has been over 8 months since I've posted any entry in this blog. One of my new years resolutions is to become a more active blogger. Blogging is one way for me to improve my writing, and will allow me to avoid stagnating as a writer.

2010 was one of the better years for music that I can recall. In my lifetime, I think that only 2000, 2001, and 2004 come close to matching the amount of quality music released this year. As a result, it made narrowing down items for my list difficult.

My list is simply a list. The only reward for artists on the blog is bragging rights. My influence on sales will likely be minimal, due to the small size and limited readership of this blog. Rankings were decided based on my enjoyment of the album. I went back and forth on the order of the rankings, but I am satisfied with the order now. Suggest your favorites in the comments section.

Here we go.

1. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor (XL)
It was back and forth between this album and Arcade Fire for the number one spot. But what made me choose The Monitor over The Suburbs was the following reason:

Arcade Fire already established themselves with Funeral. When I first saw the band, I thought that there was no way these guys could be successful. They dressed like they just stepped out of the 1890’s. There were 8 members in the group. The cello was a main component of their sound! But, I listened to their album. The music was great; it connected on a level that no other band had been able to do before, and they’ve continued to expand upon Funeral. I’m sure that they could release an album that only contains the sounds of photocopiers and printers and it would still be successful (note to Win, Regine, and the gang: please don’t do this). We expect greatness from the band every time they head into the studio or headline major festivals.

Titus Andronicus, however, I was questionable about. Their 2008 debut The Airing of Grievances had some really good songs, but really fell apart towards the end. Their second album sounded interesting based on a few samples, and I ended up buying it based on two reviews. Within a minute after putting it in my CD player, it grabbed a hold of me, and refused to let go until I finished the album.

Like Funeral, The Monitor is comprised of elements that really should not work. A loose Civil War concept. Spoken word interludes between songs, read by Craig Finn (The Hold Steady) and Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls). Only two songs under 5 minutes in length. The closing song clocks in at 14 minutes, and features bagpipes, saxophones, and assorted percussion. I’m worried that the album is going to fall apart like Grievances. But it doesn’t. Every portion fits into place. The Civil War is used as a metaphor for modern American discord, and the struggle of the individual and a homogenizing society. You get caught up in the music that you don’t even notice that they’ve been rocking out for six minutes. And when “The Battle of Hampton Roads” comes to a close, you’ll want to start the album from the beginning.

9 months later, when most indie bands fade into obscurity, replaced by the “next big thing”, this album still holds up. The best album of 2010.

Favorite tracks: “A More Perfect Union,” “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” “Theme from ‘Cheers’” “The Battle of Hampton Roads” (every once in a while).

2. Arcade Fire- The Suburbs (Merge)

The Suburbs and The Monitor compliment each other nicely. Both deal with the conflict between conformity and individuality, but while Titus Andronicus take the “let’s firebomb the institution” approach to the struggle, Arcade Fire are like “hey guys, let’s think this through.”

I’ve joked about Arcade Fire before, saying they’re what will happen when you don’t have the heart to kick your friends out of the band, and that they can record anything and people would talk about how profound it is, but in all seriousness, I’m happy for their success. They’ve grown a lot since Funeral, and have refined their style since then. This time, taking their influence from such artists as Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Depeche Mode, they combine those sounds into something original. A lesser-band would focus solely on the negative aspects of suburbia, but Arcade Fire is not a lesser band. They handle the subject with maturity, and I believe this may be the first album that examines suburban life from a parent’s perspective, not just focusing on the kids. At times, cynical and soul-crushing, but also hopeful and empathetic, The Suburbs is still one of the best albums of the year despite its number two ranking on my list. If you want to put it at number one, I won’t hate you.

P.S. Some reviews have compared the album to Radiohead’s masterpiece OK Computer, but we need to wait a few years to see if it holds up.
P.P.S. Arcade Fire Drinking game: Take a drink everytime "The kids" is mentioned in the songs.

Favorite Tracks: “The Suburbs” “Ready to Start” “Rococo” “Deep Blue”

3. The Black Keys – Brothers (Nonesuch)

Everyone in my social circle (but mainly Marc and Jeff) loved this album. I’ll admit, the obnoxious album cover initially turned me off. But, open mind and whatnot. I’m a fan of that garage-rock style, and Brothers filled that quota, and exceeded it.

The most impressive thing about this album is that despite the potential for songs sounding the same (a common criticism of this style), each song feels distinctive and unique, setting itself apart from the others. In addition, this album is the perfect summer album, designed for watching sunsets from your porch at the cottage, or splashing in the pool on the hottest day of the year.

Favorite Tracks: “Next Girl,” “Tighten Up,” “Howling for you” “Sinister Kid”

4. Film School – Fission (Hi-Speed Soul)

I first discovered Film School in 2007 when I started volunteering at CKUW. I actually wrote down the title of their CD at the time (Hideout), and bought it later. Amazing album, despite the feedback interludes that I felt were unnecessary, and a little too much like My Bloody Valentine. I worked backwards, finding their albums (still working on finding all of Brilliant Career, but it is out of print), and was worried that they had broken up when no new material had come from them for two years (with the exception of a cover song for a shoegaze tribute album). But, in 2010, they revealed that they had gone independent and were working on their new album. I was anxious to hear it, especially after the release of the first song “Heart Full of Pentagons.” Even being delayed for a month (a result of signing with Hi-Speed Soul) couldn’t stop my excitement.

It is a noticable change in style from their previous albums. There is still a My Bloody Valentine influence, but mixed with Metric and Yo La Tengo. Keyboards and synthesizers are more prominent on this album, giving it more of a dance rock and pop influenced sound, and bassist Lorelai Plotcyzk became a more prominent vocal presence. Despite these changes, it still feels like a Film School album, containing some of their old trademarks (abstract lyrics, layered guitars), but refining their sound into something different,. They became more accessible with this release, and are poised to reap success that they deserve with this album.

Favorite tracks: “Heart full of Pentagons” “Waited” “Distant Life” “When I’m Yours”

5. The National – High Violet (4AD)

If you release one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2007, how do you ever hope to follow it up? Take what worked for you the last time, and go from there.

High Violet is an album that is beautiful despite its bleakness (god damn, that sounded pretentious). Musically and lyrically, it is a darker album than Boxer (and remember, that wasn’t the most cheerful album to begin with), but still contains enough optimism to avoid making it completely gloomy. Still, this is a nighttime album through and through. Musically strong, with everyone in the band at the top of their game, it sticks with you for days after listening to it, and lyrically top notch. It’s hard to explain why I keep coming back to this album, but it has wormed its way into my playlist this month. I wonder if it is due to the winter, and the mindset I am in right now. Still, a great album, and that is three in a row for the band. They have huge expectations for the follow-up.

Favorite tracks: “Anyone’s Ghost” “Afraid of Everyone” “Bloodbuzz Ohio” “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

6. The Pack A.D. – We Kill Computers (Mint)

Moving away from their blues roots, Becky Black and Maya Miller fully embrace a hard rock sound on their third album. An aural assault on the listener, this record is loud, grungy, and holds nothing back. Two women, armed with a guitar and drums, rock harder than most bands on active rock radio these days. Easily the heaviest album of the year.

Favorite tracks: “Deer” “1880” “Big Anvil” “K Stomp”

7. Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do (ATO Records)

Drive-By Truckers were a band I got into the year before, after watching a repeat of their appearance on Austin City Limits. They straddle a fine line musically, containing enough twang to appeal to country listeners, but still a rock band first and foremost. Their eighth studio album is more accessible this time around, taking more influence from Tom Petty. The stories contained in the songs, such as “This Fucking Job” and “Birthday Boy” are more universal in their scope, and deal with issues in the present rather than the past. Musically, the addition of Jay Gonzalez on piano also differentiates the album from its predecessors. Music today needs more piano or organ. It always adds something to a band.

Favorite songs: “The Fourth Night of my Drinking,” “Birthday Boy” “This Fucking Job” “Eyes Like Glue”

8. Vampire Weekend – Contra (XL)

If you looked up “stereotypical indie band” in the dictionary, you’d probably find a picture of Vampire Weekend. A bunch of Ivy league grads, influenced by worldbeat and reggae, writing songs about the oxford comma. You should hate the based on the description! But, in 2008, they managed to become the next big thing in indie music. But, the question was whether or not they were just a flash in the pan, like many bands before.

Then, Contra was released. It felt more like a Vampire Weekend album, rather than an album of their influences. Ezra Koening used his voice as another instrument to the sound, working it over various samples and sound scapes. They carefully blend worldbeat, surf music, arena rock, and good old fashioned pop into one of the more enjoyable albums of the year. In addition, "California English" contains the best use of Autotune ever.

Favorite tracks: “Horchata” “California English” “Giving up the gun.” “I Think ur a contra”

9. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network (Null)

Yes, I’m a Trent Reznor fan boy. Yes, this is the score to the movie. But, one of Reznor’s strengths is making emotional music without having to sing a word. It adds to the movie (one of the best of 2010), and is one of the most memorable aspects of it. And, this album works well without the context of the movie as ambient music. I have it on in the background as I’m writing this.

Favorite tracks: “Hand Covers Bruise” “In Motion” “Magnetic” “In the Hall of the Mountain king”

10. Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame (ANTI)

Very retro inspired sound, with shades of 1960’s pop and psychedelic. This is a summertime record that I enjoy more with each listen. And I’m tired of writing, so this shall remain brief.

Favorite tracks: “Stranger” “Shadow People” “I Only Wear Blue” “Mirror, Mirror”

Here is the list. Check these albums out, and support these bands.

What were your favorite albums of 2010? Recommend me some albums.