The Year in Music
by Donny Kutzbach, Cory Perla, Eric Kendall
Even in the age of digital downloads and shortened attention spans, the good news is that the album is not dead. This year proved to have some of the finest full-lengths in years. Singles alone be damned: long live the long-player!
Album of the year:
Eight years after his last record and at 64 years old, Peter Wolf is still showing the world what it’s about. The legendary rapping raconteur and singer of the J. Geils Band—the fella who really taught everyone from Mick Jagger to David Lee Roth how the front-man job was meant to be done—has a masterpiece all his own. Midnight Souvenirs is the kind of record that reaffirms belief in the art of genuine songwriting, in real-deal American soul-rock-country-blues musical styling, and in immaculately arranged, played, and recorded songs. Wolf’s voice bears both the weariness and wisdom of the years behind it but sounds absolutely phenomenal after all these years. Wolf gets some help (he duets with Shelby Lynne, Neko Case, and the incomparable Merle Haggard on different tracks), but the credit all comes back to the man himself for delivering a late-night confessional backed by a crack session band that unflinchingly explores nearly every corner of American music with rare grace, power, and soul. (dk)
The rest, alphabetically:
Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Sun of Chico Dusty
The Black Angels
Dream-like but not in the characteristic wide-open, ambient, dream-pop sense, the Texas-based band clearly borrowed from a slew of 1960s psychedelic rock influences to turn out the well produced, mesmerizing album. “Yellow Elevator #2,” one of the album’s stand-out tracks, overflows with far-out, organ-toned keyboards and singer Alex Maas’ thick, harmonic vocals. “Telephone” sounds like a McCartney rip from White Album-era Beatles, while “River of Blood,” with its Indian drone and cryptic, bloody lyrics, would have Jim Morrison staring off into contemplative oblivion, were he still around to contemplate. More than a simple ripoff of every white guy with a sitar from the 1960s, they actually have a genuine and strong grasp of what it means to make psychedelic, summer-of-love rock, even down to Phosphene’s hypnotizing artwork. (cp)
The Black Keys
It was a record that you heard booming out everywhere: bleeding from headphones of passersby, blaring from car stereos, and seemingly featured in every TV show and commercial you could count. That was for good reason, as Brothers was like the ultimate coming-out party for Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. After years of building their reputation on the road and with a successive series of albums that bested the previous, they deliver on every track. It’s a deeply funky record of infectious tracks that manages to hold true to the duo’s stripped-back brand of blues rock while adding layers of hooks and oozing sensuality. Carney’s taut rhythms and Auerbach’s always-on-the-mark guitar and vocal prowess—from the slinky falsetto of “Everlasting Light” to the impassioned, pleading holler of “I’m Not the One”—deliver over and over in a perfect amalgam of soul-rock wonder. (dk)
Cee Lo Green
The Lady Killer
With his first proper solo release since the Gnarls Barkley global takeover, Green enlists a host of producers for a record that leans on Motown and Huff/Gamble sensibilities and traditions with the panache to deliver “give it all you got” soul while twisting it all through modern sheen and polish. The irrepressible first single “Fuck You”—which became an instant viral sensation upon being unleashed online back in August—is a brutally frank kissoff aimed at an ex-lover, belied by its bubbly, infectious hooks. “It’s OK” proves a wrenching recap of the women who went away but haunt with memories, while the downbeat Stax feel of “Old Fashioned” is the perfect backdrop for the heartache Green pours out. Lady Killer is a masterful exercise in soul music past, present, and future, and yet another high point for the ever-evolving Mr. Green. (dk)
Sit Down, Man
The line between sarcasm and seriousness is a thin one. Das Racist knows this. On their sophomore album, Sit Down, Man, the Brooklyn-based rappers consistently jump back and forth across that line. Tracks like “Hahahaha JK?,” with a refrain that echoes “We’re not joking, just joking, we are joking, just joking, we’re not joking,” the group winks and dares you to take them seriously as they light up another joint. But what makes this album stick out among other hip-hop albums this year is the social commentary they contribute without the prevalent egotistical aspects that colleagues like Kanye West rely on. “People Are Strange,” stands out with a sample of the Doors song by the same name and lyrics that remind us that we’re all strange individuals in our own way, but we are all playing the same game and that is what should unite us. (cp)
With the release of a pair of albums and more than two dozen singles online in 2010, this Columbus, Ohio quartet has an admirable work ethic. That alone wouldn’t be enough to make this list, but luckily guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Branden Barnett, violinist/vocalist Samantha Kim, bassist Ryan Haye, and drummer David “Murph” Murphy earn the spot thanks to their skewered, deconstructed indie pop. (dk)
The pride of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Glossary deliver their sixth album of uncompromised American rock-and-roll with a penchant for humbly anthemic songs, beautiful his-and-hers harmonies, and just a kick of country, folk, and deep Southern soul. Feral Fire finds Glossary at their full-tilt finest, as exhibited in the muscular, Thin Lizzy-esque “Lonely Is a Town,” which bursts with joyful abandon, as does the blistering celebration of “Save Your Money for the Weekend.” The meditative ballad “Through the Screen Door” details haunted memories and regrets with heartache and austere splendor, while guitarist Todd Beene gets “all Tennessee,” taking vocals on the rollicking Southern-fried bar pop of “No Guarantee.” (dk)
Nick Cave and three members of his Bad Seeds comprise Cave’s “other band,” and arguably eclipse the doomy dirges of their day jobs with a brutally awesome excursion into the fevered and unbridled dark impetus of rock-and-roll. Turned up and turned on to the point of boiling over, the band’s second album is laden with equal parts braggadocio and self-loathing—along with a healthy underpinning of humor. Cave proves why he is one of music’s great writer/performers on this 10-track journey that plunders the themes of sin and carnality. The thoughts of redemption from it all certainly pop up, but the sin is there first…and licked gleefully like blood from predatory fangs. Like the Stooges meets Scott Walker. Or perhaps Elvis meets Satan. (dk)
The Hold Steady
Heaven Is Whenever
As if Neu! made a record with the Chemical Brothers, the Toronto stalwarts of the next wave of big-beat rock slay with a pulsing album that redefines what electronic music can and should be. (cp)
This Is Happening
From the start, New York City was where it was happening. The drunken nights, the failed relationships, the NYC dance club floors—this is where LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy sought inspiration for the self-reflective, scene-reflective, and lifestyle-reflective lyrics on This Is Happening, the band’s highly anticipated third album. But Murphy had to remove himself from the Big Apple to create his self-proclaimed last album as LCD Soundsystem. For this record Murphy took his gang of electrophiles to Rick Rubin’s analog synth mansion in LA to lay down some of the fattest beats and heaviest words of his career. From the synthesizer heavy intro track “Dance Yrself Clean,” a song about reaching a higher state of mind on the dance floor, to the 1980s new wave inspired tracks “I Can Change” and “Home,” LCD Soundsystem bare their soul with a perspective that could only come from sitting atop the hipster pyramid. (cp)
The Courage of Others
The loneliness that the National singer/songwriter Matt Berninger experiences is not your typical loneliness. The vivid and empathetic sadness and loneliness expressed on the band’s fifth album, High Violet, is the kind you can only find at rock bottom. Berninger’s rock bottom isn’t just implied though, it is professed on songs like “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” a driving rock song about a hopeless man who must resort to selling his own blood to fund a desperate trip home (or just away). It’s about the high of being so low. This is an album for those desperate moments in life and listening to it is like a hand on the shoulder. Guest appearances by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Sufjan Stevens only add more depth to an already deep record. It takes a special kind of pain to put out an album this good. (cp)
The criminally underrated Pink Nasty does it again. Originally to be titled You Make Me Mad, this self-titled release finds Sara “Pink Nasty” Beck having fully made the shift from her initial path of smirkingly fun and catchy folk/country to full-on sheening power pop and taut rock. She takes her obsessions with Pavement, the Strokes, and Prince to their ultimate synthesis, turning those influences on their heads and then dosing them with her own unique songwriting and wonderfully longing vocal. It’s like sticking a 1960s girl group sensibility into indie rock context for a collection of unforgettable songs that play perfectly on Beck’s knack for hook-heavy, salacious pop. (dk)
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The Social Network Original Soundtrack
David Fincher, director of the Social Network (and Fight Club, Seven, and Panic Room among other films) could have easily slapped a college rock soundtrack on his latest film about the formation of Facebook, and it probably would have made a lot of sense. But he didn’t. Instead he hired industrial and electronic innovator Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails producer Atticus Ross to write an ambient, trance-inducing, near-house epic that sets the dark tone for a film about the cutthroat urgency of Internet development. It’s a diverse album. From ambient, theme-setting tracks like “Hand Covers Bruise” to a rendition of the orchestral classic “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” each track serves its purpose remarkably. (cp)
On the surface it’s all raw, noisy, feedbacking guitar and muddy, reverb-heavy vocals, but listen just a bit deeper and it’s pop so perfect and wonderful that it borders on bubblegum. Segall’s stripped-to-the-bone psych-garage workout is such a addictive affair of punk passion and visceral crunch that it deserves a warning label. (dk)
Indie rock perennials and Merge Records founders return after a six-year layoff offering one of their finest sets to date, bursting at the seams with smart, energetic, hooky guitar pop. (dk)
Two Cow Garage
Sweet Saint Me
Nickel City Roundup
The Best Local Releases of 2010
It’s been one of the most prolific years for Buffalo musicians in recent memory, a fitting bookend to a decade of ever-increasing quality from our fair city of rock-and-roll. Here we’ll take a look of some highlight releases in no particular order:
Don’t Go Swimming
(Kiss of Death Records)
The tunes churned out by Unwelcome Guests are a testament to what a pocket full of chords and whole lot of heart can accomplish. This Buffalo quintet of Any Dennison, Zac Ausman, Stephen Schmidt, Chris Oakes, and Micah Winship have crafted an album likely to please fans of the Replacements and Springsteen while holding on to the best parts of the smartest of pop-punk reminiscent of early Jawbreaker.
A Flight for Budapest
Out of the ashes of the dark no-wave of Besnyo comes (At Sea). Singer/songwriter Sean Mikula has hung up the synths in favor of a more stripped down approach to songwriting where the focus is put more on space and mood. The result is an gorgeously sparse concept album about the Jim Jarmusch film, Stranger Than Paradise. With touches of piano, horns, banjo and singing saw, the songs on A Flight for Budapest are minimal but never lacking. Beautiful restraint is the name of the game here.
Suspension has got to be the one of the most psychedelic rock albums to come of the city in quite some time. Dali’s Ghost have outdone themselves with this dense record filled with layers upon layers of harmonies, pastoral guitars, head-spinning percussion, and touches of sitar.
Son of the Sun
The Happy Loss
(I Blame Yoko Records)
If you’ve seen any big acts this past year, chances are you were fortunate enough to catch Son of the Sun opening the show. Already poised with plenty of national attention, Son of the Sun are doing their city proud. Old meets new with vintage style and modern delivery with hip-swaggering rock tunes that never lack in the element of class.
A Relative Term
Folk brain-child of Mark Longolucco, this is space-folk of the highest order, complete with omnichord,strings, e-bowed guitars and fragile almost-there percussion throughout the album. Whispered and delicate vocals guarantee an intimate listening experience each time.
The Viva Noir
Damn the Architecture
Equal parts romance and grit, the Viva Noir combine the lyrical poetry of British alt-rock of the late 1980s and early 1990s with a biting American punk delivery, blending dark hooks and unbridled punk energy.
Here Come the Comets
Good Ol’ Fashioned Sin
With humble melodies and raucous delivery like this, I can’t help but reminisce back to the days of local power-pop legends, Tugboat Annie. Here Come the Comets show signs of similar broad accessibility with charging and epic hooks but also know when to hold back with the addition of laid-back, piano-based ballads and touches of squalling feedback and ambience that give Good Ol’ Fashioned Sin a sci-fi vibe.
The Bird Day
Intricate, experimental, spaced-out, and, most importantly, danceable. This young quintet craft psychedelic party starters out of pure sunshine. While so new, these guys are already far ahead of the curve. This is Buffalo’s answer to !!! and MGMT, and they nearly bring those bands to their knees.
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