Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Resolutions

1.  More posts.  Increased brevity.

2.  Be nicer to U2.

3.  Be less nice to Daughtry, The Stereos, Nickelback et al.

4.  Prove with scientific data once and for all The Smiths are the greatest band of all time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 100 Songs of 2009

I've re-worked the sequencing on this fifty times, and another fifty still won't make me happy, so here it is.  No more than one song per artist, otherwise Phoenix would be all through this thing.  Also allowed for songs that were released or received some play in 2009 even though the band's album may have come out in 2008.

100    My Father Was A Horse - White Light
99    First Train Home - Imogen Heap
98    Triangle Walks - Fever Ray
97    Us Remains Impossible - Matthew Good
96    Ecstasy - jj
95    You and I - Wilco
94    1517 - The Whitest Boy Alive
93    4 Prophets - A.C. Newman
92    I Know - Zeus
91    Tell Me When You're Ready - 1990s

90    Fields Of Coal - And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
89    Absolutely Still - Better Than Ezra
88    Spiraling Down - Bob Mould
87    I Wonder Who We Are - The Clientele
86    Golden Chain - Lake Heartbeat
85    The Very Best Of Neil Diamond - Super Furry Animals
84    Fits & Dizzy Spells - Andrew Bird
83    No Direction - Magnetic Morning
82    Where Did All The Love Go - Kasabian
81    Raindrops - Basement Jaxx

80    Hell - Tegan & Sara
79    To Lose My Life - White Lies
78    Miss Tomorrow - Cheap Trick
77    11th Dimension - Julian Casablancas
76    Whatever - Awesome New Republic
75    Bad Romance - Lady GaGa
74    Rusty Nails - Moderat
73    Catalina - Raekwon
72    It Didn't Move Me - Peter Bjorn & John
71    Summer Song - YACHT

70    Cornerstone - Arctic Monkeys
69    Right The Relation - Polvo
68    London - The Exploding Boy
67    Turn Around - Seeland
66    Lust For lIfe - Girls
65    No Time - The Juan Maclean
64    Honey Please - The Tragically Hip
63    Heavy Cross - Gossip
62    Dirty Thirty - The Crystal Method (ft. Peter Hook)
61    Sunlight - Harlem Shakes

60    Crystalized - The xx
59    Repeater Beater - Mew
58    Saturday Night - Dog Day
57    About The Money - Bird Automatic
56    I'm Confused - Handsome Furs
55    Funny Little Frog - God Help The Girl
54    April Storm - Jeremy Enigk
53    You Don't Want To Know - Das Pop
52    The Girl and The Robot - Royksopp (ft. Robyn)
51    Stillness Is The Move - Dirty Projectors

50    Think I Need It Too - Echo & The Bunnymen
49    Rattle Off - The Got To Get Got
48    How To Emcee - Rakim
47    Vapours - Islands
46    Deli - Delorean
45    No You Girls - Franz Ferdinand
44    Over It - Dinosaur Jr.
43    Zero - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
42    Sattelite Skin - Modest Mouse
41    Animal - Miike Snow

40    Love Comes Close - Cold Cave
39    Games For Days - Julian Plenti
38    Blackberry - Apostle of Hustle
37    Repeated - The Longcut
36    Thaw Me Out - The Lodge
35    Magnet - Bombay Bicycle Club
34    Supermagic - Mos Def
33    Got Nuffin - Spoon
32    Uprising - Muse
31    Search Your Heart - Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson

30    That Old Sun - Foreign Born
29    Electric Lady - Tesla Boy
28    Help I'm Alive - Metric
27    Did You See Me Coming - Pet Shop Boys
26    Are You Really On Drugs - The Clean
25    Little Secrets - Passion Pit
24    I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris - Morrissey
23    My Love Is Better - Annie
22    Fragile Tension - Depeche Mode
21    Saints - Army Navy

20    Lonely By Your Side - Zoot Woman
19    Coast of Carolina - Telekinesis!
18    A Whole Lot Better - Brendan Benson
17    Supply & Demand - Fischerspooner
16    Daylight - Matt & Kim
15    Bounce - Mstrkrft
14    Skeleton Boy - Friendly Fires
13    Winter Hill - Doves
12    Sweet Sixteen - Think About LIfe
11    Empire State of Mind - Jay-Z (ft. Alicia Keys)

10    Kind Of A Girl - Tinted Windows
9    My Girls - Animal Collective
8    Everything With You - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
7    Percussion Gun - White Rabbits
6    Bits & Pieces - Junior Boys
5    People - Trashcan Sinatras
4    Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear
3    Celebrate - Contrived
2    Sink Or Swim - Bad Lieutenant
1    1901 - Phoenix

Monday, December 21, 2009

5 Cool Videos from 2009

5.  "My Girls" - Animal Collective



4.  "Bits & Pieces" - Junior Boys



3.  "Skeleton Boy" - Friendly Fires



2.  "Percussion Gun" - White Rabbits



1.  "We Won't Break" - Zoot Woman

Thursday, December 17, 2009

40 Best Albums of 2009

So it's probably time to start taking a look back at 2009.  A whole lot of really "good" music, but I'm not sure how much "great" music came out.  Nice showing from some veterans like Depeche Mode and Dino Jr. (even Bob Mould who's not on this list, probably wrote some of his best material since Sugar).  I kept this to 40, in the interest of focus, but my 100 songs list will cast the net a bit wider.

40 Paper Empire - Better Than Ezra
39 Yes - Pet Shop Boys
38 Trust In Numbers - Lake Heartbeat
37 Sahalee - The Got To Get Got
36 Technicolor Health - Harlem Shakes
35 Mister Pop - The Clean
34 Vapours - Islands
33 Manners - Passion Pit
32 Open Hearts - The Logcut
31 Not Morning People - Bird Automatic

30 Love Comes Close - Cold Cave
29 The Resistance - Muse
28 Don't Stop - Annie
27 Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors
26 Ashes Grammar - A Sunny Day In Glasgow
25 Person To Person - Foreign Born
24 Take That, Devil! - The Lodge
23 Farm - Dinosaur Jr.
22 Veckatimest - Grizzly Bear
21 Years of Refusal - Morrissey

20 Beacons Of Ancestorship - Tortoise
19 Miike Snow - Miike Snow
18 I Had The Blues But I Shook The Loose - Bombay Bicycle Club
17 Seek Magic - Memory Tapes
16 Concentration - Dog Day
15 Sounds Of The Universe - Depeche Mode
14 Family - Think About Life
13 Bad Lieutenant - Bad Lieutenant
12 The Blueprint 3 - Jay-Z
11 It's Frightening - White Rabbits

10 The Other Truths - Do Make Say Think
9 Tinted Windows - Tinted Windows
8 Things Are What They Used to Be - Zoot Woman
7 In Prism - Polvo
6 Telekinesis! - Telekinesis!
5 My Old, Familiar Friend - Brendan Benson
4 The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
3 In The Music - Trashcan Sinatras
2 Begone Dull Care - Junior Boys
1 Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix

Thursday, December 10, 2009

5 Things a song should never be able to get away with...

...Featuring "Norman 3" by Teenage Fanclub 
 



 It's easy to point to highly experimental music as the most original because all of the boundary stretching elements tend to be up front and centre and impossible to ignore.  It's sometimes even more interesting though, when bands can take standard pop composition structures and bend more subtle norms, yet still have it all work.  Teenage Fanclub are masters at bending really basic pop songs in a way that's not generally offensive to anyone's ears, yet cannot naturally reside on mainstream radio.  I'm speaking probably more specifically about they're first few albums that tended to be rooted more in gentle distortion with bits of noise and feedback, vs. their more recent output that has gone the route of Byrds based jingle jangle songs.  It's all brilliant, but in the car today I was struck by how certain bands would never be able to pull off some of the stuff the Fannies do on "Norman 3" from 1993's Thirteen.

1.  Perfect Fuzz
I play guitar, just not very well.  I do recall the challenge of finding the perfect blend of sounds one can generate with even the most basic combination of guitar pick-up and amplifier features.  Twiddling knobs ad nauseum to hopefully arrive at some utopian blend of distortion and reverb.  Teenage Fanclub always seemed like someone had built their equipment with a factory setting of warm guitar fuzz that no other band was allowed to have.  "Norman 3" is text book.  A band should not be able to seamlessly make a song that sounds like equal parts Husker Du and Hollies.  Sure the production makes certain the guitars aren't mixed completely up front and centre, but to use the same chords as any other song in a vibe that's disarming yet poignant at the same time is a neat trick.

2.  Mismatched Leads
The other guitar element that Teenage Fanclub picked up, in fairness, to some extent from Big Star and Dinosaur Jr., is throwing what should be otherwise obnoxious guitar lead fills over those warm chords.  Plus as the song builds to finality the leads just keep growing without ever screaming or becoming intrusive.  Another nice trick that's easy to ignore, but all the more compelling in how it's not at all disruptive to Norm's sweet vocals.  Neil Young would be proud to hear so much twangish soloing  with so few notes and minimal fret work.

3.  Vocals that Wobble
Celine Dion is supposed to hit every note perfectly.  That's the gig for the divaesque chanteuse who's bread and butter is vocal gymnastics and drawing applause for singing about nothing, loudly.  In the era of "Norman 3" people who were listening didn't care if you you sang the words perfectly so long as you meant those words.  This track has more emphasis on the lead vocals than other Fanclub songs with strong three part harmony, which means Norman Blake's vulnerability and sincerity is very much on display for 4:37.  It's not that he misses any notes or sings out of key.  To the contrary, his voice is quite pretty and reminiscent of a young Peter Frampton in spots.  It's just not over produced or affected with contrived effects.  This is what you sound like when you sing in the car, only you probably do actually suck as a singer.

4.  I'm In Love With You
How you sing about love is perhaps the most slippery craft for songwriters of all eras and genres.  It's particularly dangerous when you decide to do something foolish like coming right out less than subtley and proclaming, "Yeah.  I'm in love with you.  I'm in love with you.  And I know that it's you".  The famous John Lennon quote is "Just say what it is, simple English, make it rhyme and put a backbeat on it, and express yourself as simply [and] straightforwardly as possible.”  Amazingly, many a singer has either deliberately or accidentally tried to follow those words of wisdom with disastrous results (I promise to stop taking shots at Celine Dion, at least for the balance of this blog entry.  It's just good sport.).  To the similar point of Blake's vocal delivery, what should play as schmaltzy and embarassing works in the most endearing way because I really believe he's in love with this chick.  If you don't, let me offer point 5.

5.  Should I Repeat That?
Hip-hop and electronic music is built in many cases around repetitive hooks or beats.  The differentiation comes with cool rhymes, stylings or sounds thrown over that repetitive song core.  A standard guitar pop type song should be simple but for that reason tends not to work if the artist isn't breaking up or distinguishing thoughts and messages.  So what Teenage Fanclub should never conceivably be able to get away with is playing the same hook underneath the "Yeah.  I'm in love with you.  I'm in love with you, and I know that it's you" vocal for the last three minutes of a four minute song.  Maybe my blinders are so firmly set with this band that someone else might suggest it's repetitive to the point of ridiculous.  I just like to think that "alternative" can mean more than weird sounds and gratuitous feedback, but instead taking a very conventional sound and breaking rules for how a band 's suppose to deliver those sounds.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Heavy Fives - Week of November 30/09

So these are all 2009 releases that I'm listening to heavily this week, but the common thread is they all took some time for me to warm up to properly.  I'm obviously now very much onside with them all.

The XX - xx




Memory Tapes - Seek Magic



Harlem Shakes - Technicolor Health

 


Depeche Mode - Sounds of The Universe

 


Jeremy Enigk - Ok Bear