Thursday, December 12, 2013

Top 90 Songs of 2013

90) The Pixies - What Goes Boom
89) The Juan MacLean - Feel Like Movin'
88) The Love Language - Pilot Light
87) Iceage - Coalition
86) Shout Out Louds - Sugar
85) Pure Bathing Culture - Pendulum
84) Lightning Dust - Diamond
83) Best Coast - Who Have I Become?
82) Bleached - Searching through the Past
81) Telekinesis - Dark to Light
80) Speedy Ortiz - Fun
79) Justin Timberlake - Suit and Tie
78) The Lone Bellow - You Don't Love Me Like You Used To
77) King Tuff - Screaming Skull
76) Yo La Tengo - Ohm
75) James Blake - Retrograde
74) Major Lazer - Wind Up
73) Football, etc. - Return
72) Phoenix - Don't
71) Deerhunter - Pensacola
70) Saturday Looks Good to Me - The Everpresent New Times Condition
69) Joanna Gruesome - Wussy Void
68) Run the Jewels ft. Big Boi - Banana Clipper
67) Local Natives - Breakers
66) Connections - Hang On
65) Christopher Owens - New York City
64) Superchunk - FOH
63) Evian Christ - Salt Carousel
62) Wild Nothing - Ride
61) Black Twig Pickers - Banks of the Arkansas
60) Swearin' - Kenosha
59) Into it. Over it. - New North-Side Air
58) Guards - Ready to Go
57) Matthew E. White - Signature Move
56) Chance the Rapper - Acid Rain
55) Peach Kelli Pop - Dreamphone
54) Queens of the Stoneage - My God is the Sun
53) Mount Kimbie - Solid Ground
52) Nobunny - Oh Cody
51) The Front Bottoms - Funny You Should Ask
50) Free Energy - Hey Tonight
49) Ski Lodge - You Just Can't Stop Being Cruel
48) Savages - I am Here
47) Survival Knife - Name That Tune
46) Mazzy Star - California
45) Danny Brown - Side B (Dope Song)
44) Neko Case - Local Girl
43) Pusha T ft. Kendrick Lamar - Nosetalgia
42) My Bloody Valentine - Only Tomorrow
41) Beach Fossils - Clash the Truth
40) Surfer Blood - Say Yes to Me
39) Daphni - Ahora
38) Deafheaven - Dreamhouse
37) Mutual Benefit - Golden Wake
36) Wavves - Demon to Lean On
35) Avett Brothers - Another is Waiting
34) Arcade Fire - We Exist
33) Trinidad James - All Gold Everything
32) Blood Orange - You're Not Good Enough
31) Kurt Vile - Shame Chamber
30) Lorde - Royals
29) Guided by Voices - Flunky Minnows
28) The Knife - A Tooth for an Eye
27) A$AP Ferg - Work (Remix)
26) Shannon and the Clams - Candy Forget Me
25) Cage the Elephant - Come a Little Closer
24) Autre Ne Veut - Play by Play
23) Kanye West - Black Skinhead
22) The National - Graceless
21) The So So Glos - Wrecking Ball
20) HAIM - If I Could Change Your Mind
19) Bent Shapes - Hex Maneuver
17) The Mavericks - Back in Your Arms Again
16) Frightened Rabbit - The Woodpile
15) Waxahatchee - Brother Bryan
14) 2 Chainz - Feds Watching
13) A$AP Rocky - Goldie
12) Disclosure - When a Fire Starts to Burn
11) CHVRCHES - The Mother We Share
10) Vampire Weekend - Unbelievers
9) Foxygen - San Francisco
8) Phosphorescent - Songs for Zula
7) Iron & Wine - Waves of Galveston
6) Fletcher C Johnson - Call Me
5) Daft Punk (ft. Pharrell) - Get Lucky
4) Drake - Started from the Bottom
3) Mikal Cronin - Weight
2) Parquet Courts - Master of My Craft
1) Jason Isbell - Cover Me Up

Top 10 Albums of 2013

1) Jason Isbell - Southeastern
2) Foxygen - We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
3) Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold
4) Phosphorescent - Muchacho
5) Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt
6) Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
7) Bent Shapes - Feels Weird 
8) The Mavericks - In Time
9) Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
10) A$AP Rocky - Long Live A$AP

Thursday, December 13, 2012

TOP 80 Songs of 2012

And a special shout out to another one of my FAVORITES of the year not on this list... "Just a Spark" by Alex Troisi a former student who would be mentioned here even if she wasn't.  Make sure you check it out on iTunes!!!

80) Big K.R.I.T - Country Shit
79) Literature - Criminal Kids
78) Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)
77) Yeasayer - Damaged Goods
76) Death Grips - Whammy
75) The Fresh and Onlys - Long Slow Dance
74) Nightlands - So Far So Long
73) The Soft Walls - Black Cat
72) Screaming Females - Expire
71) Times New Viking - Sleep-In
70) Tennis - Origins
69) Ke$ha - We Die Young
68) Liturgy - Veins of God
67) Converge - Vicious Muse
66) Ben Gibbard - A Hard One to Know
65) DIIV - Human
64) Xray Eyeballs - Escape from that Girl
63) Mount Eerie - House Shape
62) Lambchop - Gone Tomorrow
61) Jaill - I'm Home
60) Tame Impala - Elephant
59) Danny Brown - Detroit 187
58) Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Pink Slime
57) The Smittens - Burning Streets of Rome
56) Craig Finn - No Future
55) Black Tambourine - I Want You Around
54) The Walkmen - Heaven
53) Colleen Green - I Wanna be Degraded
52) The School - Never Thought I'd See the Day
51) Avett Brothers - Live and Die
50) Alabama Shakes - Ain't the Same
49) Spiritualized - Little Girl
48) Pujol - DIY2K
47) Best Coast - Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?
46) Godspeed You! Black Emperor - We Drift Like Worried Fire
45) Memoryhouse - The Kids Were Wrong
44) The High Water Marks - Accidentally on Purpose
43) Frankie Rose - Know Me
42) PAWS - Sore Tummy
41) Wild Nothing - Paradise
40) Patterson Hood - Better Off Without
39) Grizzly Bear - Yet Again
38) The xx - Angels
37) The Lumineers- Big Parade
36) Dirty Projectors - Impregnable Question
35) Sleigh Bells - Demons
34) Frank Ocean - Super Rich Kids
33) Father John Misty - Hollywood Forever Sings
 32) Hospitality - 8th Avenue
31) Standard Fare - Kicking Puddles
30) The Men - Turn it Around
29) Animal Collective - Applesauce
28) Daughn Gibson - In the Beginning
27) Passion Pit - American Blood
26) Tinariwen - Iswegh Attay
25) Chairlift - I Belong in Your Arms
24) Grimes - Oblivion
23) JJ - High Summer
22) Allo Darlin' - Neil Armstrong
21) The Vaccines - No Hope
20) Beachwood Sparks - Sparks Fly Again
19) Gentleman Jesse - I'm Only Lonely
18) The Mountain Goats - Cry for Judas
17) Perfume Genius - Dark Parts
16) Tanlines - All of Me
15) Kanye West ft. Big Sean and Jay-Z - Clique
14) Matthew E. White - Brazos
13) Kendrick Lamar - Backstreet Freestyle
12) Beach House - Lazuli
11) Azealia Banks - 212
10) The Shins - Simple Song
9) Japandroids - The House that Heaven Built
8) Bob Mould - Briefest Moment
7) Titus Andronicus - Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter
6) Chromatics - Kill for Love
5) Twin Shadow - Patient
4) Lucero - Lightning
3) Cloud Nothings - Stay Useless
2) Bobby Womack - Please Forgive My Heart
1) Divine Fits - Like Ice Cream

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Top 30 or So Albums of the First Half of 2011

In no particular order, may I present my favorite albums of the first half of 2011. While these are in no particular order, I will offer up that my top 5 in some order are almost definitely, Kurt Vile, James Blake, Fucked Up, Tuneyards, and Destroyer. Beyond that, it's a real crap shoot. I think it's also pretty safe to say that before the end of the year Beirut's new album and The Rapture's new album will find a pretty lofty perch on the list. Anyway... on to the listing

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
Tuneyards – who kill
Dinosaur Feathers – Fantasy Memorial
Wild Beasts – Smother
White Denim – D
Fucked up – David Comes to Life
Cults – Cults
Tyler the Creator – Goblin
Tennis – Cape Dory
Telekinesis – Twelve Desperate Straight Lines
Smith Westerns – Dye it Blonde
Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing
Okkervil River – I am Very Far
Low Anthem – Smart Flesh
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo
James Blake – James Blake
J. Mascis – Several Shades of Why
The Weeknd - House of Balloons
Fresh and Onlys – Play it Strange
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Destroyer – Kaputt
Decemberists – The King is Dead
Cut Copy – Zonoscope
John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Holy Ghost – Holy Ghost
Battles – Gloss Drop
Gil Scott Heron/Jamie XX – We’re New Here
Yuck – Yuck
Young Galaxy - Shapeshifting

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best Songs of 2009 50-25

50. Glasvegas – It’s My Own Cheating Heart that Makes Me Cry

I only recently discovered that I’m a sucker for heartbroken Scottish guys singing about heartbreak. It’s a formula that works for me and it works particularly well in this track where slowed down Phil Specter tambourine driven verses are complemented by a soaring chorus of full on power pop riffs. There’s not a ton here to separate Glasvegas from their fellow Scots in Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks but that doesn’t make this song any less great.

49. Handsome Furs – All We Want Baby is Everything

Ever slow on the uptake, I feel like I connected with the synth pop revival about a year too late. I am making up for lost time however and this track is one of those responsible for igniting my interest. If someone had told me that this was a new Depeche Mode song aimed at reviving their pop sensibilities I would have probably believed them and been very pleased that Depeche Mode had stopped sucking. Instead I get the knowledge that the Handsome Furs are really fucking good.

48. Fall Out Boy – America’s Suitehearts

I don’t care what you or anyone else says, NO ONE writes consistently better, simple, punk songs than Pete Wentz and it isn’t even close. Contrast this surprisingly underappreciated album to Green Day’s newest masturbatory arena rock opus and its excellence becomes even more apparent. I’m not calling this a guilty pleasure or making apologies for it, I’m on record as REALLY liking Fall Out Boy particularly this clever, possibly derisive, and surprisingly deep “tribute” to America’s tabloid fodder

47. Phenomenal Handclap Band – 15 to 20

Even though this song shamelessly rips off Blondie and even though the rest of the album doesn’t even TOUCH these pop heights, Phenomenal Handclap band’s 2009 output is worthy of mad credit. The funky, disco channeling count off is refreshing in its retro reverence.

46. Washed Out – Feel it All Around

The world needs more smooth yacht inspired indie rock for when two hipsters are bumping horned rimmed glasses and trading hits off of hand rolled and obnoxious American Spirits. This is it. Dreamy and awash with distorted synth, Feel it All Around feels like the preface to what will be an awesomely innovative career.

45. Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah and Method Man – New Wu

“Tell a friend it’s that symbol again, that W, Coming through, bust a shot on your block” Welcome back guys. Thanks to Raekwon’s AWESOME Only Built 4 Cuban Linx pt. 2 we can all pretend like the uneven at best and awful at worst Wu-Tang comeback album last year never happened and that this track is the official welcome back moment for some of the greatest talents in all of hip hop.

44.The Crocodiles – I Wanna Kill

Just enough lo-fi fuzz to keep your interest but not so much that the irresistible pop melodies don’t sparkle through the distortion drenched haze. Like if The Strokes decided to make their comeback album as a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute band. That being said, the chorus does consist entirely of the lines, “I want to kill tonight” so you know that wherever it is these guys are coming from is well beyond left field.

43. Girls – Lust for Life

So how can a band still shock it’s listeners in modern in digitally desensitized modern America? Make three videos for your first single that progress from NSFW to “Holy shit that’s a dong isn’t it?” to Gay Porn. Add to that the fact that there is absolutely nothing about the song.; a spare, single guitar lick and hand claps combine with charmingly nasal vocals to create a classic (but not boring) indie rock experience.

42. Amadou and Miriam ft. K’Naan – Africa

It was really difficult to pick one song off of this great album to highlight. This wins it due to the fresh voice that by joining Mali’s favorite singing blind couple, Somalian rapper K’Naan brings to the table in what he calls, “the original east coast, west coast collaboration” a balance between world music and pop music that feels easier and truer than the other high points of the album

41. We Were Promised Jetpacks – Ships With Holes Will Sink

Like Franz Ferdinand if they stripped off their euro-trash pretense and just dropped a straightforward rock album. Clearly these guys borrow from a lot of other UK acts like the Frames but their rock edge separates them from their brethren to a certain extent and gives this track in particular some real emotional heft.

40. Patterson Hood – Screwtopia

This year, I get to complain about how criminally underrated Patterson Hood is INSTEAD of how criminally underrated his band the Drive-by Truckers are. When Hood does social commentary he doesn’t play the douchey liberal role, nor does he play the, “I’m just like all you normal folks except for my multimillion selling, Iraq War exploiting, country music album” role. He’s just a normal dude (truly a dude in every sense of the word… hell he even looks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski) calling it as he sees it. It’s refreshing and fantastic and dammit more people should be paying attention.

39. Port O’Brien – Sour Milk/Saltwater

This Alaska/California folk rock act released the album from which Sour Milk/Saltwater comes into an extremely crowded and increasingly homogenous genre and managed to pull of a unique and personal sound that rollicks more than the status quo. You can almost feel the “I lived in fucking Alaska” coming through here.

38. The xx – Vcr

If I made a Best Albums of the year list, The xx’s xx would be damn near the top of the list. In their case though, the unified greatness of the full length is based more on the overall arc of the album rather than on a collection of singular standout tracks. This song comes the closest though as the guy/girl vocal trade off aesthetic functions like a droney Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton on “We’ve got Tonight.”

37. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Some Trees

I’ve maybe mentioned before how much I wish I had had a chance to experience the birth of indie rock first hand in its infancy rather than my current mode of going back and collecting the individual pieces like some sort of musical archaeologist. When I listen to Guided by Voices and Pavement I’m left to essentially say, “Fuck, I didn’t realize that all the bands I love were at least in part ripping these guys off.” Thankfully, I was informed enough that when I heard this fantastic 2 and ½ minute explosion from Cymbals Eat Guitars I knew exactly who they had ripped off and didn’t care in the slightest.

36. White Rabbits – Percussion Gun

Polished and fun, there is nothing at all cerebral about this song and that might be what makes it so good. Much has already been made about the connections to Britt Daniel and Spoon both in terms of their production relationship and in the fact that these guys sound A LOT like Spoon. No matter, there is enough room in that stripped down Austin sound for the both of ‘em.

35. Art Brut – Demons Out!

Speaking of not cerebral… is it possible that Art Brut are the most lovable act in music right now? You know all those insecurities you have? Art Brut’s Eddie Argos has those too and he’s going to sing about them… in detail. In this song though he chooses his OTHER favorite subject (and my favorite subject) and that is the fact that he knows that his pop cultural tastes are MUCH superior to everyone else’s. This might be the band that I would like to hang out with more than any other.

34. Japandroids – Rockers East Vancouver

Fuzzed out punk rock that that hangs on to its sense of melody just tenuously enough to keep you engaged. Similar to one of my favorite 2008 debut acts Titus Andronicus in their raw power only a little bit cleaner and a little less pretentious.

33. Wavves – No Hope Kids

This album takes WORK, like a lot. It was only upon maybe the 10th or 11th listen that I wasn’t driven bat shit crazy by the lo-fi production and reverb vocals that inform the entire album. It’s the harmony of this song though that unlocked the album and finally allowed it to make sense. Just pay attention and the complexity and poppiness shine through like a beacon rewarding your patience.

32. The Drive by Truckers – Uncle Frank

Originally released on their album Pizza Deliverance, this re-recorded and cleaner track made the B-Side (!) compilation The Fine Print. One of two great songs about dams (really) on the album, this one rises slightly ahead of Jason Isbell’s TVA on the strength of Mike Coley’s class warrior lyrics about doctors and lawyers teaching their kids to water-ski. And while we’re at it, let me just state AGAIN for the record that the amount of great output that these guys generate is absolutely unreal… they’re the best rock band in America.

31. Bowerbirds – Northern Lights

It’s so easy to write great songs about the south and how if you haven’t lived here it’s impossible to understand the subtle things that make it charming and great (note: not referring to racism and republican politics, really just referring to southern girls). This song approaches from the opposite angle as the vocals attest that, “I don’t expect a southern girl to know the northern lights.” This song sounds like a sober Ryan Adams before he became self- important.

30.Yonlu – I Know What it’s Like

For those of you who don’t know his story, it’s worth a read ( just look at the bio on the right side, bottom of the page)…. Okay so now that you’re weeping, listen to the song. I find that - similar to the music of Elliott Smith - Yonlu’s music is almost too heartbreaking and personal to enjoy sometimes. The one difference though is that while you really have to dig to find Smith’s silver lining, Yonlu’s is always evident and I’m not sure if that makes this light, samba inflected standout easier to handle or harder.

29. The Love Language – Manteo

Not gonna lie, I kind of geek out every time a song references a city that I’ve visited and feel some personal connection to. When Old Crow Medicine Show says Roanoke and Johnson City I forget that I’ve heard Wagon Wheel roughly 8 million times. In this song North Carolina’s, The Love Language provide a bit of a kiss off to the primary vacation spot of my youth with lyrics perfectly suited to their richly orchestrated freak-folk inspired pop.

28. Lucero – Goodbye Again

It’s not always good to give established indie rock acts a big major label budget. Often times this leads them to fuck up what works. Not the case for Lucero here as adding a horn section seems like it let them make the album that they were progressing to for years. No album sounded more like the home city of its band than this one. It is straight up Memphis and that’s great.

27. David Sitek – With a Girl Like You

One of the triumvirate of geniuses in TV on the Radio, David Sitek seems to have his hands all over universally great output. From the track “TV in the Radio” off of Wale’s newest (barely missed this list) to this Staxx R&B meets Joy Division love song, I am finding myself consistently falling for every single thing he does.

26. Metic – Gimme Sympathy

With a chorus that a music geek can easily fall in love with, vocalist Emily Haines asks, “Who’d you rather be? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” The synth driven, straight forward rock is a real marriage of standard music influences coming together in a modern and fresh way.

25. The Big Pink – Dominos

Of any song on the list this year, this one most deserves to be played the loudest. Totally stylistically innovative in a way that rejects hipster orthodoxy and focuses upon creating a sound that fills a void in the world of decent music. At times throughout the song (and album) you can hear Trent Reznor inspired industrial, 80s synthesizer, and most often soaring Brit Rock choruses that are evocative of Oasis or Blur.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 25 Greatest Moments in The Wire

Presented from the Best to the 25th Best... Your commentary is appreciated.

Warning: If you haven't seen this series in its entirety DO NOT READ THIS it contains nothing but spoilers. Seriously, even if you think you'll never watch it... don't read it because YOU NEED to watch it.

Best Scenes from The Wire

1) Avon and Stringer on the balcony
In a scene that is more powerful for what isn’t said than what is, the full dynamic of the relationship between Stringer and Avon comes to light. Stringer’s ambition collides with Avon’s loyalty to the game and it is clear to everyone, including the two friends, exactly how this is going to play out.

2) D’Angelo talks about the Great Gatsby + his initial decision to testify against Barksdale
These two scenes, despite stretching across two different episodes and two different seasons are essentially part of the same extended narrative. This is the redemption of D’Angelo, where he confirms for us what we’ve kind of known all along: the fact that he isn’t cut out for the family business and that the pressure to be something he’s not is killing him. If only he knew.

3) We used to have ourselves a community speech from Bunk to Omar.
Everyone’s favorite character meets his match in this scene. What throughout the series is seen as Omar’s perfectly consistent moral code is shown to be inherently flawed by an irate Bunk. Omar and his vigilante justice is as amoral as the corrosive violence of the series’ kingpins and the fumbling bureaucracy of the public institutions that enable them. This is a rare instance where Omar is rightfully humbled.

4) Bodie and McNulty’s conversation in the park, “I feel old”
In a series that is filled with tragically flawed villains and anti-heroes, no character aside from Bubbles attains the type of redemption that Bodie does. As he discusses his feelings toward the game with McNulty for the first time the viewer starts to see that the brash 16 year old from Season 1 is not a kid anymore… just as you realize it, so does Bodie and he utters what might be the most heartbreaking line of the whole series, “I feel old.”

5) The “Fuck” scene
Occurring early in Season 1, Bunk and McNulty dissect an entire murder scene using only derivations of the word Fuck. This doesn’t advance the plot much but it is the first point that the viewer realizes that the show’s creator David Simon has set the hook… from this point on you just get reeled further in.

6) Death of Stringer Bell
Is it okay to call this the most shocking death in television history? Of all the larger than life characters in this series none of them came close to the power of Stringer Bell. Perhaps what is most shocking is that the fierce Stringer doesn’t die the death of a soldier, he dies groveling… attempting to bribe his assassins before reluctantly accepting his fate.

7) Faculty meeting/Police meeting
Any public employee can watch this scene that cuts back and forth from a Teacher Work Week faculty meeting where an outside consultant inculcates the apathetic teachers with bullshit strategies that won’t work and a police department meeting where a Homeland Security specialist does the same can sympathize. The bureaucracy is made to protect the ass’ of superiors… to juke the stats… and we are left to deal with it.

8) D’Angelo talks chess
Would D’Angelo have been able to define the literary term allegory? Maybe not, but who cares. In a perfect preview of the basic theme of the series, D’Angelo gives it to his employees straight… in politics, drugs, unions, etc. the odds are and will always be stacked against the pawns.

9) Wallace gets his siblings ready for school
The care with which Wallace, already a drop out at 16, prepares his younger siblings for school is heart wrenching. Packing juice boxes, checking on homework… seeing this, a suburban white viewer gets new insight into the economic underpinnings of not only the American drug trade but poverty in general by seeing it in as real a depiction as TV can provide.

10) Snoop buying nail gun
Stephen King called Snoop the most terrifying character in the history of television. This is her big moment. The moment where you realize that she is a next level bad ass. What, after all, is she going to do with that nail gun? This scene also provides perhaps the best depiction in the series of the urban Baltimore world overlapping with isolated American suburbbery.

11) Dinner at Ruth’s Chris
Speaking of the urban world meeting isolated suburbbery dynamic… In this scene Bunny Colvin takes the winning group from a class project to a fancy steakhouse for dinner. Like Bigger Thomas’ character in Native Son it becomes clear very early in the scene that the children feel uncomfortable… cornered by the world into which they’ve been dropped. The formerly brash shittalkers suddenly become embarrassed and awkward teenagers when asked to dwell in a world with which they’re painfully unfamiliar.

12) Marlo murders Prop Joe
Who can’t Marlo get to? It is clear by this point in the series that the old guard gangsters from Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are being replaced by the indiscriminately brutal rule of Marlo Stanfield. But Prop Joe? Surely with his guile and elder statesmen status he will avoid a violent end. No dice. This scene is a stark reminder that truly, “the game done changed.”

13) Omar testifies against Bird and RAVAGES Maury Levy in the process
Is there anything as satisfying as seeing someone called to task for their hypocrisy? After watching this scene where Marlo humiliates super attorney Maury Levy, my answer would be no.

14) Bubbles’ AA speech
What does it say about this show that the only character for whom you root with no qualifications is a con man and heroin addict? In his final address to his AA group, Bubbles says everything that you’ve wanted him to say since the series began, and in a show that counts the possibility of redemption as a main theme, we are treated to what is perhaps the only fully redemptive moment from the character that we root for the most.

15) Bunk burning clothing
So oddly brilliant that it must be true. Bunk’s mumbling about the fibers on his clothes tipping off his wife to his numerous affairs is high comedy and McNulty’s “rescue” of him is classic buddy comedy material.

16) Bubbles is consoled by Waylon after overdose of friend.
After Bubbles suicide attempt in the police interrogation room, we see one of our favorite characters whose life has seemingly been comprised of one low point after another reach his nadir. Seeing Bubs silently break down into the arms of Steve Earle’s superbly acted Waylon through the glass of the mental hospital over the death of Sherod shakes you to your very core.

17) Policeman’s Wake for McNulty
I like to call this scene The Apotheosis of McNulty. As The Pogues’ “Body of an American” starts to play anyone familiar with the series starts to wonder just who died. You learn though that it’s more a matter of “what died” than “ who died” as McNulty’s career with the BPD is given a ceremonious farewell.

18) Chris and Snoop chasing Michael… with paintball guns.
By this point, it’s been well established that Chris and Snoop are this series’ angels of death. When you see them you best believe that someone is going to get got. That’s what makes this scene so disorienting and terrifying… you are left to think that Michael is ready to meet his doom. But… a paintball gun? really? Really.

19) 40 Degree Days
The man can construct a metaphor. The sarcasm and thinly concealed rage with which Stringer attacks his lieutenants for subpar performance is perfectly constructed. I find myself using the 40 Degree day analogy on a regular basis and it maintains its heft.

20) Omar buys Honey Nut Cheerios
One of the most fascinating and literary scenes of the entire series. As the episode opens, Omar, motivated by an almost childlike desire for his favorite cereal is forced to leave his apartment without his gun. At this point, the viewer has become quite attached to Omar and you are CERTAIN that he’s a goner as he enters the convenience store unarmed and unprepared. Ultimately, the whole ordeal ends unceremoniously with the only hiccup being the fact that Omar has to buy normal Cheerios this scene however takes on a new meaning in its eerie foreshadowing of Omar’s eventual demise.

21) Carver freaks out behind steering wheel
Really, any of dozens of scenes dealing with the school kids (8th graders which makes the whole story especially meaningful to me) could make the cut here. The scene however where Carver is forced to leave Randy at the group home is one of the few, but always powerful, moments where one of the main characters’ frustration with the dysfunctional system spills over. The silence of the scene created by the closed car door lends an otherworldly quality to the whole scene.

22) Bodie and friends see Carver and Herc at movies
Perhaps one of the funniest moments of the entire series and another one of those, “street world meets the world of the police and both worlds recognize how much they have in common” moments. Bodie’s line, “And you must be the lovely Mrs. Herc,” always slays me.

23) McNulty tears Breonna Barksdale a new one in the interrogation room
From the moment her son dies suspiciously in prison, you get the feeling that Breonna knows that there’s more to his death than meets the eye. Conveniently ignoring the circumstances and blindly trusting Stringer and Avon have allowed her to block this out… that is until McNulty shines the light of guilt directly on Breonna. McNulty’s obvious attachment and sympathy for D’Angelo makes this scene almost retributive in nature and seeing the consistently despicable Breonna realize the much of the blood in D’Angelo’s death is on her hands provides a strange sense of closure to the entire situation.

24) Khima Gregs’ Goodnight Moon
Simple, powerful, encapsulative of the entire series. Gregs’ own rendition of Goodnight Moon to the child that would have been her son is informed by the entire aesthetic of the show and serves as one of the most memorable final scenes of an episode in the series

25) Prezybylewski’s first day of school
This is informed more by personal experience than anything else but I think by in large, that’s what makes the Wire so appealing. No matter how bland and suburban you THINK your job is, The Wire explores that world as well, tackling the tedium of public bureaucracy better and more fiercely than any other artistic product… well… ever. As Prezbylewski struggles to reign in a room full of way-too-savy 8th graders, the teacher in me can’t help but cringe.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Top 15 Albums of the 2000s

Welcome back to the blog ... anyone that we hadn't complete run off due to my absence since June 2nd, enjoy.

1) Outkast – Stankonia
Not sure if Andre 3000 and Big Boi knew that they had made the soundtrack for the decade when they finished this masterpiece but with a standout like Bombs over Baghdad (a full THREE YEARS before there were actual bombs… over Baghdad) this album continues to sound innovative and simply UNDENIABLE nearly a decade after its release

My personal connection: Driving to school senior year of high school, I switched back and forth between this album, Arman Van Helden’s Killing Puritans, and The Run Lola Run Soundtrack…. no I did not do ecstasty.

Where I Purchased this: Martinsville, VA Circuit City

2) Radiohead – Kid A
Chuck Klosterman’s write up of how this album predicted the September 11 attacks in his book Killing Yourself to Live is millions of times more brilliant than anything I could write… Just like Stankonia, this album could come out tomorrow and the world would be clamoring about the new musical ground that Thom Yorke and the Greenwood Brothers had broken. Idioteque and National Anthem make any mix CD sound edgy and cool.

My personal connection: On the walk back from an awkward William and Mary freshman mixer during orientation I ran into a guy who called himself DJ Project, walking back to the dorms in the rain, this douchebag talked about how much he loved this album and then sang Pyramid Song off of Amnesiac for the duration of the walk back. Go Tribe?

Where I Purchased this: Roanoke, VA Books, Strings, and Things

3) The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
Pithy Natalie Portman in Garden State commentary aside, the Shins do a really great job of being a really accessible band. 30 years ago they wouldn’t be in that douchy realm of indie rock, they’d simply be pop stars. Songs like Saint Simon and Kissing the Lipless should be loaded onto college freshmen computers in the factory.

My personal connection: My commute to Grafton Middle School for student teaching took exactly as long as this album, I would roll into the parking lot as Kissing the Lipless was restarting.

Where I Purchased this: Williamsburg, VA Plan 9 Records

4) Justin Timberlake – Justified
This album could have been 14 tracks worth of Rock Your Body and it would have made the top ten. Add one of pop music’s all time greatest Fuck You tracks in the form of Cry Me a River and it becomes increasingly clear as to why ‘N Sync was SO MUCH MORE AWESOME than the Backstreet Boys.

My personal connection: In my imminently important position as Delta Chi Formal playlist creator (read sarcasm), I don’t think I made a list that DIDN’T have Rock Your Body on it and every single time it played I recall some serious near baby making going down…. not with me of course, because I was there alone…. but with everyone else

Where I Purchased this: My final 10 CDs for Free order from BMG

5) Arcade Fire – Funeral
This was that album that spawned a million lame attempts by hipster guys to hit on hipster girls with the line, “Have you heard the new Arcade Fire?.” No? Just me? Whatever. This album is as epic as rock can get. Neighborhood’s 1-4 are the perfect indie arena rock suit and if you can listen to Wake Up and not pump your fist then you don’t have a soul. 10 years from now, these guys will be selling out stadiums.

My personal connection: There was no music listener in Williamsburg whose approbation I sought more fiercely than that of the guy with the beard at Plan 9… if you went there EVER, you know who I’m talking about… I bought this the day it came out and he gave me a strong shout out. Also, I’m a huge douche.

Where I Purchased this: Williamsburg, VA Plan 9 Records

6) The Strokes – Is This It
It sucks how much cooler the Strokes are than the rest of us. That was the aesthetic that these hip, children of privilege projected on their debut LP. As obnoxious as this is, it TOTALLY works simply because it’s impossible to call music as simple and catchy as this pretentious The opening chords of Last Nite (even though they BLATANTLY rip off Tom Petty’s American Girl) are ideal for that moment where it’s clear that you’re settling in for a long night of drinking, debauchery, and excess.

My personal connection: If you are drinking with me at Capital Ale House in Richmond and you DON’T hear this song, then it’s probably not me.

Where I Purchsed this: Charlotte, NC Borders

7) Kanye West – Late Registration
My heart says this spot belongs to the College Dropout in all of its sprawling, messy, and inconsistent glory but my head says to go with the much tighter Late Registration. I hope that Kanye’s current experimental phase hasn’t caused anyone to forget just how awesome it felt the first time you heard Gold Digger. I believe my precise reaction was OHHHH SHHHIIIIITTTT… not SHEEEEEEEEEEEET in the Senator Clay Davis tradition but SHHHHIIITTTTTTT in the way that people freak out when they see a colossal pancake block in a football game. And that isn’t even one of the three best songs on the album. For that you’ll have to listen to Drive Slow, Touch the Sky, or the Diamonds from Sierra Leone (remix) where Jay Z does in fact kill Kanye on his own song

My personal connection: Nothing beats driving an hour to buy this the day it came out (I was living in Hillsville, VA at the time and the closest record store was in the bustling metropolis of Wytheville), coming home with the giant Kanye Bear cardboard cutout in my car that I asked for at Sam Goody. And calling Goodwin, Jon, Grant, and Vida after listening to it to talk about how great it was

Where I Purchased this: Wytheville, VA Sam Goody

8) Drive by Truckers – Decoration Day
If this was a list of my favorite albums of this decade this album would be number 1…. no doubt. As it is, I’m able to put aside my personal tastes for the top 7. No matter who you are, Marry Me should be on your radar as one of the best songs of the decade but if you’re from the south.. like the real south… then Decoration Day is YOUR soundtrack

My personal connection: Listening to this for an entire weekend in the rural climes of Lee County, VA while visiting family who could have been the inspiration for any song on the album. Jon was there for this and will absolutely confirm how perfect this album was for this trip. Gives me chills just thinking about it

Where I purchased this: BMG Music Service

9) Spoon – Kill the Moonlight
The fact that top 40 music has become so homogenous and fallen so far that albums as poppy and accessible as this one are labeled “indie” rock is a true tragedy. “The Way We Get By” should have been a MASSIVE hit while “Jonathan Fisk” should be this generation’s anthem for disaffected and pissy youth.

Personal connection: My brother Reid introduced these guys to me and we listened to it in his/my (the jury is still out on this) Dodge Dynasty while Nick Farmer (one of his friends, a true man of genius) rocked out to Jonathon Fisk

Where I purchased this: Christiansburg, VA Target

10) N.E.R.D – In Search Of
This album might be the most forgotten of this list. Anything you need to know about Pharrell or the Neptunes is on his album. He saves all the best beats for himself, he loves soul, and he loves writing songs about sex. If Lapdance ISN’T the hottest song of the decade I’d LOVE to hear what is.

Personal connection: Anyone remember Streetwise? It was this street team agency that used to send out sampler CDs to anyone that signed up online so that they could distribute promo materials. The CD sampler for Lapdance hit Pulaski County High School early senior year and BLEW UP, everyone had it and everyone had the brain sticker that came with it…. it’s possible that 5414 Cougar Trail Rd. was the epicenter of the NERD fanbase.

Where I purchased this: FYE, Christiansburg, VA

11) Queens of the Stoneage – Songs for the Deaf
Josh Homme is THE underrated musical genius of this decade. Combining the Johnny Cashness of his deep snarl with thundering power chords created a great album in the form of Rated R but putting Dave Grohl behind the drum kit for the whole thing makes for a timeless album

Personal Connection: Of the many concerts I attended at the Norva while at W&M, this was the best. Hurtling down I-64E at the speed of comfort in Movie Dan’s Cougar and having my face absolutely melted off by Homme and the underrated Nick Oliveri was fantastic

Where I purchased this: Williamsburg, VA Plan 9 Records

12) Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
These guys put the criminal in criminally underrated. Unlike Jay Z, when these guys rap about pushing weight, you actually BUY it. This album achieves where other rap albums of this decade fail… it keeps the guest appearances to a minimum and it has ONE producer giving it a unified sound that is strong without exception. And those steel drums in “Wamp Wamp”…. hot fire.

Personal connection: I think I sent the link to the pre-release mp3 “Wamp Wamp” to everyone I knew. I listened to it so loud once that the old ladies living next door to me asked me to turn it down.

Where I purchased this: iTunes

13) Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
If you listen to Wilco or are even aware of them, then you are aware of the mythology surrounding this album, Tweedy’s prescription drug addiction, getting dropped from their label, the near disintegration of the band. One thing I can’t figure out though is why people think the songs here are so strange. Tweedy maintains that familiar tremor and the songs feel like logical and brilliant extensions of those on Summerteeth. Jesus, etc. in particular never ceases to blow my mind in its beautiful simplicity.

Personal connection: I have never, ever liked Norah Jones except for one single 5 minute period. At the Get out the Vote Tour 2008 concert she closed her set by covering Jesus, etc. and earning the tiniest bit of my respect

Where I purchased this: Charlotte, NC Borders

14) Animal Collective – Merriwether Post Pavilion
2008 was such a fantastic year for music with releases from bands like Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, and Bon Iver that I was ready to be disappointed by 2009. Animal Collective made a very early retort to that. On January 8, this album was released to much fanfare, all of which was well deserved. Every track on the album sounds like a revelation and I’m pretty certain that 10 years from now I’ll be talking about how much I love “My Girls”

Personal connection: Several way too close possibly alcohol influenced sing-a-longs with Grant on an unsuccessful walk home from Avalon

Where I purchased this: eMusic

15) Jay Z – The Black Album
The Blueprint gets way more critical love but for the life of me, I don’t understand why. On this album, Jigga finally seems totally focused on the task at hand. The idea was that it was a retirement, the summation of his career all on wax. He carried this through beyond anyone’s expectations… When he says in Public Service Announcement “Please allow me to reintroduce myself” he absolutely follows through on this lofty promise. If for no other reason this album is deserving of Hall of Fame status because it reunited Rick Rubin with hip hop on album standout 99 Problems, proving to the music world what anyone with ears already knew, no matter how many Neil Diamond and System of a Down albums Rubin helms, his bread and butter is hip hop.

Personal connection: I bought this album and College Dropout on the exact same day during my senior year of college and oh what a fine day. Here is the sequence of events as I remember it…. Get home from student teaching, drive back to Newport News in a minivan to Best Buy, purchase two of the best albums of the decade, burn a party CD for a Mansion party WITH School Spirit and Change Clothes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let it Be vs. Pet Sounds

In the lead up to this hotly contested match up I found myself listening over and over to two slightly less than completely relevant songs. The first is the Justin Townes Earle's (Steve Earle's son) rendition of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait"*; a song that doesn't even appear on Let it Be. The second is a radically rearranged Oldham Brothers version of the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't it Be Nice" that replaces the perfect harmonies of the original with the Oldham's distinctly imperfect rasp.

As I was listening, I found myself pondering the art of the cover song**. Now, I must admit that I REALLY love covers and at times have been guilty of enjoying even the most atrocious of their ilk. This list includes but is by no means limited to most New Found Glory covers***, Sun Kil Moon's Tiny Cities which is composed entirely of Modest Mouse covers.

At their best, cover songs give you a glimpse into the true inner workings of the ORIGINAL version of a song by allowing you to gaze upon it from a different angle. A good cover is sort of like Monet's series of sunrise impressions in that they give you a completely different and enlightening snapshot of the way in which someone else hears a song in the moment. The Hold Steady's "Atlantic City" which has become as close to a staple on my iPod recently as anything else is a classic example of this. Craig Finn and the rest of the band reimagine Springsteen's bleak Nebraska masterpiece in a way that allows the listener to experience elements of the original that they would never have experienced otherwise. This not only makes the cover great but it injects the original with new life.

In listening to the two covers that I mentioned to kick off this lengthy digression from the original topic of this post, I feel like I learned more about the original artists. I learned that the reach of the Replacements is perhaps the most underratedly tremendous of any seminal American rock band. You can hear those guys in everything from Soundgarden to the Gin Blossoms and they are worthy of mad respect for that because they continue to influence bands that aren't even aware they're being influenced by Westerberg, Stinson, and Co. I also learned that at his best, Brian Wilson wrote songs that were just better than everything else and for all his insanity and multi-tracked orchestration, he also appreciated the beauty of simplicity... his pen brought a newfound sweetness and originality to topics as banal as teen romance and the beach. Having said that, the nod in this matchup goes to Pet Sounds... it might not have influenced rock music in the way that the Replacements did on Let it Be but everything it DOES do is just too powerful to ignore.

*I found this and TONS others at the Live Music Archive which has literally thousands of free and legal sets from acts ranging from Animal Collective to Yonder Mt. String Band... obviously it's a bit jam bandy but there's still a lot to like here
**This entire post will be a digression... be warned.
*** Particularly their admittedly terrible version of Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love" from the Goonies Soundtrack