A review I was thrilled to write on a band that ruled my airwaves in the mid-80′s. Read more here.
A review I was thrilled to write on a band that ruled my airwaves in the mid-80′s. Read more here.
Weekend – Sports
The Concretes – WYWH
Dead Snares – Speak the Language
The Moondoggies – Tidelands
New Found Land – The Bell
The Black Ryder – Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride
Snow & Voices – Anything That Moves
Lissie – Catching A Tiger
Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night Of the Soul
Crowded House – Intriguer
The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
Cowboy Junkies – Renmin Park
It was a life changing year for me with a ton of travel, a new career, and a new city that I tentatively call “home”. In no particular order, these were the five shows that I’ll remember most.
1. Cowboy Junkies – Bethel, NY
This was more about the venue than the music (which was still quite good). The show took place on the grounds of Woodstock. The hillside, once covered in hippies and hope, became my blanket for an afternoon under the sun followed by a visit to the excellent museum they’ve built to honor the event. I was writing for the Cowboy Junkies website this year and you can read more about this magical day here.
2. The Cult & The Black Ryder – Las Vegas, NV
Ever go see a band, kind of expecting them to disappoint, being proven right and still have an amazing night? That’s what happened when The Cult came to town and, eh, played a less than inspiring set. However, opening act The Black Ryder created a haze of layered guitar tones that would rival the best of the shoegaze icons like My Bloody Valentine. Singer Aimee Nash weaves hypnotic lines around one’s heart and leaves you defenseless. Their album went home with me that night and became my favorite of 2010.
3. Interpol & White Rabbits & Imagine Dragons – Las Vegas, NV
The first Interpol album reinvigorated my passion for music. The post-punk wave of the new millennium meant to me what Nirvana probably meant to everyone else in the early 90′s. Even without Carols D. on bass guitar, the band played a tremendous set and covered a ton of the early material. Opening for the opener was local band Imagine Dragons. They caught me off guard with their polished show that crosses Arcade Fire with Muse (and maybe some Killers since we’re in Vegas).
4. The Hold Steady & Company of Thieves – Las Vegas, NV
What happens when three Les Paul’s are turned up and Craig Finn weaves around a microphone? Rock and roll in its purest state. Despite a terrible turnout at the House of Blues, the band played its heart out. The setlist felt like forever with each song leading into the next. Finn’s energy lifted the crowd into the air and the band’s soaring choruses never let us down.
5. Cowboy Junkies – Denver, CO
Certainly not the best performance of the tour. The venue wouldn’t rank high on my list of favorites. And I was exhausted by the time we reached Denver, having logged 14,000 miles in rental cars during the tour. But, this marked the end of my adventure following the Cowboy Junkies tour as their “tour diary writer” dude. I said goodbye to a special time in my life that evening and bid farewell to a truly special group of musicians who I have come to call friends over these years. Margo Timmins sang ’200 More Miles’ for me that evening and I don’t think I will ever fell so close to a song or moment again.
It’s a bit difficult to put together such a list, especially since I missed a chunk of this year while touring North America. I’m sure I missed some critical albums and Kanye West is, gasp, absent from the list. What is listed below represents the ten albums that were the most notable to me. Happy holidays and I’ll see you in 2011. – Jason Lent
10. Dead Snares – Speak The Language
Dead Snares is the project of Remy Zero’s Jeffrey Cain. It began in a studio late at night without an agenda. According to Cain, he went in with “no words, no chords, no idea” and three songs surfaced. Building upon those first takes, Speak The Language creates a world of swirling electronics, muted acoustics, and the search for meaning in the darkest hours of night. The sonic forest is deep and dark on this album and when heard through quality headphones, all sorts of interesting begin to happen. Speak The Language is the soundtrack to a film unfolding in Cain’s mind and these 11 tracks allow us to become voyeurs for a few all too brief moments.
9. Weekend – Sports
On Sports, the drums kick in first with the power pop patter of Go-Go’s’ ‘We Got The Beat’ before a Kings of Leon guitar sound joins the ruckus. Soon after, the music blooms into a driving storm of distortion including a piercing wedge of white noise that leaves behind just enough space for the submerged vocals to surface briefly with lines such as “I woke from a come summer” before the next wave of noise washes over the music. The hints of Joy Division, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cure, and the other usual suspects are only an indication that this very talented band also had a kick-ass record collection growing up. The beauty of the music lies in its atmosphere while the snippets of lyrics that are decipherable hint at darkness without sounding overly threatening. Songs like ‘Veil’ are not constrained by post-punk or fuzz-pop connotations and strike out into a dense sonic wasteland that sounds best when played at the highest tolerable decibels. It’s the kind of album that gets you thinking: I need to see this band in concert.
8. Gin Wigmore – Holy Smoke
She just won Best Album in New Zealand for 2010, so even though this is a late 2009 release, I’m giving her a special exemption because, well, she kicks ass. With a whiskey-toned voice that makes Amy Winehouse sound timid, Gin Wigmore delivers a little bit of everything on her debut album. Backed by The Cardinals (who never sounded this fun with Ryan Adams), the album moves freely between rock, blues, soul, and pop. Whatever she decides to sing, the result will bring you to your knees. She can be sweet when she wants, like on the folksy ‘I Do’ with its light ukulele, but she’s at her best when her devil-may-care swagger infects the music. Rockers ‘Oh My’ and ‘Mr. Freakshow’ shake the rafters as her voice attempts to kick over your speakers. From her voice to the Cardinals to the crisp production, there are a lot of great things happening on Holy Smoke.
7. Vampire Weekend – Contra
I tried to resist Vampire Weekend. The hype that preceded their debut album reached a fever pitch in the blogosphere until I wanted to puke. Then I heard the album and it wasn’t the calculated reconstruction of Paul Simon’s Graceland that I wanted to pounce on. It was damn good. Then I saw them in concert. Authentic and passionate, they delivered one of my favorite live shows that year. The stakes were raised for the follow-up and the band still exceeds all expectations with Contra; something hipper bands like The Strokes and Interpol were unable to do. The world-pop influence that permeated the debut returns with more eclectic arrangements (‘Horchata’) and electronic sunsets (‘I Think Ur A Contra’). The diverse flavors on the record never overpower each other and that is the beauty of the record. On ‘Giving Up the Gun’, the band sings about the demise of indie guitar rock without sounding smug and a few listens of Contra makes it hard to disagree. The hyper-intelligent wordplay and preppie style have not been lost in the transition but the band takes a little more time with the music. Slowing down on ‘Taxi Cab’, Vampire Weekend craft a beautiful ballad with the gentle confidence of a band that cares not if you are unwilling to hop aboard their yacht for another lovely cruise around Cape Cod.
6. The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning
Technically, this isn’t their debut album (which is coming out in 2011) and it was released in 2008 and 2009 in other parts of the world before arriving in North America in 2010. Technically, I could care less. It’s on my list. A Balloon Called Moaning is a relentless example of how loud and epic music can sound with just drums, guitar, and bass. Reaching into the fuzzy world of My Bloody Valentine, opener ‘The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade’ swirls a haze of distortion around Ritzy Bryan’s shimmering voice. Playfulness imbues ‘Cradle’ with bouncing vocals and a steady kick drum that provides a more rocking take on everything The Ting Tings do right. When albums like this come along, it’s simple to put loneliness and sadness in the past and smile at another day with A Balloon Called Moaning. The final Rolling Stone issue of 2010 hails them as “rock’s future” and that bodes well for rock and roll.
5. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
James Murphy set out to release three albums as LCD Soundsystem. He accomplished that and then some with three of the best albums of this decade. This Is Happening proves the most consistently brilliant of the trilogy. While most post-punk indie bands are dancing to Joy Division, LCD digs deeper into the soil. On ‘All I Want’, the influence of David Bowie’s three “Berlin” albums comes into focus and its touch on the previous LCD albums is suddenly obvious. The guitar pulls the hook from Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ through time and spins it across the dance floors of 2010 while ‘One Touch’ approaches eight minutes of electronic bliss as Murphy builds upon Bowie and Kraftwerk in a way few artists ever have. The emotional growth from ‘Daft Punk Is Playing My House’ to ‘I Can Change’ helps elevate This Is Happening above the previous two albums. When he croons – “I can change if it helps you fall in love,” his own insecurities are more sincere and a little less playful than they used to be. On the final track of this trilogy (‘Home’), Murphy sings – “just do it right/make it perfect and real.” With This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem has done just that for the final time.
4. New Found Land – The Bell
The Bell beguiles the listener from start to finish with a deceptive simplicity that immediately feels familiar but completely new. Dropping unexpected instruments into eclectic arrangements, the album’s diversity feels completely natural. Each song arrives like a postcard from the band; all bearing a different postmark. A near perfect piece of indie-pop, ‘Holes’ spins a beautiful melody around some of the darkest lyrics on the album as Roxenholt’s voice rises to the passion of the moment. The sonic horizon stretches widest on ‘In To Heaven’ as electronic blips and fuzzed out guitar notes cross the sky like satellites. The music swells like a tide before receding back into orbit. There is something special about a band able to channel a world of influence into a sound distinctly their own. There are many different reasons to love this album and, if you’re like me, your own reason will probably change with each new listen.
3. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
With American Slang, The Gaslight Anthem’s sincerity and sense of purpose forces you to believe that salvation can be found in music. A change of locale for American Slang allows the writing and music to mature without the weight of Springsteen’s mythical Jersey shore looking over its shoulder. Fallon writes “goodbye circus wheel/may you rest along the sea/I have given you the fire of my youth” on ‘Orphans’, and takes the music and writing up the turnpike into New York City. It’s just enough to move the music forward from The ’59 Sound without losing the dramatic punch of loud guitars and shout-along choruses. In a different time, this would be the type of album that spawns countless radio staples and fills crumbling arenas. It is an album for those of us who still spin Damn The Torpedoes and The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle. On ‘Stay Lucky’ Fallon warns, “them old records won’t be saving your soul” but that’s just fine because Gaslight Anthem has delivered an album that promises to do just that.
2. Cowboy Junkies – Renmin Park
The sum is greater than the parts on Renmin Park, a challenging album by any standard. Written during Michael Timmins’ three-month visit to China, the album incorporates the ambient noises recorded walking around an unfamiliar country. Chinese children singing, parades, and cicadas buzzing create a unique din underneath the band’s signature sound. The grunts of an old man playing badminton become the rhythm loop on ‘Sir Francis Bacon At the Net’ — an ambitious idea that works far better than expected. This is as far from Paul Simon’s Graceland as you can get when exploring a different culture in music. The lyrics are sometimes hard to stomach as China’s indifference toward human rights doesn’t escape Timmins’ pen on songs like ‘Cicadas’ and ‘A Few Bags of Grain’. Singer Margo Timmins can usually make any lyric sound beautiful (see ‘Murder, Tonight, In the Trailer Park’ from Black Eyed Man). Here, the harsh realities of life in China give her voice an edge that scratches at your heart. But, the album is a work of love and the kindness of the people met on the journey far outweighs the difficult moments of crashing into an alien culture. On the title song, two lovers meet in a park for a simple waltz adorned by an acoustic guitar. Having spent the better part of my year following the band, it was the only song they played every night and every night, I looked forward to it. It’s a simple moment captured beautifully on record. In a country that casts a long shadow over every action and thought, the simple moments cannot be taken for granted.
1. Black Ryder – Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride
Naming their debut album after a Hunter S. Thompson film may just be a coincidence but The Black Ryder pull listeners through a rabbit hole of swirling noise that makes Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride a wonderfully strange trip. Hailing from Australia, the duo of Aimee Nash and Scott von Ryper have woven together a tapestry of sound and space that becomes more vibrant with each step deeper into their lush forest of haze. ‘The Greatest Fall’ perfectly blends the band’s use of echo and reverb to create a piece of music that sits somewhere between a Hawaiian luau in 1957 and a beautiful sunset on a lonely beach on Saturn. Peter Hayes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club joins Nash on vocals for the epic ‘Burn And Fade’ which builds unhurriedly over six minutes before slowly tearing itself apart into tiny pieces of sound drifting across a dark sky like lost satellites. Nestled amongst these giant movements of sound, ‘Sweet Come Down’ finds the band transmitting from a dusty stage in a country bar somewhere out it in the vast, empty plains of the outback. Each new wave of music inevitably produces a handful of landmark albums. On Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, The Black Ryder lay claim to the current throne with a work so consistently brilliant that it warrants consideration as the Loveless of this generation.