He’s the Prince of Darkness, the man driving the Crazy Train, the drug/alcohol waste case who we can laugh with while we also laugh at him. There was a time when Black Sabbath was merely a critically reviled, commercially successful heavy metal band, who many figured would fade out memory. Instead, the Sabs are now highly respected and Ozzy is both a musical and comedic icon. Perhaps he’s lost his menace, but he’s now a pop culture touchstone. Regardless, those Sabbath platters and early solo albums still sound great. So let’s wish Ozz a happy birthday by grabbing the iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
Jim Carroll Band — Three Sisters (Catholic Boy): When I was in high school, this was punk rock. Carroll wrote aggressive, sometimes raunchy or tasteless lyrics, with hyper backing. As time as passed, the music sounds a bit tamer (slightly more spunky than The Rolling Stones or New York Dolls), but Carroll’s attitude still carries the day. This is a really playful number.
The Jam — In The Street Today (This Is The Modern World): An early Jam number that sounds like a cousin of the classic “In the City”. It has a nice Mod bounce, with Rick Buckler’s drumming really keeping things peppy.
The Dismemberment Plan — A Life Of Possibilities (Emergency & I): The Dismemberment Plan are a band who either you know about and have a high opinion of, or you have never heard of them. If you are in the latter category, you should really give them a listen, or, better yet, see them live, now that they are doing a reunion tour. There is an emo aspect to their music, but their best music mixes in some arty ideas, especially some of the most interesting use of rhythms (both through drums and bass and guitar lines) since the heyday of the Talking Heads. This is intelligent music that is still pretty darned accessible. They may have been ahead of their time.
Chuck Berry — Johnny B. Goode (Gold): Chuck will be playing in town on New Year’s Day, and I’m excited to have tickets for the show. You can’t overstate his greatness, both as an early rock ‘n’ roll innovator, or as one of the best lyricists in rock history. This song is his calling card, with the classic oft-copied lead guitar line, acting as the primary hook. But one should also appreciate Chuck’s interplay with the rollicking piano during the instrumental break.
Pansy Division — Best Revenge (Absurd Pop Song Romance): Between the Illinois civil union law’s passage and the debate over rescinding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we are learning who has a really hard time dealing with gay people. This Pansy Division song has a great message on how to deal with the homophobes — as Jon Ginoli sings, “Happiness is the best revenge.” This is a stomping rocker that PD tears into with gusto, a highlight from their best full length.
The Smugglers — To Serve, Protect & Entertain (Growing Up Smugglers): A short sharp shock of punk-pop from this underrated Vancouver, B.C. band. Compared to most punk-poppers, the Smugs have a real affinity for traditional rock ‘n’ roll and then just play it like they had a few cups of coffee too many. They lived up to this song’s motto.
Flop — Mendel’s White Trash Laboratory (Whenever You’re Ready): Flop was kinda punky and kinda power pop — they sometimes sounded like a cross between Buzzcocks and Game Theory, which was accentuated by Rusty Willoughby’s sorta whiny vocals. Their second album is full of whimisical melodies with odd lyrics married to pile driving rock.
Fabulous Poodles — Pinball Pinup (His Master’s Choice): Due to a couple of singles that could pass of as “new wave,” the Poodles were marketed as a hip band. But they were really a Kinks-inspired observational pop band, who stood out because the lead instrument on most of their songs was a violin. This is a lesser song of their, but it would sound real good next to The Kinks’ “Celluloid Heroes” with its dramatic sound.
Cherrelle — I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On (Fragile): This is one of the best Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis productions. The melody is a little pinched, but that’s okay, because Cherrelle wasn’t the greatest singer of all-time (but much better than Janet Jackson). But the rhythm track is killer. Jam and Lewis pull out all of the stops, using an array of keyboards and some wild programmed drums to create a hyper catchy dance floor monster. Sadly, this song never broke big and Robert Palmer later did a pallid third-rate cover of it that was a bigger hit.
The Nines — Distance That Remains (Properties of Sound): The Nines are a Canadian pop band whose singer sounds a fair amount like Andy Partridge. The Nines’ music is a mix of ’60s Beach Boys sunniness and ’70s AM gold. This is a really pretty number.
CHIRP Radio's Best of 2010 continues with a list from DJ Dylan Peterson.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
A lot of great albums came out in 2010, but none with quite as much hype as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In an age when downloading a zip file is the primary means of adding to our music collection, Kanye took advantage of our eager-to-download habits instead of pretending it's still the 1900's. He says it best in "Power": "I'm livin' in a 21st century, doin' something mean to it, do it better than anybody you ever seen do it." He's still just as audacious as he was on College Dropout, and the bravado is as entertaining as ever.
The marketing alone clued us in that this album was going to be huge. Releasing a free song download on his website every week. Directing his own short film. Orchestrating the most memorable live music performance on TV this decade. By the time we're able to even hear the album, it's a miracle we're not underwhelmed. But great albums deserve a lot of hype. Over the last decade, I almost forgot that truth. Kanye made me anxious for an album in 2010. I can't remember the last time I felt that.
Delorean – Subiza (True Panther Sounds) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes Subiza is the soundtrack for summer days at the city beach, dethroning whatever Beach Boys album that was there for the past 40 years. I had the pleasure of seeing Delorean live this year, which is always a helpful way to more fully understand a recorded album. After seeing their show, I realized that the purpose of Delorean's music is pure enjoyment. Subiza is a bringer of happy thoughts and pleasant dreams, whether it's heard in headphones or a live show.
The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt and Sometimes the Blues is Just A Passing Bird [EP] (Dead Oceans) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes The Wild Hunt alone is enough to garner a top three spot, but a five song EP never hurt anybody either. The Tallest Man On Earth stretched just a little bit from his acoustic finger-pickin' debut, Shallow Graves, playing more electric guitar and even a little piano in 2010. But the strongest skill of the artist isn't his playing style, which can be heard by the most boring classical guitar virtuosos of the world, Matsson is first and foremost a songwriter. His songs have a timeless quality that seem neither old or new, but just right for whatever time they're being heard.
Menomena – Mines (Barsuk) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I didn't expect a "grower" for the new Menomena album, but in retrospect, I guess they were due for one. The band's first three albums hit immediately and satisfyingly. Mines is different. It requires repeat listens. Its beauty is subtle, but possibly more potent than any other Menomena album.
Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I'm still surprised by this ranking. I never really cared about Beach House, but I can listen to Teen Dream at any time of the day, during any season, and I won't skip a track on the album. There's a quiet magic in this music, something simple but something that plunges deep into my psyche. It doesn't transfer over to the live setting very well, but if I can enjoy an album for 12 months out of the year it automatically gets a spot in the top 5.
The Books – The Way Out (Temporary Residence) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
One of my favorite bands remains. I trust the Books. I can't imagine this gimmick's effect wearing off anytime soon either. The staple that will always keep the Books interesting is their humor. As long as they're funny, and not topically so, we'll remember this music. A surreal absurdity blesses their music in the same way Monty Python had the good graces of silliness. The effect is universal and timeless, and occasionally a laugh riot.
Here We Go Magic – Pigeons (Secretly Canadian) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
We're too suspicious of musicians. We see talented players, and we condemn them for not having enough heart. But when I listen to Here We Go Magic, I set aside my suspicions. These talents are well placed, like the best Frank Zappa or Radiohead albums. Patience and intelligence are epicenters of Pigeons, prophesying a world of auditoriums and amphitheaters for future Here We Go Magic concerts. And the bigger the better. This is the sort of band I wouldn't mind becoming more popular than Coldplay. They have what it takes too.
Laura Veirs – July Flame (Raven Marching Band Records) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes July Flame is one of those nearly perfect albums that nobody will remember in a few years. But whenever it comes back on in the shuffle we'll still smile. It's an example of songwriting as king. There is no marketing tactic, no hype machine that can compete with a skilled songwriter. Veirs is one of the best working today, and even if no one recognizes it, the music gods will remain with her and keep her listeners at peace.
Wolf Parade – Expo 86 (Sub Pop) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
If Canadian power pop could be epitomized, it is Expo 86. By LP number three, Wolf Parade sounds less interested in proving themselves, and more apt to just rock out. It's the Wilco effect, for Canada. Whereas Arcade Fire felt the same old pressure to create a powerfully anthemic album for their day in age, Wolf Parade simply turned their dial up to 11. In my opinion, it's much more enjoyable to simply rock well, for wisdom knows that even grandiosity can become monotonous.
Janelle Monáe – The Archandroid (Atlantic) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Like a good Kanye West album, Janelle Monae created something paradoxically eclectic and accessible. The ArchAndroid doesn't follow the formula of a typical pop record, and that's why we love it. All of the hooks and melodies are there for mainstream radio success, but the unpredictability of the album is what earns Janelle heaps of respect from critics and the more stingy listeners like me.
As we celebrate the end of the year and our first year on the air, throughout the month of December CHIRP Radio will be featuring our members' Top 10 Albums of 2010. Our first list comes from CHIRP Radio DJ and Volunteer Coordinator Micha Ward.
Junip – Fields (Mute) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
There’s something subtle but unsettling about this record from Jose Gonzalez and band. Calm before the storm, the eerie silence before it starts to snow, the tick tick tick before the bomb goes off. Junip has melted its brand into my brain. My best of 2010. Best Song: “To The Grain”
The National – High Violet (4AD) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Every single song is about pain or sadness. It’s been that kind of year for me. The National puts it in words I can’t. Best Song: “England”
Land of Talk – Cloak and Cipher (Saddle Creek) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Hailing from Montreal, Land Of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell can bear her soul and shred on the guitar- often within the same song. And look damn good doing it. I never heard much from them until seeing them at Lincoln Hall and was instantly a fan and tracking down their entire catalog. Best Song: “Quarry Hymns”
Sharon Van Etten – Epic (Ba Da Bing) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I simply fell in love with Sharon Van Etten this year. That’s really all there is to say. Best Song: “One Day”
Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Hometown band hailing from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It sounds like 1991 again and it’s never sounded better. Best Song: “Crossed Wires”
First Aid Kit – The Big Black & The Blue (Wichita) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Swedish indie folk from sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg. Brutal, honest lyrics and voices that make you ache. Best Song: “Heavy Storm”
Megafaun – Heretofore (Hometapes) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Another North Carolina band playing moody Americana with a sound steeped in Appalachian folk, alt-country, and the blues. You say you wouldn’t like it, but you will. Best Song: “Heretofore”
The Hundred in the Hands – The Hundred in the Hands (Warp) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Post punk, neo-80’s dance music. Reminds me a little of what I think Berlin would sound like if they were around today. Yeah… exactly. Best Song: “Commotion”
Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill (4AD) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
There is such a richness to the record. More texture than sound. Best Song: “The Coldharbour Road”
Vampire Weekend – Contra (XL) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Yeah…I know there will be a lot of backlash on this one. I dare you to see this band live and not come out of it blown away. These guys can play. Best Song: “Giving Up The Gun”
Not a great day for rock birthdays, but a great one for thespians. So let’s pay tribute to a modern great, Jodie Foster. She got her first Oscar nomination for Taxi Driver as a teen, and later won the best actress prize for both The Accused and Silence Of The Lambs. Why she didn’t even get nominated for Maverick remains a mystery (though an easily solved mystery). She even appeared in the musical Bugsy Malone. So she must like music. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
The Minutemen — Have You Ever Seen The Rain (3-Way Tie (For Last)): The final Minutemen studio album showed the band’s increasing musical scope. They still were capable of fierce rock, but with their considerable compositional and playing ability, they stretched out considerably. They also did some covers, including this famed Creedence Clearwater Revival number. John Fogerty was a working class spokesman, so it’s no wonder The Minutemen gravitated toward this kindred spirit. This is a very respectful version with a passionate vocal from D. Boon.
The Raspberries — Starting Over (Collector’s Series): Wow, not only have The Raspberries been getting a lot of airplay on CHIRP, and my iPod feels the same way. This is a piano ballad with Eric Carmen singing at the top of his range.
The Band — I Shall Be Released (Music From Big Pink): Another slow piano song. This isn’t as cheesy and is more soulful. It is one of many songs by The Band that sounds timeless and classic, and no wonder, it was written by the man they used to back, Bob Dylan. It is extremely resonant.
Loretta Lynn — High on a Mountain Top (Van Lear Rose): One thing that is so great about Jack White’s production of Ms. Lynn’s comeback effort is that for every attempt to inject some modernity into the proceedings, he balanced out with something really traditional. This is a mid-tempo footstomping sing-a-long that is a showcase for Lynn’s still wonderful voice.
Husker Du — The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill (New Day Rising): Zen Arcade gets so much attention that people may forget about New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig. They shouldn’t. They are wonderful albums that show both musical and tonal range. This is a Grant Hart number augmented by liberal application of Bob Mould’s fuzzy guitar. The chorus is simple and memorable.
Oneida — $50 Tea (Secret Wars): This is Oneida at their caffienated Kraut rock best. The drums sound like metronome at 10 times the speed and the rest of the band tries to keep up, all while laying down a reptitive rhythm with a mantra like vocal melody. This is just a vibrant, in-your-face song.
Shoes — Not Me (Black Vinyl Shoes): Black Vinyl Shoes is one of the ultimate DIY recordings, laid down on a 4-track recorder in the Murphy brothers’ home. Low-fi acts should check this out to show how you can still have production values even with an ultra-low budget. Of course, the album wouldn’t have gotten the attention of the press if it wasn’t for the glistening pure pop songs that are describe unrequited love — the essence of power pop.
Comsat Angels — Zinger (Fiction): This terminally underrated post-punk band had a very specific spin on moody music with washes of dark guitar jangle, strong drumming, elastic bass lines and vocals that sounded weathered and bruised. Innocence had already been lost a long time ago. This number has a very slight funk edge, a la Shriekback.
Kylie Auldist — Kiss and Tell (Made of Stone): This Australian R & B singer is the main vocalist for the hot soul-funk revival band The Bamboos. Her solo records are a little bit less dance party oriented, and more in line with the fine retro soul of everyone from Amy Winehouse to Sharon Jones. Auldist can hold her own with any of these retro soul singers as a vocalist. Her voice is strong and expressive. And the songs, which are mostly originals, such as this one, hold up their end of the bargain.
The Streets On Fire — Fire (This Is Fancy): This is a real standout amongst the many fine Chicago based releases in 2010. The Streets On Fire have a post-punk vibe on many of their songs. This song gravitates a little bit closer to swamp rock, based on the guitar line and the vaguely tribal drummer. The song ends too soon. Good stuff.
He isn’t just a living legend, he’s an active one. From his time in Buffalo Springfield (who may reunite for a tour in 2011) to this year, Neil Young rarely, if ever, stops creating. He has created one of the most impressive bodies of work in rock history, mixing accessible roots based music with some of the dirtiest, grimiest music ever committed to tape. He has also dabbled in film and theater, experimented with many styles (remember Trans? Or Everybody’s Rockin’?) and influenced tons of musicians. Today is the great Neil Young’s birthday. Let’s celebrate by getting out the ol’ iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
The Features — The Beginning (Week One)(The Beginning): This is a bashing number from the Tennessee band. Musically, it sounds a little bit like a faster Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Armed Forces era), with tinny keyboards and busy drums. This song does a good job contrasting between a cacophony and more controlled sounds.
New York Dolls — Chatterbox (Too Much Too Soon): A typically energetic track from the Dolls’ second album. David Johansen takes a back seat to Johnny Thunders on lead vocals on this track. While this song is rooted in blues rock, the playing and attitude clearly show why the Dolls were a major precursor to punk.
The Blasters — Common Man (Hard Line): One of two songs on the The Blasters’ fourth album that show how big of an influence John Fogerty was on David Alvin. Alvin plays some swampy guitar over a nice groove, while brother Phil sings a stinging indictment of Ronald Reagan. This predates What’s The Matter With Kansas? in pointing out how politicians get people to vote against their interests by appealing to things that distract them from real issues.
Maximo Park — The Kids Are Sick Again (Quicken The Heart): On their third album, Maximo Park plays better than ever and has their formula down pat. This is a blessing and curse. The songs sound great, but they are less thrilling. Hence, this album took a number of plays to sink in. But it eventually did. This is one of those building song which ebbs and flows and only reveals the big chorus in the end. So it builds tension as you keep waiting for the song to peak. An odd choice for a first singe.
The House Of Love — Christine (1986-88: The Creation Years): This band wasn’t quite a shoegazer band, and they were catchy, but not quite poppy enough to be classified as Britpop. Forget subgenres — for a few years, they cranked out a lot of great singles and albums tracks with big guitar sounds and melodies that were somehow both ethereal and sinister. This was one of their best known songs.
Robert Gordon — Someday Someway (Are You Gonna Be The One?): This Marshall Crenshaw classic was first waxed by rockabilly revivalist Gordon. His version is just a bit peppier and punchier and nearly made the Top 40 (which Crenshaw’s version just grazed in 1982). Gordon was a great interpreter of Crenshaw’s songs, as his confidence is a contrast to Crenshaw’s constant wistfulness. I remember seeing Gordon perform this on SCTV.
The Monochrome Set — Expresso (Tomorrow Will Be Too Late): The Monochrome Set are an underappreciated post-punk pop band from the early ’80s. Fans of Orange Juice, Josef K, early XTC and any sort of music with herky-jerk rhythms and oddball guitar lines should check them out. This is a jaunty shuffle that, for some reason, reminds me a bit of the Bonzo Dog Band. The mix of strumming and jangly guitars is sublime.
Fastball — Fire Escape (All the Pain Money Can Buy): When “The Way” became a smash hit, this veteran power pop band got a well-deserved moment in the sun. Whereas their big hit had a bit of early Costello drama, this song is more in the vein of The Gin Blossoms or Tom Petty, jangling about until they hit the utterly professional hook. Give them an A for craftsmanship.
Fuzzbubble — Same Time, Same Place (Demos, Out Takes & Rarities): This L.A. power pop band fell somewhere between the glossiness of Jellyfish, the fizzy energy of Redd Kross with a bit of guitar edge similar to School of Fish. This tune has big guitars and a robust lead vocal. Cheap Trick would do a fine job covering it.
Neko Case — This Tornado Loves You (Middle Cyclone): The thing about Neko Case is that she outgrew any genre descriptions. Yes, country is the foundation of her songs, but she has developed a wide, spacious sound that can incorporate folk, soul, rock or anything else she may think of. And, of course, she’s a marvelous singer — it’s not just the quality of her voice but how she invests herself in her always worthwhile lyrics. This is a breathtakingly brilliant song.