Wednesday, December 30, 2009

RT 20 Podcast 26: The Almost 2009 RT 20

In this bonus podcast, I get a chance to highlight some albums, singles, and other musical stuff that just missed the cut on this year's list.

To download through iTunes click here. To download (or stream) the MP3, click here and then click on the MP3 button.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The 2009 Edition of RT 20 is Up

Click here to check it out. Or use the archives down on the right side of the home page.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

RT 20 Guest Lists: Eric Holland

My friend Eric Holland has his finger on the pulse of quality music year round due to his on air work at WFUV. He's posted up his year end thoughts at Check out his vlogs below:

Eric's Top 10 Albums of '09:

Eric's Top 10 Concerts of '09:

Song of the Week 12/25/09

Lionel Richie - "You Are"

I heard this song in three drugstores and a PetSmart in the past five days.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Song of the Week 12/18/09

My Morning Jacket - "Off The Record"

One thing I've enjoyed about the RT 20 podcasts is being reminded about songs that have slipped through the cracks. "Off the Record" is one such song, and I got to relive it twice--once when I assembled the Moria Miller podcast and a second time when I listened to the podcast this week. What a great off-kilter rhythm throughout this track--until the really long drawn out, freaky ending.

And what a creepy video, which I never saw before writing this post:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 20th Annual Reynolds Top 20 List

So What Have We Learned in 20 years? (Besides How to Look Good on Stage.)

2009: Long Live The King of Pop (Or His Back Catalog, At Least)

2009's Top 20 Albums

2009's Top 20 Singles

Top 10 Headlines I Hope I Don't Write in 2010

Other Musical Stuff From 2009:
--Compilations, Reissues, EPS, Soundtracks, Etc.
--Co-Discoveries of the Year
--Rediscovery of the Year

2009's Top 10 Visual Aids

20 for 20: Albums That Changed My Life Over The Past Two Decades

So What Have We Learned in 20 Years? (Besides How to Look Good on Stage.)

Short answer: My doctor would say not much. (But he would say it with a slight Indian accent while taking my blood pressure.)

Long answer? Well, that’s a good question. I spent some time glancing over the past 19 lists, looking for patterns in my writing (and in many years, my complaining) as well as the podcasts I did this year to mark the 20th edition of the RT 20. Here’s a small sampling of what I discovered:

  • Don't write about weight loss. It never lasts.

  • 20% of what appears on these pages is out of date by the time it reaches the post office.

  • The above sentence is already off by 23.7%

  • I am by far my worst critic. It’s as if my late grandmother decided to reside in the part of my brain that says “you suck” all the time.

  • Apparently I also have some issues with my grandmother.

  • People have a strange fixation with what I consume during my numerous writing sessions.

  • The first eight years of this list are cringe-worthy at many points.

  • The following eight years weren’t so hot either.

  • Apparently this Figgs band must be halfway decent or something.

  • There was a point where I actually liked Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was called 1991.

  • Apparently in 1991 I had some sort of brain damage, because there was a Sting album on the list too. (I did spent part of that year in college; I must have been somewhat smart for at least a couple of moments that year.)

  • People like podcasts, even if it's people they don't know talking about some obscure albums and playing 17 minute tracks.

  • People like getting free CDs in the mail.

  • I do pretty well writing in bullet point form. Must be all those times I wished had bullets paying off.

  • My friends really like Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting.”

  • Seriously though, one thing I did learn writing this list and doing all these podcasts fall is that talking about music in an empty vacuum (as in, filling up page after page by myself during late nights and early Saturday mornings) isn’t as much fun as it is talking about music with other people. During the 20 plus podcasts I recorded this fall I learned a great deal about my friends from the music they loved. I learned a lot about the artists they picked. I learned of some bands I had never heard and truly enjoyed. I learned that it is okay to disagree with those same friends on some of their choices. Overall, I learned that the best part of this whole process is when there is give and take with others. So that’s why in this issue there are voices besides my own adding a different perspective to the music I enjoyed and discovered in 2009. I hope to continue this with the next issue and beyond.

    I also plan on continuing the RT 20 Podcasts. To quote Van Morrison, “It’s too late to stop now.” So the series will continue in 2010 here on the blog. Who knows, maybe this will relaunch my on air career?

    (Looks at screen, shoot himself between the eyes.)

    Again, thanks for hanging in there for 20 years. Here’s to 20 more.

    2009: Long Live The King of Pop (Or His Back Catalog, At Least)

    The phrase that pays this year? Death sells.

    Or at least it seems to cause massive amnesia.

    At 4:00 p.m. E/T on June 25th Michael Jackson was just a creepy guy who looked neither black nor white and a person a good majority of Americans believed liked to sleep with little boys. A few hours later tons of celebrities who never mentioned the man before were offering up tributes (spoken or sung) in his memory. I felt fortunate that I missed much of that initial caterwauling because I spent that first post-Jacko weekend at a punk rock festival in Baltimore, where most bands were doggedly determine to pay tribute to the Ramones—over and over again. When I returned to Brooklyn I heard Jackson’s music pouring out of speakers everywhere I drove. It was as if all the truly weird shit we knew (or thought we knew) about the guy had disappeared.

    Now I don’t mind being paying tribute to those who have left before their time. It’s just that the hypocrisy of this summer drove me crazy. Why was it okay only after Jackson was dead to listen to his music again? The music industry has been littered with scumbags, freaks, child molesters and assholes (and that’s just people at record companies—boo-yah!) for 50 years. That’s hasn’t stopped the public from playing their music before. (Gary Glitter repeatedly had sex with underage boys and his one hit is still played at sporting events everywhere. Chris Brown’s airplay only went down slightly after he beat the crap out of Rihanna.) If you liked Jackson’s music, why not be brave enough to play it in public before this summer? I’m not expecting an answer, but it’s just something that irked me about this year.

    Speaking of things that irked me, I’d like to pose a few questions about 2009:

    Is anyone 100% convinced that Lady Gaga is fully a woman? The first time I ever saw one of her, (um, its?) videos I did a triple take, as I was convinced it was a man’s face. And that’s before I ever heard that transsexual rumor floating around. I applaud her ability to almost pull off crazy costumes, and to be able to hide her penis in them.

    Which generation is dumber—the one of 10 years ago that thought Britney Spears could sing and was the greatest talent ever, or the one of today that believes Taylor Swift can sing and…(hey, hey, get away from my keyboard) dfkhasdjklreh OMG Taylor is my BFF on MySpace and everything she sings, like, speaks to my soul! OMG!llkjkljklkjkljkljkljkljklh...sdf. (gimme that keyboard back! Let go! LET GO!)

    (Ahem, pardon me, my computer got Kanye’d for a second by some 16 year-old tourist who wandered into the building. All is back to normal.)

    Will Creed singer Scott Stapp sound like a douchebag even on his deathbed? (The odds in Vegas on this are even.) I mean, here’s what he said to me at 8 in the morning (which is the most unfair hour to do an interview) when I asked him about working again with guitarist Mark Tremonti: “I don't want to get all emotional or anything, but it just kind of brought a tear to my eye. Cause that was the purity of our relationship, going all the way back to being 14 to today. And no one and nothing can ever steal that away from he and I." (Trust me, hearing the audio makes it even more appalling. I think the only logical reason I didn’t jump over the console and stab him to death with my pen is it was 8:00 a.m. and I hadn’t had any chai yet.)

    In the wake of Susan Boyle having the biggest debut of any album this year, will Simon Cowell start a Grand-American Idol? Will it feature Wilfred Brimley as judge? Or better yet, a contestant? (I’ve heard he does a mean version of “Rock Me Amadeus.”)

    How did the Black Eyed Peas video for “Meet Me Halfway” end up in a commercial for DirecTV when it was still a current song? Aren’t those ads supposed to use old movies and digitally insert the actors pitching the product, not have that footage shot the same day as the video? Shouldn’t having back-to-back number-one singles (“Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling”) make the Peas enough royalties to keep paying the special effects team that works on Fergie’s face 24-7? The fact that she still appears human is a testament to their talent.

    Do I still have enough of a mental connection with the New York State Thruway (which I drove on plenty in the early ‘90s, scoring the only speeding tickets of my life) that my disdain for the last three Weezer albums inspired a piece of road to cause Rivers Cuomo’s bus accident in an attempt to knock some songwriting sense into him? (Wait, that was probably too soon. Let’s plunder on.)

    People were shocked when Adam Lambert (the guy that didn’t win American Idol this year) made out with a guy on the American Music Awards. I was shocked people still watch the American Music Awards. If you’re not getting paid to do so, why would you watch them? They’re the NBC of music awards shows. (Well, except that they’re on an actual network, ABC.)

    One final question: if you were able to ban one song from the 2009 airwaves forever, wouldn’t it be 3Oh!3’s “Don’t Trust Me?” As a matter of fact, if you could kill one duo from 2009 and not have to go to jail, wouldn’t it be 3Oh!3?

    So what exactly was good about 2009 (at least on a musical level)? Well, I think I’ll proclaim it The Year of Scott McCaughey. Mr. McCaughey is the coolest musician I’ve ever had the honor to get to know. And this year he breaks the record set in 2000 by The FiggsMike Gent for most entries in one year. Gent had six entries on all the lists (four albums, two concerts), while McCaughey has a direct hand in four of this year’s Top 20 albums, two reissues, two concerts and one entry on the 20 for 20 list. It’s a testament to the man’s passion for music, which burns just as strongly 25 years after the release of the very first Young Fresh Fellows album. He’ll never make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he’s earned a spot in the Reynolds Rock Hall.

    Hmmm. (rubs moustache)

    Hmmm. (stares in space for a minute)

    Maybe that’s an idea for the 25th annual list. Guess I better call Frank Gehry now to get cracking on a design. After the Nets owner ditched his plans for an arena in Brooklyn, I bet he could use some work. In any case, hope you enjoy the 20th time I’ve looked back in anger.

    2009's Top 20 Albums

    20) Steve Shiffman and the Land of No - Steve Shiffman and the Land of No (Tiny Beast)

    Full disclosure: I am friends with two-fifths of this band. I’ve known the drummer Pete Hayes (he’s in some band that was originally from Saratoga Springs, New York) for over a decade now. I got to know Steve Shiffman about nine years ago when he started playing with Hayes. It’s been fascinating to watch The Land of No evolve from Hayes on a tiny drum kit using plastic brushes and Shiffman using a tiny amp with a very distinctive tone playing in a tiny café to a full fledged rock band with three guitars and a bass player. What’s remained constant throughout that time is Shiffman’s unique and haunting voice and his collection of strong songs. I always have a hard time describing exactly what his music sounds like. I used to bill them as a two man version of Pavement, but that doesn’t work when you’re a quintet. For lack of a better term, I’d call it New York rock. I’ve always associated Shiffman’s songs with the streets of the city I love, whether they are specifically about Manhattan (“Squirrel in Chinatown”), they have the same kind of crazy rhythms that you can sense on an interesting night out (“Tweed Skirt”) or they just mark certain times of my own life (“Everyone’s Getting Married”). It’s good to finally be able to bring these songs with me on the subway or bus. I just hope it doesn’t take another nine years to get another batch. Best Tracks: “Unfortunately for Her,” “Tweed Skirt,” “Everyone’s Getting Married.”

    19) John Wesley Harding - Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (Popover/RBG)
    I’ve been a fan of John Wesley Harding’s for most of his 20 year career and own almost all of his albums. Yet I couldn’t help but think Mr. Wesley Stace made this album to make sure I would definitely buy it. Heck, I think he constructed it to make sure I preordered it through his website. (Pause for chuckles of laughter at my insanity.) Seriously, hear me out. First, he co-writes three songs with (and gets backing vocals from) one of my favorite singer-songwriters Mike Viola. Then he recorded the entire album using the Minus 5 as his backing band. And if that isn’t enough, he gets a Young Fresh Fellow (Kurt Bloch) to play guitar and a Los Lobos member (Steve Berlin) to add baritone sax. Oh, and the preorder thing? He adds a bonus disc recorded at Union Hall in Brooklyn (a venue I’ve performed at many times) for fans that would shell out some early bucks. If he had gotten Neil Young to play lead guitar on one song, I really would have become paranoid that Harding was spying on me for many years. The songs are just as witty as ever (“Top of the Bottom” neatly fictionalizes his career in four and a half minutes) and catchy too. Wait…I think I hear someone in my living room. Is that YOU Harding??!!? I’ll get you for spying on me… Best Tracks: “Top of the Bottom,” “Congratulations (On Your Hallucinations),” “Love or Nothing”

    18) Pronto - All is Golden (Contraphonic)
    The guys from Wilco have a pretty good success rate when they step outside the band. Frontman Jeff Tweedy has recorded some worthy songs with Golden Smog and done some fine experimental work with Loose Fur. Bassist John Stiratt and guitarist-keyboardist Pat Sansone have made solid dreamy pop under the name Autumn Defense. Guitarist Nels Cline had a worthy avant garde jazz career before joining the band. And Glenn Kotche has done some fascinating solo drum works. This year keyboardist Mikael Jorgenson became the last Wilco member to strike out on his own with Pronto. All is Golden is a funny title, considering Jorgensen admits the disc stems from a rather bad breakup (amongst other emotional upheavals) he went through four years ago. “Good Friends Have Gone” and “Precious Like a Sneer” take both sides of that breakup coin. “Good Friends” ponders the sadness of loss, and “Sneer” is just that—Jorgenson being pissed off at the person who done him wrong. (The opening line “Hello there, asshole” cracks me up at every listen.) This breakup album also shows that Jorgensen might have had a bigger impact on Wilco’s sound than most have thought. All Is Golden is couched in that ’70s sound Wilco explored on Sky Blue Sky, with various vintage keyboards and horns contributing to that gauzy sonic haze. With all the talent these guys show outside Wilco, imagine what would happen if they made an album this year. (Um, yeah, don’t skip ahead to the Top 10 just yet.) Best Tracks: “All is Golden,” “Good Friends Have Gone,” “Precious Like a Sneer”

    17) Dipsomaniacs - Social Crutch (FDR Label)
    Full disclosure: my bandmate Paul Crane played guitar in this band. I’ve known Paul for five years now, and I know he’s got a pretty good taste in power pop. His own band, Bastards of Melody, has a knack for great hooks. He’s the one (at least I think he was) that randomly started playing the riff to Superdrag’s “Sucked Out” at rehearsal one night, and everyone had so much fun playing it we had to add it to our song list. So I should not have been surprised when a band he joined would dole out hooks by the bucket load. Social Crutch features one song after another with choruses that wrap snugly around the music parts of my brain. It’s just like those tasty tortillas wrapped around the chicken fajitas at that Mexican place run by those Chinese folks two blocks away from me. (Hang on, I gotta go for a walk. Be back in a sec. Okay, that’s tastier…um, I mean better.) Mick Chorba knows how to get his point across and get out before you can get tired of it. Social Crutch is 10 songs in just over 31 minutes. We’re talking early Beatles album length here. The Dipsomaniacs are not seduced by the 78 minute length of CDs. They know that there is joy in brevity. And Social Crutch provides a whole bunch of joy. Best Tracks: “Halo Around You,” “Blame it on the Gin,” “Loretta After All”

    16) BOAT - Setting the Paces (Magic Marker Records)
    I don’t make too many musical mistakes and regret it immediately. Usually it takes years before I see the error of my ways. Not with Seattle’s BOAT. Just like Arrested Development’s Michael Bluth, “I’ve made a huge mistake” is something I uttered two minutes into Setting the Paces’ opening song “We’ve Been Friends Since 1989.” Singer D. Crane has a voice that sounds like it was stolen from one of the characters in Toon Town. The lyrics and music are steeped in that hooky non-sensical-yet-somehow-sensical-to-my mind way that I loved so much about Pavement. When the second song “Lately” was over I said, out loud and to no one in particular because I was in an empty office, “Aw fuck, I should have seen them last night.” Yes, I had a chance to see them…in Brooklyn…at one of my favorite venues, Union Hall…and had someone I could get a few beers with at the show…and I botched it. I took my sweet time getting from social stop to social stop, not knowing what I was missing. My friend Bill Pearis (who sent me the album) wrote to me that night, “You should come out. I think Boat is a band you’ll like.” And dammit he was right. (Postscript: A week after I wrote this entry, I discovered that BOAT did an EP in 2008 called Topps that dealt with…sigh, here it comes…baseball. Well, fuck me.) Best Tracks: “We’ve Been Friends Since 1989,” “We Want It, We Want It,” “Prince of Tacoma”

    15) Bob Mould - Life and Times (Granary Music/Anti)
    Bob Mould has found himself on some strong creative ground the past four years, as the three albums he issued during that time have made the RT 20. Well, okay, even if the albums weren’t that good (helloooooo 2002’s Modulate) they probably would have made the cut. As a matter of fact, every album Mould put out under his own name (and those as part of Sugar) has landed on the RT 20 in the year they were released. Even with my obvious bias, I still believe Mould achieved a creative renaissance in the last half decade. He’s been able to combine his talent for writing guitar-and-tortured-lyrics-laden pop songs with his full embrace of gay culture and dance music on the D.C. area. The newfound comfortableness in his own skin has served Mould’s art well. He’s gotten back to writing extremely focused relationship sketches—most of which have gone horribly, horribly wrong. (I’m sure nobody I know can identify with that.) Life and Times hearkens back to Mould’s first solo effort, Workbook, with its use of multiple acoustic guitars and songs that are less verse/chorus/verse and more of a guy telling a story over three and a half minutes. What separates Life and Times from being a outright Workbook sequel? I’m pretty sure lyrics as “the taste of last night’s sex in my mouth/my breath is blood and sweat” (from “Bad Blood Better”) and “lead me to the Sanifair/reach into my underwear” (from “Argos”) probably wouldn’t have been as acceptable in 1989. Best Tracks: “Spiraling Down,” “I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand in My Light Anymore,” “Life and Times”

    14) Gomez - A New Tide (ATO)
    Gomez have carved themselves a pretty interesting career over the past 10 years. They’ve gone from a critically-acclaimed, award-winning, somewhat experimental band to a group embraced by parts of the jam band scene to a collective of song craftsmen (especially on 2006’s How We Operate). The pendulum has swung back towards the more experimental side of things on A New Tide, as the instrumentation and song structures hearken back to their debut Bring It On. The band doesn’t go all out in that direction, as they’ve come too far as songwriters to completely ditch their pop sensibilities. “Natural Reaction” sums up the album nicely—it sounds like a fine slice of Americana-influenced music (beautiful three-part harmonies atop a mix of mandolin, acoustic and electric guitars) until the kind-of-creepy marimba part appears in the middle. I knew that this album would probably make the RT 20 after just one listen to the fifth track—“Win Park Slope.” Any song that name checks my old neighborhood is alright by me. And the way they sing “gotta win, let me win, gotta win, gotta win” over and over again makes me think they’ve got experience with the parking and stroller battles of Brooklyn’s most gentrified hood. Best Tracks: “Little Pieces,” “Natural Reaction,” “Airstream Driver”

    13) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glass Note)
    I’ve liked Phoenix ever since I heard “Run Run Run,” the second single from their 2004 album Alphabetical. Singer Thomas Mars has an interesting voice that stands out amongst the crowd of today’s indie rock singers. It sounds right at home on up-tempo material (“1901”) as well as slower, atmospheric material. (His work on Air’s “Playground Love” is stunning, and I was totally pleased to see Phoenix cover that song during their appearance at the Austin City Limits Festival this year.) That distinctive voice might be because he’s a Frenchman singing in his second language, I’m not really sure. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is the first album from the band that isn’t all over the place (which Alphabetical was guilty of) and features compelling hooks on every song (their 2006 disc It’s Never Been Like That is lacking in the chorus department). The opening punch of “Lisztomania” and “1901” almost makes the rest of the disc irrelevant. And if you think you haven’t heard Phoenix, trust me you have. Do you recall that Cadillac SRX ad that features a gurgling synthesizer and quickly strummed guitars? Well, there’s your introduction to Phoenix. I liked “1901” before it was in that ad, but I will admit that the song fell off my singles list just because I’ve seen/heard that spot just a little too much. So if you like the music in that Cadillac ad, I suggest picking up Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Best Tracks: “1901,” “Lisztomania,” “Lasso”

    12) Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid (Nonesuch)
    I got turned onto The Black Keys with last year’s Attack and Release. I had never paid much attention to Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney’s gritty two-pronged attack of blues and classic rock-influenced music until Danger Mouse helped expand the band’s sound. The slightly more accessible Attack and Release seems to have paved the way for singer-guitarist Auerbach to step out on his own with an album that shows off more of his talents as a damn fine songwriter. “My Last Mistake” is the poppiest song he’s ever written—so much so that I’m sure some group could have a crossover rock hit with it if done properly. As a solo artist Auerbach allows his songs to stand on their own, without relying on the distortion heavy guitar and thundering drums that are crucial elements to the Black Keys sound. Auerbach has succeeded in making an album that (minus the drum machine driven “Real Desire”) could have been made in 1969, 1979 or 2009. Keep it Hid is a fine collection of songs that, like some of Bob Dylan’s best work of the past 20 years, seems not of its’ own, or any time. I’m interested to see what Auerbach comes up with when he returns to his day job next year. Best Tracks: “My Last Mistake,” “I Want Some More,” “Goin’ Home”

    11) Fanfarlo - Reservoir (Atlantic)
    I’m pretty sure Fanfarlo is the product of some sci-fi show. I think plot goes something like this: an English band gets started in the early part of this decade and likes to make somewhat melodramatic music that features a wide range of instruments (mandolins, trumpets, etc.) Then an evil record company man (let’s say he’s played by Gerard Butler) kidnaps them, extracts the DNA of members of Arcade Fire and Beirut and the vocal patterns of David Byrne and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah singer Alec Ounsworth and grafts it into the brains of the band members. Then he unleashes them upon the world and forces David Bowie to praise them in print by holding Thin White Duke upside down out of the window of his Central Park West apartment. I know it seems highly unlikely (really, would Gerard Butler do TV at this point?) yet Fanfarlo sounds exactly like parts of all four acts I mentioned above. I suppose some would call the London-via-Sweden sextet extremely derivative. I can’t do it. I enjoy this album too much. If it had come out in May instead of September, it might have even made its way into the Top 10. Reservoir is a grower of an album, one that yields a new treasure with every listen. In fact, why don’t you go listen to it? I have a show to go pitch to SyFy…. Best Tracks: “The Walls Are Coming Down,” “I’m a Pilot,” “Fire Escape”

    10) Mike Gent - Mike Gent (Stomper Music)
    I can’t recall the exact gig, but I remember when The Figgs’ singer-guitarist Mike Gent told me he’d just gotten a new Gibson acoustic guitar. He said something like it being the finest one he’d ever played (Mike, I’m sure you can correct me on this) and that he couldn’t wait to use it. That guitar obviously had an immense impact on Gent’s songwriting for his self-titled third solo album. (I prefer the original title he told me—The Name of This Record is Mike Gent. Heck, that’s how I still have it listed in my iTunes. It still makes me crack up and I have no idea why.) This disc sees Gent exploring more of a mellow singer-songwriter vibe than his one man band efforts The Intake and Received even hinted at. Even the most Figgs-like song, “Haste & Wrath,” is driven by that acoustic guitar sound, with a sweet dose of slide guitar and Zombies-like piano thrown in for good measure. Mike Gent features all those hooks I’ve come to expect from the man and shows off another side to a guy who—as I famously once said—shits out great songs seemingly every day. Best Tracks: “Paper Knives,” “Haste & Wrath,” “(Romantic Needs Led To) False Alarms”

    9) Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures (DGC/Interscope)
    Rock music rule number 12: supergroups never pan out. The exceptions to that rule are so few and far between that I can only think of one (Golden Smog) that didn’t turn into some joke or wasn’t a relic that hasn’t aged well. (I mean, I still like Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” and it also draws a few yells when I crank it out DJ-ing, but does anyone remember the Alpha album? I thought not.) Even with this rule, the teenager in me who loved Led Zeppelin and hard rock of that ilk couldn’t stop being excited when word leaked out in July that Zep bassist John Paul Jones, Queens of the Stone Age singer-guitarist-riffmaster Josh Homme and Foo Fighters mastermind Dave Grohl had teamed up for a new band. And Grohl was playing drums again. The last time Grohl played drums for any sort of length in the studio produced Queens of the Stone Age’s greatest song, “No One Knows.” Add the multi-talented (and rather nice guy) Jones to that mix? My mind reeled with anticipation. I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I listened to Them Crooked Vultures self-titled debut. These three didn’t disappoint. This shit rocked hard. It grooved hard. The riffs were massive. The interplay between Jones’s bass and Grohl’s drums is, well, damn, it sounds fucking great. Why can’t other hard rock bands learn how to do this? This album came out in November, and that’s a disappointment on two fronts. 1) It might have climbed even higher if I was able spend more than three weeks with it before completing this list. (And when I submit my Village Voice Pazz & Jop ballot on Christmas Eve, it might do just that.) 2) This is an album designed to play at an incredibly loud volume on a long road trip. I just know being behind the wheel of a car on a warm sunny day will make all of these songs even more massive. Listening to it on an iPod just isn’t enough. Best Tracks: “Mind Eraser, No Chaser,” “New Fang,” “Scumbag Blues”

    8) The Minus 5 - Killingsworth (Yeproc)
    Named for a street (and neighborhood, I believe) in Portland, Oregon, Killingsworth sees Scott McCaughey embrace the musicians of his new hometown to create yet another strong collection of darkly tinged pop songs. McCaughey and his Minus 5 partner-in-crime Peter Buck are joined by several members of The Decemberists for most of the album. And the combinations of these two talents don’t create some sort of indie folk-rock explosion—surprisingly they make for a pleasant country-rock album. Violins, banjo and lots of pedal steel guitar mix in with Buck’s distinctive 12 string playing for a disc that comes across as some bastard child of The ByrdsSweethearts of the Rodeo. Well, if that album had actual sweethearts singing on it like this one does. The vocal group the She Bee Gees is the secret weapon in McCaughey’s incredibly talented arsenal on Killingsworth. Their harmonies and call and responses to McCaughey’s (and on “Scott Walker’s Fault,” The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy’s) lead vocal help make the songs sound lighter when needed, or darker when the mood calls for it. McCaughey says he set out to make some type of girl group album when he started thinking about this record. I’d still be interested in hearing how that would turn out, but I’m very happy that McCaughey embraced his inner countryesque ambitions. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that Killingsworth contains one of my favorite lyrics McCaughey has ever penned: “Your wedding was so well planned/like a German occupation” from “The Dark Hand of Contagion” has made me chuckle from the very first time I heard it. Best Tracks: “Ambulance Dancehall,” “Scott Walker’s Fault,” “The Lurking Barrister”

    7) Morrissey -Years of Refusal (Attack!/Lost Highway)
    Last year “That’s How People Grow Up” made the RT 20 singles list, mainly for the line “I was driving my car/I crashed and broke my spine/So yes there are things worse in life than/Never being someone's sweetie.” I had no idea that “Grow Up” (as well as “All You Need Is Me”) weren’t just new songs written and recorded for Greatest Hits: Deluxe Edition compilation. They were just the tip of the iceberg—Morrissey had recorded 12 great songs for his next album. Years of Refusal lives to the brilliance of “Grow Up” by delivering one muscular rock song after another with some of Morrissey’s best lyrics in 15 years. He sounds engaged and inspired by the music his collaborators have come up with this go around. His pokes at his own mopey identity (as in “Grow Up”) are flat out funny. And when he gets down to really complaining about his lack of love on “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” he uses just a few lines to create an indelible image of someone giving up: “In the absence of your love/And in the absence of human touch/I have decided I'm throwing my arms around/Around Paris because only stone and steel accept my love.” Welcome back Moz, we’ve missed you. Best Tracks: “That’s How People Grow Up,” “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” “Something is Squeezing My Skull”

    6) Regina Spektor - Far (Sire/WB)
    I’m going against the grain by placing Far in my Top 10 list. Many critics have said the Bronx-via-Russia native took more chances on her previous album Begin to Hope, which included the minor hit “Fidelity.” I read one damning review that called Far “unbearably precious” and that it didn’t “live up to expectations based on all the talent involved in making it.” The talent (besides Spektor) they’re talking about is the four big time producers who worked on the disc: David Kahne (her collaborator on Begin to Hope); Garret "Jacknife" Lee (R.E.M., U2); Jeff Lynne of ELO; and Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, Eminem). I think each producer did a great job of bringing the best out of Spektor on each of their tracks. They don’t allow their own personal stamp to overwhelm the essential elements to Spektor—her personality and her piano. Spektor spends much of Far capturing moments of connections between people, whether it’s getting to know someone through a lost wallet (“Wallet”) checking out a “meat market” crowd (“Dance Anthem Of The ’80s”) or pondering life’s big questions, as in “Laughing With.” That track alone carries the album up to a higher level. I am a full on atheist, but even I am impressed by the opening stanza “No one laughs at God in a hospital/No one laughs at God in a war/No one’s laughing at God/When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor.” It’s a stunningly somber track that shows Spektor is more than just the quirky lady born in Russia who sings like a dolphin…which she does on “Folding Chair.” Um, yeah, I’m not really sure what to make of that. Best Tracks: “Laughing With,” “Eet,” “Dance Anthem of the 80s”

    5) Young Fresh Fellows - I Think This Is (YepRoc)
    An open letter to Robyn Hitchcock:

    Dear Mr. Hitchcock,

    I wanted to publicly thank you for what you did for Young Fresh Fellows fans. Your decision to call Scott McCaughey and say “I’m coming to Seattle to work more on my record, so why don’t I come in five days early and let’s do the Fellows album before that” is one of the best decisions I’ve heard in the past eight years. Sure, we could have used the joy that a Fellows record brings during the eight years of the past administration. But maybe the Fellows didn’t want to sully their joyful reputation by having something new out there during those eight horrible years.

    Mr. Hitchcock, your work as a producer cannot be underrated here. You’ve drawn some great performances out of McCaughey, Kurt Bloch, Jim Sangster and especially Tad Hutchinson. I’d forgot how exciting and joyful his drumming can be, and he really shines on “Go Blue Angels Go” and “YOUR Mexican Restaurant.” Bloch’s and McCaughey’s distinctive guitar styles match up so well throughout this disc. And you somehow convinced the band to go out of their comfort zone on “The Ballad of the Bootleg,” which sounds like no other Fellows song before it. Mr. McCaughey told me you did a great job on that song in particular and that the finished version “sounded like something off [The Clash’s] Sandinista.” The autobiographical song about the band’s ill-fated attempt at making an album in one day two decades ago is one of my favorites.

    Mr. Hitchcock, I again thank you for your service for the common good. I do hope that at some point in the future you decide that you have five extra days in your schedule—and that you’d want to spend them on Seattle’s best export.



    Best Tracks: “Ballad of the Bootleg,” “Let the Good Times Crawl,” “YOUR Mexican Restaurant”

    4) Brendan Benson - My Old, Familiar Friend (ATO)
    Brendan Benson’s time in The Raconteurs paid off in two ways for his solo career. One, he now has a much wider name recognition so the great power pop he creates is bound to find a bigger audience. Two, he was able to actually have a recording budget for My Old, Familiar Friend. No recording it in his apartment or stealing studio time (and other musicians) where he could. The upping of the budget gave him the cash to hire producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters). Norton was an inspired choice, as he’s brought out the best in Benson’s material. Adding strings to “Garbage Day” takes it from just another song to the level of a lost Motown or Stax gem. The same goes for the ballad “You Make a Fool Out of Me,” which soars higher than anything Benson has recorded before on his own. Fortunately the budget hasn’t robbed Benson of his touch for creating breakup songs than are almost cheerful in spite of their subject matter. “Don’t Wanna Talk” makes me bob my head even as Benson sings lyrics like “Don’t wanna hear about it, just wanna tune you out/You wanna make me scream, you wanna make me shout.” He’s also does some of the best harmonizing with himself of any artist making music today. The mass of vocals he does on “Misery” and “A Whole Lot Better” are sweet sounds to these ears. Best Tracks: “A Whole Lot Better,” “Garbage Day,” “Poised and Ready”

    3) Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Goodnight Oslo (YepRoc)
    Robyn Hitchcock has been making consistently good records either as member of The Soft Boys, with The Egyptians or all on his own for over 30 years. Yet I think he might be at a creative career peak right now working with The Venus 3, which is R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on guitar, Scott McCaughey on bass and R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin. I’m not sure if it’s the comfort level Hitchcock has with these three musicians or if he feels compelled to deliver high quality songs so as to not waste their talents. But it’s obvious that something works extremely well with this outfit. Buck, McCaughey and Rieflin have played together so long that they have that unspoken communication of how to get the best out of every song, leaving room for Hitchcock to blend in seamlessly. It’s a joy to listen to such talented musicians on the top of their games when working together—and having fun together. The T. Rex-esque “Saturday Groovers” is one of the silliest and most fun songs Hitchcock has ever written and sounds like it must have been a blast to record. (And you can practically hear the shit-eating grin on the face of The DecemberistsColin Meloy when he really starts getting into his guest backing vocal.) One of Hitchcock’s musical heroes is Bob Dylan, and he is one of the few artists I can think of that was still achieving creative high marks well into the third decade of his career. At this rate, I think it’s safe to say Hitchcock is following in the footsteps of Mr. Zimmerman and will be doing that well into his fourth decade. Best Tracks: “Saturday Groovers,“ “Up to Our Nex,” “Hurry For the Sky”

    2) Wilco - Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)
    My friend Erik Hage and I have had differing opinions about Wilco during this decade. We both believe Summerteeth is the high water mark of the band’s career and that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (and the David-versus-Goliath record company battle mythology) is overrated. However, Erik has been somewhat dismissive of the band’s work over the past few years and I thought they’ve come into their own on 2007’s Sky Blue Sky and this year’s Wilco (The Album). Erik wrote a review about the new album in Albany’s Metroland, saying he wasn’t going to talk about it “but Seth Rogen referencing the band in Funny People cemented it for me: Something has to be said. Wilco, a band I have ardently followed since their inception in 1995—and a band who were one of my favorites until early in the millennium—have come to represent something that makes me uncomfortable. A Wilco reference itself—as Funny People attests—has become a point of light in the hip constellation for 30- to 40-somethings.” My only response to that is, “You went to see Funny People? Of your own volition? How can I ever trust your taste again?” (I kid, I kid.)

    Erik is right on many of those points. The band has become that touchstone for what “hip” is for the NPR-aged set. (Wait, I listen to NPR. Actually, I listen to an NPR station that plays music…like Wilco. I drink Starbucks every day on the way to work. I even check my iPhone when the line takes too long at Starbucks. Holy shit—I am one of those people Erik is talking about! How come I don’t have a BMW and a summer home in the Hamptons? Oh, right, that radio thing.) I’ve basically tried to ignore all of that and focus on the music, which still brings me as many thrills as the first time I saw the band in 1996. Wilco (the Album) sounds like Wilco’s Greatest Hits to these ears, only taking place of the hits are all brand new songs. There’s a slice of the band’s proggy side (“Bull Black Nova”), the band’s ’70s pop side (“You Never Know”), the Woody Guthrie-inspired folky side (“Solitaire”) and their downright silly side (“Wilco The Song”). Mostly I enjoy the fact that Jeff Tweedy decided to focus on songwriting again. It’s his strongest batch of songs in ages. Of course, this probably means the next Wilco album will be something totally out of left field. So I’ll enjoy the simple pleasure of a Tweedy verse-chorus-verse while I can. Best Tracks: “You Never Know,” “I’ll Fight,” “Sonny Feeling”

    1) The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You (American/Columbia)
    I had never heard anything by North Carolina’s Avett Brothers until one fateful morning this summer when the title track to I And Love And You snuck out of my speakers and got its hooks into me. I never imagined that a band I had never heard of could write a song, and in turn, a full album, that would secure its place on the top of RT 20 after only two listens. But in those two listens it was readily apparent that no one else this year could come to close to making an album with such emotional depth. I And Love And You shows that Rick Rubin still has an ear for talent and can work his studio magic (and not just collect a paycheck from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica every few years). Rubin took everything this band did well before (gorgeous ballads, acoustic-hillbilly-punk, traditional pop) and somehow gave them the keys to take it to the other level. Listening to the band’s older works (which I bought in a frenzy in a couple of weeks after seeing them at the Austin City Limits Festival) I could see hints of a leap. But I never would have expected this. I And Love And You is an album that’s timeless. I don’t mean that it will last 1000 years. It’s an album that sounds like it belongs to no time. It could have been recorded at any point in the last 40 years. It’s filled with songs that are drawn from the essential parts of American roots music. The great melancholy moments (and man oh man, there are plenty) remind me of another band that explored the rural American experience like no other (even though they were mostly Canadians), The Band. The title track makes me think that Rick Rubin had a séance to call in the ghost of the late Richard Manuel to add his piano and soul. I have no idea how Scott and Seth Avett are going to top this one. Best Tracks: “I And Love And You,” “And It Spread,” “Laundry Room”

    2009's Top 20 Singles

    20) Miley Cyrus - “Party in the U.S.A.” (Hollywood)
    I could share my various reasons for why this song is on the list (it’s an extremely catchy, well constructed, well produced pop song, co-written by the same guy who co-wrote Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”), but I think it would be more entertaining to see what you wrote about it. So click here for the unedited comments that streamed forth on Facebook under my status update after I decided to stir things up one Tuesday morning.

    19) Lily Allen - “The Fear” (Capitol)
    Lily Allen became quite the tabloid fixture in the UK (and a bit here too) because of her run-ins with paparazzi—and their tendency to get photos of Allen topless. (Note to self—only do a Google image search about her at home.) All the hubbub overshadowed the fact that Allen’s debut album Alright, Still was a brash and entertaining mix of her straightforward lyrics about guys fucking the girl next door and tales of her pothead brother with poppy ska and reggae influenced tracks. The Allen on It’s Not Me, It’s You returns to her take no prisoners lyrical attitude (especially on “Fuck You,” where she practically giggles through the chorus “fuck you, fuck you very very much) except for “The Fear.” In this song Allen takes a tongue-in-cheek look at celebrities who are famous just for being famous, yet strikes an ominous tone in the chorus: “I don't know what's right and what's real anymore/I don't know how I'm meant to feel anymore/When we think it will all become clear/'Cuz I'm being taken over by The Fear.” It’s an intriguing step forward for someone who seems to have a very interesting career ahead of them.
    18) Sean Kingston - “Fire Burning” (Epic/Beluga Heights)
    Since I was about 12 years old I’ve had bouts of insomnia. It comes and goes with no reason. (Of course, I didn’t have to worry about it when I worked overnights back in the early ’90s.) This year has not been that bad in the sleep department, except for one particularly brutal stretch during the summer. I usually try to stay in bed even if I’m wide awake as I hope against hope that I will drift off into slumberland. One night I gave up at 1:00 a.m. and decided to head to my living room to circle through the channels. Around 4:15 I came across MTV Hits and stopped when I saw heard this kid singing “Somebody call 911! Shawty fire burning on the dance floor, whoa!” over a typical R&B/dancehall track. I laughed out loud at how stupid this line was and decided to watch the whole clip. By the end of it, I couldn’t stop humming that “Somebody call 911” line. I finally fell asleep around 5:30, woke up at 8—and that line was still in my head. I downloaded it when I got to work because I need to hear it again to cleanse my sonic pallet. It didn’t work. So I spent a couple of sleepless days and nights with “Somebody call 911!” popping in and out of my brain. It got me to thinking—maybe it wasn’t that stupid. To get burrowed that deep in my skull, the song had to be worth something. And when my insomnia broke and I still enjoyed thinking “Somebody call 911!,” I knew “Fire Burning” needed a place on this year’s list.

    (Or that I need to start taking valium before bed. One or the other.)

    17) Neko Case - “People Got a Lot of Nerve” (Anti)
    Back in mid-May I could not escape this song. Between listening to the New York NPR adult alternative station WFUV and my usual morning stop in Starbucks, I heard it four out of five mornings one week. I have always thought of Case as a great singer of other people's material (i.e., everything she's sung in New Pornographers). But I've never been a fan of her own originals until “Nerve.” The way she sings “I’m a mana mana mana mana maneater” makes me think she has a tiny bit of experience in that department. I could be wrong. And I wouldn’t think of asking her since she’s posing with a sword on her album cover. Nice Neko, nice Neko….

    16) The Figgs - “Casino Hayes” (Peter Walkee Records)
    I love gambling. I love The Figgs. Bringing these two interests together in the service of one song? Why didn’t this happen sooner?!!?

    15) Phish - “Backwards Down the Number Line” (JEMP)
    When I interviewed Phish singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio back in the fall he told me that the band’s reunion started with “Backwards Down the Number Line.” The lyrics came as an email on his birthday from his writing partner Tom Marshall. At that point the two hadn’t spoken in over a year (due in part to Anastasio’s court-ordered rehab). Looking at Marshall’s words, I can see why Anastasio was touched and instantly inspired by his longtime friend:
    “Happy happy oh my friend
    Blow out candles once again
    Leave the presents all inside
    Take my hand and let's take a ride

    Backwards down the number line
    You were eight and I was nine
    Do you know what happened then
    Do you know why we're still friends

    Laughing all these many years
    We’ve pushed through hardships
    tasted tears
    We made a promise one to keep
    I can still recite it in my sleep

    Every time a birthday comes
    Call your friend and sing a song
    Or whisper it in to his ears
    Or write it down just don't miss a year”

    The lyrics are (in my opinion) the best ever in a Phish song. Anastasio told me he quickly wrote music for the words, added a chorus and did a four track demo all in the same afternoon. And the band rose to the occasion, playing with a verve and clarity that they haven’t displayed in many years. Anastasio’s guitar solo practically sings with joy, as if he’s making up for all those wasted (sometimes literally) years in some furiously focused notes. Happy birthday indeed.

    14) Wilco - “You Never Know” (Nonesuch)
    After my first listen to Wilco (The Album), it seemed obvious to me that “You Never Know” had to be the first single take from the disc. It was Jeff Tweedy's catchiest song since “Heavy Metal Drummer” and had a slicker than usual sound for the band. After I listened to the album a few more times I woke up one morning with “You Never Know” in my head. And it dawned on me why it was so catchy—it was an out and out homage to the Traveling Wilburys. The wall of strummed guitars and the descending piano riff during the chorus? Straight from Jeff Lynne's production handbook. The chord progression those acoustic guitars are bashing out? It could be mistaken for “Won’t Last Long” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers highly underrated 1999 album Echo. The dual slide guitar parts in the solo? George Harrison patented those with the Wilburys and his solo career. Those massive backing vocals? I swear you could hear a mix of Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan in there. Normally I’d be a bit dismissive of someone so closely aping someone else's style. But this was done so well (and sounds like so much fun) I'm sure Tweedy and company knew exactly what they were doing in paying tribute to one of the best supergroups of our time.

    13) Norah Jones - “Chasing Pirates” (Blue Note/EMI)
    I've never really had that strong of an opinion one way or another about Ms. Jones and her hugely successful career. Her first three albums were cut from the same mellow cloth (which I believe can be bought at Ikea). Her latest disc The Fall sees Jones shaking things up a bit by dropping her long time band and recording with a bunch of L.A. session guys, including uber-drummer Joey Warnoker. Jones also crafted songs that are a bit darker (no likely inspired by her breakup with her boyfriend/bassist Lee Alexander) and at times a bit funkier. “Chasing Pirates” has a bit of that funk and is the catchiest song she's ever written. I listened to it a few times before interviewing her in October and I found myself humming the chorus the rest of the day. When I listened to the entire album for the first time in November, "Chasing Pirates" crept back into that part of my brain that randomly repeats song lyrics over and over again.

    (Oh, and it doesn't hurt that she’s, um, kind of attractive.)

    12) Chairlift - “Bruises” (Kanine/Columbia)
    Yes, this is the song that was in that iPod nano commercial last Christmas. (The one with the female singer cooing “I tried to do handstands for you” in a cute voice.) Yes, I most likely never would have heard it if it wasn’t for that commercial. But no, I never bought a Snuggie, so I’ve got that going for me.

    11) Monsters of Folk - “Say Please” (Shangrila Music)
    This 21st century Traveling Wilburys—consisting of M. Ward, My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis—did a pretty good show in November at the Beacon Theater. With such expansive back catalogs to choose from each artist, as well as their self-titled collaborative album, these guys could have easily played six hours together instead of just close to three. This first single from Monsters of Folk is a song these guys could probably write in their sleep. But it’s so damn catchy and a great show opener that I can easily ignore the by-the-numbers writing approach here. I kept wishing they would play it again during some of the more somber numbers they broke out.

    10) Jay-Z Featuring Alicia Keys - “Empire State of Mind” (Atlantic)
    I would like to note that I thought this was the best Jay-Z track since “99 Problems” long before it became associated with the New York Yankees playoff run. Even the performance before Game 2 of the World Series didn’t damper my enthusiasm for it. And then when Jay-Z was in the Yankee parade celebrating their 27th championship, I, well, um…

    (Pardon me. I need to go light my eyes on fire. I think we should all move on to number-nine.)

    9) Noisettes - “Never Forget You” (Mercury)
    I must admit—when “Never Forget You” came on WFUV one morning this spring, I thought Amy Winehouse had finally put the crack pipe down and snuck out a single without anyone knowing. The snappy vocal delivery, the swelling string section, the chicka-chicka of the old school R&B guitar—it sounds tailor made for her. But Noisettes singer-bassist Shingai Shoniwa has pipes that put Winehouse’s to shame. The snarl she puts behind the opening line “What you’re drinking, rum or whiskey” makes me think she could probably do a shot of rum—and then a shot of whiskey. The rest of the Noisettes album Wild Young Hearts sounds nothing like “Never Forget You.” But if the band fully embraced this neo-soul sound, the competition might inspire Winehouse to get back to work.

    8) Kelly Clarkson - “I Do Not Hook Up” (RCA)
    I love how musical fates love to screw around once in awhile. As much as I dislike “I Kissed a Girl” and the amount of pain American Idol caused me the first time I ever watched it (which was this year for work), I’m surprised that I would like a song co-written by Katy Perry and A.I. judge Kara DioGuardi. In the hands of another singer, “I Would Not Hook Up” could come across as a pretty cold and calculated hit song. (Find the Katy Perry demo version on YouTube and you’ll hear exactly how robotic she can be.) In the hands of a decent singer (check), one that could actually deliver genuine emotion behind lyrics she didn’t write (check again) and one that can sound comfortable with a wall of guitars behind her (indeed)…well, it could be fantastic. Clarkson sounds totally impassioned and invested in “I Do Not Hook Up.” I believe she’s been that woman, the one whose man who loves the bottle more than the awesome woman in front of him. I think what I like about Clarkson is that even though her career got started on a TV show, she seems more genuine and down to earth about every aspect of career than any other female pop singer today. (Can I get a “you go girl,” here? Ah, thanks.)

    7) Pearl Jam - “The Fixer” (Ten Club)
    “The Fixer” is Pearl Jam’s most commercial sounding single from one of their albums since, well, I'd say Ten and “Alive.” (“Daughter” and “Better Man” were not technically singles.) It's also one of their most optimistic sounding songs in a long time. When Eddie Vedder sings the first verse, I'm inclined to believe he can do this entire laundry list of tasks:

    “When somethings dark, let me shed a little light on it
    When somethings cold, let me put a little fire on it
    If somethings old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it
    When somethings gone, I wanna fight to get it back again”

    Add in the production touch of Brendan O’Brien (strategically placed handclaps, a tiny piano part, guitars that sound like ’80s synths, or perhaps actual ’80s synths) and you've got one great 2:55 song.

    (Sidebar: Why has Brendan O’Brien made other acts—the E Street Band, cough cough—sound so muddled, yet this PJ track has the treble all the way up? Weird.)

    6) Death Cab for Cutie - “Little Bribes” (Atlantic)
    Dear Death Cab For Cutie,

    This song, this gorgeous gem, this two minute, forty seven second slice of intelligent, poppy, indie rock, wasn’t good enough to be on your 2008 album Narrow Stairs? Seriously? A song that is better than all of the tracks on it (save “No Sunlight”) couldn’t fit in? Guys, are you fearful of getting more popular? (Wait, you did a song for The Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack, so I think I know the answer to that question.) Seriously, the next album you make, let me pick the track listing. Okay?


    5) Ingrid Michaelson - “Maybe” (Cabin 24 Records)
    I've written about Ms. Michaelson in the past on the blog and the RT 20 about how she’s such an entertaining interview subject. I spoke with her once again for her latest album Everybody. And for someone who's so witty and charming in an interview (and afterwards) as well as on stage, it’s still surprising to me that she writes some of the darkest songs about relationships of any artist I've come in contact with the past few years. Everybody is—lyrically at least—one downer of an album. Michaelson told me that Everybody is an album about how “love is not enough to keep a relationship going.” She wasn’t kidding, as song after song is about relationships getting blown apart. “Maybe” closes the album on a kind of uplifting note (which was by design to soften the blow of all the bummers that come before it). It’s perhaps her slickest production yet, and that's probably why I found myself humming it over and over again. Upon further reflection, a chorus that goes “maybe in the future you're gonna come back” ain’t so uplifting. But at least it’s got a mass of Michaelsons singing the chorus. She does an incredible job of harmonizing with herself. I could listen to her do harmonies all day. Actually, could I watch her record those harmonies all day too? Thanks for making that happen, mystical fake music god.

    4) Grizzly Bear featuring Michael McDonald - “While You Wait For Others” (Warp Records)
    I was surprised that the indie rock blogging portion of the Internet didn’t explode and fry servers from coast to coast on August 31st when word got out that Michael “‘What A Fool Believes’ is Still a Great Song, Fuckers” McDonald sang lead on the B-side version of “While You Wait For Others.” I especially enjoyed what Pitchfork wrote that day:

    “He’s not doing backup vocals you can barely hear or whatever—dude takes the lead on this version in every possible way. Even in the realm of stunt-y, generation-crossing collaborations, this is fucking weird. McDonald's soul holler could not be more different than original singer Daniel Rossen’s troubled warble.”

    They are right—the original vocal is pleasant enough, but this is a good song that needs a great singer to bring it to the next level, and McDonald delivers the goods. It’s absolutely stunning. Add in McDonald harmonizing with the rest of the band on the backing vocals, and you have a recording that makes the original album version obsolete. I now skip the original when I’m listening to Veckatimest. I’ll give props to Grizzly Bear bassist Chris Taylor (who made the McDonald connection through his ex-girlfriend, whose dad knew the former Doobie Brother) and singer Rossen for seeing (or better put, hearing) what could make their art greater and not letting their egos get in the way.

    3) Brendan Benson - “A Whole Lot Better” (ATO)
    Dear Brendan,

    I know you like playing in The Raconteurs, that band with your pal Jack White. And I know the band’s popularity has gotten you into bigger venues than you could have ever imagined. I also know that you’ve co-written some really great songs (“Old Enough,” “Hands”) with Jack. And I was a fan of both Raconteurs discs and that bluegrass remake of “Old Enough” you cut with Ricky Skaggs.

    But for goodness sake, four years is far too long to wait for a power-pop gem like this.


    Rock on, and I hope we only have to wait two years next time,


    2) The Lonely Island featuring T Pain - “I’m on a Boat” (Universal Republic)
    I must admit that the videos this SNL trio cooks up run hot (“Dick in a Box,” “Jizz in My Pants”) and cold (“The Space Olympics,” “Ras Trent”) for me. But this song and its corresponding clip are the only reason why I DVR every new episode.

    This track works on three levels:

    1) It's fucking funny. I can't stop laughing when T. Pain (who is totally in on the joke, but plays it as if it’s just another one of his hit songs) sings “motherfucker” and “I fucked a mermaid” or when Andy Samberg raps “I got a nautical themed pashmina afghan.”

    2) It's damn catchy. It’s just as slamming as most hip-hop I’ve heard in the past year.

    3) It’s totally weird. Somehow they worked in a reference to Kevin Garnett’s very odd TV interview just after the Boston Celtics won the 2008 NBA title (“everything is possible”).

    1) The Avett Brothers - “I And Love And You” (American/Columbia)
    I love how music creates dialogue between people. I wrote this back in September on the RT 20 blog: “Two months ago I heard this song on WFUV. It stopped me in my tracks when I heard this line: ‘Brooklyn, Brooklyn, let me in/Are you aware the shape I’m in/My hands they shake, my head it spins/Brooklyn, Brooklyn, let me in.’ I was instantly sold.”

    After that I went to Austin for the Austin City Limits Festival and stayed once again with my friend Stacy and her boyfriend John. There I saw the Avetts for the first time, and they impressed the heck out of me. After I returned back to New York, John chimed in on the blog: “Steve, I was caught by the 'Brooklyn, Brooklyn' business too - the first time I heard it. But it came to seem almost manipulative to me then, mostly I think given the cache of being part of a band, and therefore part of that specifically hip community in Brooklyn. But the clincher is the title phrase, which goes deep into the heart of schmaltz - no?”

    I responded: “I can understand your trepidation about the ‘Brooklyn, Brooklyn’ line, but I had never heard the band until that one morning on WFUV. So I didn’t have that critical awareness going in. And sometimes I like being able to enjoy music on a pure gut level.”

    I should have added that the title phrase definitely could lead into the heart of schmaltz, but the song doesn’t cross that line because it neatly dissects the powerful meaning those three words can have. (Of course, this is coming from a guy who thinks Paul McCartney’s “My Love” isn’t schmaltzy, so what the heck do I know?)

    Top 10 Headlines I Hope I Don't Write in 2010

    1) In the wake of Madonna’s death, every car and bar in Brooklyn plays only her music for six months straight.

    2) Susan Boyle’s follow up her chart-busting debut album with track by track cover of Goat’s Head Soup.

    3) Chris Brown is dating Erin Woods. (What, too soon?)

    4) Lady Gaga is ensnared in a steroids scandal, caught with the same drug Manny Ramirez used when his testosterone levels were also low.

    5) Kanye West interrupts President Obama's news conference and proclaims, “I’m a gonna let you finish O, but I gotta say the Reagan Iran-Contra press conference was the dopest one ever. And I mean dopest because he was probably on some sort of dope. Whoa!”

    6) After Randy Jackson decides to leave American Idol, FOX decides to hire Brian from Family Guy as a new judge. His catch phrase is “Yo, what up human?”

    7) Battling brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher finally finish their arguing the old fashioned way—a duel at dawn.

    8) T Pain accidentally spills a 40 into the autotune at his studio. Then pours a 40 out in its honor and retires.

    9) Taylor Swift continues singing. 15 year olds keep buying Fearless and don’t realize they could sing better than her at karaoke.

    10) Limp Bizkit release new album and start a U.S Tour. (Aw, fuck me. That one is happening.)

    Compilations, Reissues, EPs, Soundtracks, Etc.

    10) Bee Gees - Odessa (Rhino/Reprise)
    This three disc reissue replicates the original packaging with the entire box covered in red felt. (Ooh, so soft.) I must admit to having never heard this full album before I scored this deluxe edition. I only knew the single “First of May” (which has been on a couple of Bee Gees compilations) and the cut “Melody Fair” because Young Fresh Fellows covered it. I must say that after a few listens I could see why it’s grown in critical stature over the years. The original double album is stacked with as wide a range of songs as (danger, danger—bold statement coming) The BeatlesWhite Album. The title track incorporates the orchestral progressive rock sounds of the Moody Blues, “Melody Fair” and “Lamplight” are exquisite ballads that are placed next to country-flavored tunes like “Marlery Purt Drive” and the Dylan-esque bluegrass number “Give Your Best.” Pair that up with strange, offbeat rock tunes like “Edison” and “Whisper Whisper” (which at 2:27 switches from a odd little rock song into a horn-inflected workout that could be on the soundtrack to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and then wraps up with a drum solo…huh?) and you have one weird piece of work. You also have what has become my favorite Bee Gees album, non-disco edition. The outtakes and alternate versions on the third disc show that the Brothers Gibb made the right choices for the album mixes while providing an interesting glimpse into their studio work.

    9) The Jayhawks - Music From the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology (American/Legacy)
    This collection is a gift and a curse for a hardcore Jayhawks fan. The gift is the huge serving of great rarities on the second disc and the videos (many of which I never saw) on the DVD. The curse comes from the fact that a hardcore fan would probably feel compelled to seek out the Best Buy version, which came with a bonus disc with three previously unreleased songs. And some crazier fans in Brooklyn (cough, cough) might even download the five extra tracks on the Amazon MP3 version. Thankfully seeking out all these extras is worth it because it’s a treasure trove of worthy songs. Highlights include “Old Woman from Red Clay,” which later became “Two Angels” on Hollywood Town Hall; “Stone Cold Mess,” which Gary Louris rewrote for Smile’s “A Break in the Clouds;” the goofy B-side “Get the Load Out” and a rocking alternate take on “Tailspin.” North Country’s best feature is it shows just how prolific the band was in trying to create a commercial breakthrough on Smile and its more stately follow-up Rainy Day Music. Each of those sessions contribute eight tracks apiece to the three different rarities discs/downloads. I know of many bands that would kill to have songs on their albums that are as great as these outtakes. Oh, and I almost forgot—the main disc has every great Jayhawks song save two. That’s a pretty fine best of package you’ve got there Jayhawks. Now how about a few East Coast reunion shows in 2010?

    8) WarChild Presents Heroes (Astralwerks)
    The concept behind this benefit album for WarChild (which helps orphans in war-torn countries around the world) is pretty simple—great veteran artists pick great young artists to cover songs from their catalogs. Bob Dylan tapped Beck, who does a decent version of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” Paul McCartney picked Duffy, who does a passable take on “Live and Let Die.” And Iggy Pop chose Peaches to, well, destroy “Search and Destroy.” This compilation makes the list only because of two artists’ picks—Bruce Springsteen selecting The Hold Steady and U2 choosing Elbow. Springsteen’s tapping the Hold Steady is no surprise, as the band wears their love of his music on their sleeves. And The Boss was on hand at his own 2007 Carnegie Hall tribute when the band stole the show with a jaw-dropping take on “Atlantic City.” Their version on Heroes is just as powerful. I still wonder if U2 knew just how good Elbow would be taking on The Joshua Tree’s “Running to Stand Still.” Elbow singer Guy Garvey has a majestic voice (I’m thinking if you looked up "majestic voice" on You Tube, you’d get about 1000 clips featuring Elbow) that is very restrained during the first two verses and then takes off into the atmosphere during the bridge and the final verse. It’s a goosebump-inducing cover, which I never thought was possible for anyone to do with any U2 song.

    7) The Bears - The Bears (PMRC/IRS/EMI)
    Oh, I love when a holy grail is finally available. I've been wanting to get The Bears self-titled debut album in any form for about 14 years now. The “hit” single “Fear Is Never Boring” is one of my favorite songs of the 1980s (and maybe ever). Yet it's been out of print for a long, long time. Finally EMI dug through their vaults this year and released a bunch of out-of-print stuff from I.R.S. Records digitally. So you better believe I marked down on my calendar the exact date this album was going to be available on iTunes. (Actually, I bought it on Amazon, but who’s counting.) And it's just as much of a pop masterpiece as I remembered. Singer-guitarists Adrian Belew and Rob Fetters create some excellent harmonies, and both lay down some fantastic solos in the context of these great pop tunes.

    6) Minus 5 - Butcher Covered (Book Records)
    This tour-only release collects 17 covers Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck and company have recorded over the past 15 years or so. It’s a pretty diverse lineup of artists they paid tribute to over the years, including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Kinks, Guided By Voices, MC5 and The Modern Lovers. Some of these songs are done very faithfully (MC5’s “High School,” Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues,” Lennon’s “Power to the People”) and others are just, well, kind of fucked up. (The take on Skynyrd’s “That Smell” is, well, kind of creepy and taps into the song’s drug message more than Ronnie Van Zant ever did.) The best part of this collection? I don’t have to search out the rest of the tribute albums the Minus 5 are on anymore. That’s probably going to save me about 50 bucks, which I am very grateful for Mr. McCaughey. Very grateful.

    5) R.E.M. - Live at the Olympia (Warner Bros.)
    In last year’s RT 20 I tabbed R.E.M.’s show at Madison Square Garden on June 19th as the best concert of 2008. It was a capping point to a creative resurgence for the band that included their best album (Accelerate) and single (“Supernatural Superserious”) since Bill Berry departed in 1997. Live at the Olympia shows where those creative flames were reignited. Drawn from five shows billed as “rehearsal” gigs at the Dublin, Ireland venue, this two-disc set shows the band working up the songs from Accelerate in front of an audience and diving into their back catalog with a fervor not seen in many years. Tracks from Reckoning (“Harborcoat,” “Second Guessing,” “Letter Never Sent”) Chronic Town (“Carnival of Sorts,” “1,000,000”) and Fables of the Reconstruction (“Maps and Legends,” “Kohoutek,” “Auctioneer”) were played for the first time in well over two decades. The in between song chatter from Michael Stipe and Mike Mills proves that the band wasn’t too sure if they could pull off all these gems from their past. The Dublin audience doesn’t care, as they give a raucous reception to almost all of the older tracks and many of the new ones as well. The album is worth skipping the download and buying in CD form, as Peter Buck wrote in depth liner notes about each track. His honesty about their past songs (“Second Guessing”—“I don’t know why we stopped playing it”) and the newer tracks is a great window in the band’s creative process. Live at the Olympia is (Stupid pun alert! Stupid pun alert!) an R.E.M. document worth having.

    4) The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses: Collector’s Edition (Silvertone/Legacy)
    In the grasping at straws mentality the record industry has specialized in over the last decade, one of their grandest schemes has been to repackage new albums months after their initial release and call them “special editions.” And when that doesn’t con people to buy the same album twice, they’ve started doing “deluxe editions” that come out the same day as the standard album. And then to make things even more confusing for the consumer, the industry has started making even “harder to find” packages (usually with a t-shirt, a DVD and some other stupid item) and called them “collector’s editions.” It’s enough to make a 40 year old guy to steal all his music off the internet. Fortunately for the record industry I haven’t gone down that road yet. One reason is the work Legacy Recordings has done with their catalog over the past decade. And they really nailed it with this reissue of The Stone Roses debut album. The Legacy Edition contains a remastered version of this great album, a disc of demos and a DVD with all their videos and a live concert. But the download version of Collector’s Edition is the one to pick up, as it adds all of the singles and b-sides from that era. Those non-album tracks are just as good as what made the cut in 1989. (And in the case of “One Love” and “Something’s Burning,” better than anything on the album.) As much as I enjoyed what the Collector’s Edition has to offer, I mentioned the download version for a very specific reason—the physical copy of the Collector’s Edition costs 150 bucks and is quite insane. Does anyone really have use for a huge box that includes a 48 page book, three vinyl LPs, artwork from a band member and a lemon shaped USB drive that adds five backwards tracks and producer John Leckie's personal home movie Up at Sawmills: The Making of Fools Gold? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    3) Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy (Deluxe Edition) (Shout Factory)
    When you look at the new 2009 Music Critics Bible of Clichés (coming soon to Amazon Kindle), next to the definition of “star-studded tribute album” there is a picture of the cover for Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy. Don’t let memories of other crappy tribute albums scare you away from this fantastic collection. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, The PixiesFrank Black and Juliana Hatfield are not phoning it in here. Proceeds from the album will go to the former Miracle Legion and Polaris frontman, who lost his wife suddenly last year and is raising their young twins by himself. It’s obvious that every artist appearing here has a great love for Mulcahy and his body of work. I suggest grabbing the deluxe iTunes version, even though it bulks up the album to 41 tracks. There’s not a bum cover in the bunch, and the extra cuts include great work by Buffalo Tom, Laura Veirs, A.C. Newman, The Autumn Defense (John Stirrat and Pat Sansone of Wilco) and the best of the entire lot, "Closer to the Wall” by The Gravel Pit. It’s the first new recording from the Boston favorites in eight years and it features everything I love about the Pit—masterful drum and bass work from Pete Caldes and Ed Valauskas, muscular guitar playing from Lucky Jackson and Jedidiah Parish's bigger than life voice. As a matter of fact, I’m going to listen to that song again right now. I encourage you to go do the exact same thing.

    2) Big Star - Keep An Eye on the Sky (Rhino)
    Big Star is, quite simply, one of the best power pop bands to appear on this planet. If you’ve never heard them before, you must put down the list and go listen to them now. Go ahead, I’ll wait right here.


    (Still waiting.)

    You done? Good. Big Star released only three (amazing) albums during their initial lifetime. (And one of those, Third/Sister Lovers, was issued three years after it was recorded—and never had a so-called “official” track listing until 1992.) Creating a box set this good out of just three albums is an impressive feat. The remastering of the original album versions are a sound for sore ears. Ballads like “I’m in Love With a Girl” and, um, “The Ballad of El Goodo” come off crisper, while rockers such as “O My Soul” and “September Gurls” are more powerful than the initial CD versions of the first two albums. The numerous demos of songs like “Jesus Christ,” “Thank You Friends” and “Downs” are enlightening looks at pop gems in their purest form. The fourth disc, Live at Lafayette’s Music Room, is notable not only for the great live performances by the trio edition of the band but by the indifferent audience. The only time the band gets a rise out of the crowd is when Alex Chilton announces that the headliners, Archie Bell and the Drells, will be on soon. This utter lack of caring seems appropriate for an act criminally unacknowledged during their own time. The inclusion of the Chris Bell’s pre-Big Star bands Icewater and Rock City and Bell’s solo single “I Am the Cosmos” present a full picture of an essential act that probably launched a thousand bands.

    1) Neil Young - Archives Volume 1 (1963-72) (Reprise)
    When Neil Young’s Archives Volume 1 (1963-72) was finally released after years (well, decades) of delay, the majority opinion of fans on Young message boards and blogs is that a) it was too expensive, b) Neil was robbing his fans because the set contained two concert albums that were previously released and c) that there was a shocking lack of unreleased material.

    I think all those fans can, well, go fuck themselves.

    They’ve completely missed the point. Young’s Decade didn’t have a ton of unreleased material—it was Young trying to make a portrait of his career so far. Archives is driven by the same principle, on just a slightly bigger scale. Okay, a stupidly bigger scale. The eight CD set includes over 40 rare and unreleased tracks. The previously released material has never sounded better. (I did a bit of comparison with my older CD pressings, and the sonic upgrade on songs like “Harvest” and “After the Gold Rush” is totally noticeable.) The DVD version (which I own) has a multitude of goodies—a leather bound book with scores of old newspaper articles and detailed track info, hidden songs, tons of unreleased performance footage, video and audio interviews, Young’s original lyric sheets and (my favorite part of the whole set) a short film of Young going to a record store to buy up his own bootlegs. It is an expansive and at times overwhelming set. But this guy has had an expansive and at times overwhelming career. I’m so happy that he decided to document it as obsessively as a fan would.


    10) Big Star, Masonic Temple, Brooklyn, NY 11/18
    I first saw the reconstituted Big Star back in November 1995. My memory of that show is a bit hazy now, yet I know for certain it didn’t approach the heights of this year’s show in the gymnasium-like Masonic Temple in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. There were points where drummer Jody Stephens felt a bit out of step with his bandmates (especially on the intro to “September Gurls”), yet he recovered rather quickly. I’ve seen Alex Chilton be magnificent and maddening (during the same song) during solo shows. On this outing he was on his best behavior, singing with gusto on opener “In the Street” (that song you know as the theme to That ’70s Show) and “Don’t Lie to Me” and bringing out the aching loneliness in “Thirteen” that probably had couples clutching each other. (I couldn’t see any couples in front of me because of the dude that was twice my size just to the right of me. I think his body absorbed most of the high end from the speakers.) The PosiesJon Auer and Ken Stringfellow did a great job filling the shoes of the late Chris Bell and the retired-from-music Andy Hummell. Auer’s vocal on “I Am the Cosmos” (the Big Star-ish track from Bell’s only solo album) was particularly breathtaking, leaving my friend Vanessa stunned by his talent. The night would have been a complete success if I hadn’t caught Vanessa’s cold.

    9) Change Begins Within (featuring Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Friends) Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY 4/4
    I really couldn’t leave a concert where Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr perform together off this list. I mean, it is two Beatles…on stage at the same time. How often are we going to get to see that again? Even though it was only three songs, I am pretty sure I will never again see that many phones in the air, taking picture after picture, at any Radio City show I attend for the rest of my life. The two of them sharing the mic for “With A Little Help From My friends” was pretty damn magical. (As was watching Starr bash away on the drums during “I Saw Her Standing There.”) McCartney and his crack band (seriously, the guys he’s had the past decade are his best post-Beatles band, by far) were in great form before Starr ever hit the stage, ripping through “Band on the Run,” “Jet” and “Can't Buy Me Love” as if only a couple of years have passed since McCartney recorded them. Yet even with all this history, the highlight of the night had to be Ben Harper and Relentless Seven along with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder covering the Queen and David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure.” It’s one of my favorite songs from the early ’80s and I’ve heard (and one time during Dick Swizzle karaoke at Union Hall, was a part of) some atrocious covers of it. This version was so passionate and unexpected that had to watch it multiple times on YouTube just to confirm I didn’t imagine the whole thing. If I didn’t have to sit through painful and inane conversation from David Lynch (whose foundation benefit from the concert) and Laura Dern and a cringe-worth appearance from Mike Love, it would have ranked a bit higher. (Oh, and fuck Mike Love.)

    8) Nada Surf, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 4/15
    Let’s see…seeing Nada Surf for the first time in my hometown…in my favorite venue to see bands…with two of my favorite Brooklyn people (Moria the concert pal, Vanessa the bartender)…one of whom had never seen them before (Vanessa)…with one of my friends working the bar so the free beers were coming around with a bit of frequency (thanks, Josh)…yeah, this was pretty awesome. I even tried to run up on stage when people started dancing during “Blankest Year.” Wisely the nice security guy stopped me before I made a mess of it all. Wow, what a night of fun.

    7) Boris the Sprinkler, Insubordination Fest, Sonar, Baltimore, MD 6/26
    I had heard one Boris the Sprinkler album before heading down to Baltimore. It was called (well, still is called) Mega Anal. The disc is enjoyable and I always got a kick out of how after the album ends it starts over again, with the songs in alphabetical order (and some of them in slightly different versions). That’s the way to use the space on a CD. I was not prepared for how much fun is contained in the Boris the Sprinkler live experience. Frontman Rev. Norb started the set in a hot pink spandex outfit, complete with a mask that covered his face and almost choked him. His in between song banter—delivered almost as fast as that guy from those Fed Ex commercials from the 80s—was as over the top as his outfit. And this lineup of the band, which hadn’t played together since the release of Mega Anal, was a non-stop punk rock machine. Every song was crisply delivered and combined with a ferocity that was admittedly surprising for a bunch of guys older than me. Kudos for the Insubordination Fest masterminds for convincing this band to get back together. (See item number-two on this list for more on that.)

    6) Wilco, Yo La Tengo, Keyspan Park, Brooklyn, NY 7/13
    I’ve seen so many Wilco shows how that it’s almost hard to separate them from one another. What makes this one special is 1) that it was (up until a few days later at the Wappingers Falls concert) the longest Wilco set I’ve ever seen, clocking in at 2:20 spread over 26 songs (Wappingers Falls had 29 songs over 2:30); 2) It featured the most guest appearances of any Wilco show I’ve attended. Feist was on stage for four songs, including a beautiful version of “You and I” from Wilco (The Album), and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste chipped in on three tunes. Their contributions were exceeded then by all three members of Yo La Tengo (who did their own fantastic opening set), as they joined in on a “this is what the end of the world should sound like, unless it’s directed by that dbag who did 2012 and Godzilla” version of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” that clocked in at 16 minutes. And 3) seeing the Mermaid Avenue tracks “California Stars” and “Hoodoo Voodoo” performed just blocks from where Woody Guthrie penned the lyrics it was as if Jeff Tweedy and company were bringing those songs home.

    5) The Baseball Project/Minus 5/Steve Wynn Four, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY, 9/23
    Two sets of songs from Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn from all of their respective projects; new songs from McCaughey and Wynn’s collaboration The Baseball Project; Peter Buck grabbing the 12 string to replicate the psychedelic thrill of early Dream Syndicate songs; and a guest appearance by Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three guitarist Jason Victor to close the first set with the Minus 5 rocker “Lies of the Living Dead” and the Wynn guitar workout “Amphetamine?” Holy crap, I could watch that every night for a month and not get enough.

    4) The Posies, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 6/12
    3) Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 6/11

    I must give a shout out to my pal Jack McFadden (a.k.a. Skippy) for booking such great back-to-back nights of rock at The Bell House. First was a stellar set from Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3. The next day it was The Posies performing their great 1993 album Frosting on the Beater in its entirety. What joy each of these nights brought me. It was the fourth time I've seen Hitchcock and the Venus 3, and it was by far the best. I don’t know if was the extra attentive crowd or the magic the venue seems to have, but even the band seemed to realize that it was a great show. (I saw bassist Scott McCaughey afterwards and he said to me, “Wow, what a great show. That was by far the best of our tour. Wow!”) I hadn’t seen The Posies since 1996 at Coney Island High on St. Mark's Place in Manhattan. (And Coney Island High has been gone for a decade, which just makes me feel older.) When the Beater set was over, Ken Stringfellow, Jon Auer and company came back and did a great mini-set of songs from their other albums—and they played every single one of my favorites from their catalog (save the production heavy “Golden Blunders.”) Oh, power pop heaven, how I love thee.

    2) Egghead., Insubordination Fest, Sonar, Baltimore, MD 6/27
    In 2007 my friends in Egghead. reunited after a decade long split at the urging of the folks who book the Insubordination Fest in Baltimore. They played a show in Brooklyn to warm up for their festival appearance, which was guaranteed to be the biggest audience they ever played to in their career. And just as the trio was to hit the stage in Baltimore, the power went out. And it didn’t come back. The promoters scrambled to find a place for some of the bands to play later that night, but their opportunity for a triumphant return was lost. Two years later the people that ran the fest invited them back. And to make up for their doomed set they gave them a slot on the main stage at Sonar (capacity in that room is 1400 people) at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday. I’d never seen my friends Mike Faloon, John Ross Bowie and Johnny Reno look nervous before a show, yet this time it was coming off of all of them loud and clear. Fortunately the power stayed on and the guys used their nervous energy to deliver a set that was, well, I think well received doesn’t cover it. The crowd (which I estimate had to be about 450 to 500 people) ate up every moment they were on stage. It was a sight to behold, watching three of my best friends in the world getting to experience all that a large crowd had to offer. When I saw complete strangers singing along to almost every song, well, let’s just say I was one happy man.

    1) Steely Dan, Beacon Theater, New York, NY 8/10
    Click here.