Friday, December 28, 2012
So you might be wondering why, for the first time ever, you received the RT 20 in an email. Well, there are a multitude of reasons. Let’s break it down Top 5 list style!
1) I’m a lot less angry now.
Anger and its frequent bunkmate, sarcasm, were the pillars of what I wrote each year from 1994 until about 2009. But I have mellowed in that regard (and being in a solid, stress-free relationship for two years has certainly made that possible). So I found it harder to tap into wherever my creative engine now resides in my body.
2) I wrote a ton of crap this year.
When I went through all the stories I wrote for the day job this year to compile our Year in Review, I realized that I wrote close to 3,000 pieces of copy this year. THAT. IS. A. LOT. Which led to…
3) I’m battling carpel tunnel.
I can pinpoint its start to mid-June when my job launched a new web platform into which we upload our copy. There are many more clicks with a mouse than the way we used to upload stores for the previous nine years, and that put quite a load on my right wrist. I now own four different wrist guards so I am protected wherever I go. But -- as any sufferer can tell you -- rest is the best medicine. My wrist was back to 100% after our lengthy vacation to California in September. But when Sandy pummeled the area, I ended up writing three to four times what I normally would to fill in for those that had no power for almost two weeks. Add extra copy for Year in Review because of the extremely poor time management by another co-worker and my wrist hasn’t been right for a while.
4) I spent my free time in the fall working on Sandy benefits.
Hurricane Sandy (fuck that bullshit of calling it Superstorm Sandy, seriously) really devastated this area of the country that I love dearly. The images I saw in the days after it hit and hearing how friends and people I’ve known for many years lost almost everything inspired me to organize two benefit shows in November. All the efforts I put into to promoting them paid off as between the two of them close to $1700 was raised. It’s not a lot of cash in the overall picture of how much money is need to get various areas back on their feet, but it exceeded my wildest expectations
5) I spent the rest of my free time in the fall plugging and working on various aspects of my book.
Yes, nothing like burying the lead. My first book, co-edited with my dear friend Mike Faloon, is called Fan Interference: A Collection of Baseball Rants and Reflections. The book, due out in June on Blue Cubicle Press, collects the best of Zisk, the baseball zine Mike and I have been publishing for 13 years. It’s a project that has been a very long time coming. And getting this list done put a hold on my editing our latest draft, so I’m glad to have this done.
Well, there you have it. This year’s list might not have jokes about “Gangam Style,” The X Factor or Limp Bizkit, but hey, at least it’s done. Hope you get a chuckle or two out of this year’s truncated version. I’m shooting for a traditional version in 2013.
20) Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour (Electric Blues/Vagrant)
England’s Band of Skulls made some pretty cool bluesy rock on Sweet Sour that makes me think they’ve listened to a lot of Jack White’s catalog. And that’s not a bad thing if they can make albums that can rock as hard as this one.
On the Web: BandofSkulls.com Best Tracks: “Sweet Sour,” “Wanderluster,” “The Devil Takes Care of His Own”
19) Brendan Benson - What Kind of World (Readymade Records)
Benson doesn’t quite approach the heights of his past two solo efforts on What Kind of World. And that’s okay, because even on his worst day The Raconteurs singer-guitarist can come up with great hooks that will be stuck in your head for days.
On the Web: BrendanBenson.com Best Tracks: “What Kind of World,” “Pretty Baby,” “bad For Me”
18) Joseph Arthur - Redemption City (Lonely Astronaut)
Arthur has struck (or perhaps rediscovered) a new creative vein in the past couple of years. He's gone back to working solo making his own albums (leaving band work to his supergroups Fistful of Mercy and RNDM) and that seems to have refocused his songwriting. Redemption City is a lose sequel to 2002’s Redemption’s Son and it captures Arthur at his best, laying down stream of consciousness lyrics over loops and subtle keyboards and guitars. Best of all? He gave it away for free through his website. (I did throw a few bucks in his online tip jar. I mean, making 24 songs can’t be cheap.)
On the Web: JosephArthur.com Best Tracks: “I Miss the Zoo,” “Wasted Days,” “Surrender to the Storm”
17) The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter (American/Universal)
This follow-up to I And Love And You isn’t a stone cold classic like that 2009 album. The Carpenter is another solid roots offering from Seth and Scott Avett and it features yet another fantastic song with a title that starts with pretty girl.
On the Web: TheAvettBrothers.com Best Tracks: “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” “Geraldine,” “Live and Die”
16) Blonds - The Bad Ones (Gluck Music)
Jordy Asher and Cari Rae record music that Lana Del Ray would make if she had an ounce of talent. In other words, they make music that is influenced by 60s girl groups yet retains a modern edge. And they weren’t manufactured in a lab like Ms. Del Ray, which is a plus.
On the Web: Blonds.Bandcamp.com Best Tracks: “Heartstrings,” “The Bad Ones,” “Falling”
15) Arkells - Michigan Left (Heavy Plaid)
This Canadian quintet was one of the more pleasant surprises to hit my mailbox this year. Their second album is chock full of hooky songs that I found myself humming days later. And they did a song called “Kiss Cam!” This should be played at ballpark across the land immediately.
On the Web: Arkells.ca Best Tracks: “Michigan Left,” “Book Club,” “Kiss Cam”
14) Neil Young with Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)
Two quirky albums from Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the same calendar year? What year is this, 1979? The 27 minute opening song “Driftin’ Back” has some of the lamest lyrics Young has ever written. (Getting pissed about MP3s, Neil? This isn’t 2000 and you’re not Metallica.) But the lengthy jam segments make up for it. “Walk Like a Giant” clocks in at only 16 minutes and there’s not a wasted minute in that glorious tune about realizing your time is running out.
On the Web: NeilYoung.com Best Tracks: “Born in Ontario,” ’Walk Like a Giant,” “Twisted Road”
13) Jack White - Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia)
The solo debut from the guy behind The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and Dead Weather contains elements that made all those bands fascinating to hear. I think it’s fair to say that Blunderbuss comes across like Jack White's Greatest Hits You Haven't Heard Yet.
On the Web: JackWhiteiii.com Best Tracks: “Sixteen Saltines,” “Weep Themselves to Sleep,” “Trash Tongue Talker”
12) Ryan Monroe - A Painting of a Painting on Fire (RCM Records)
Monroe is a member of Band of Horses which, I must admit, I didn't know he was in the band until I read the press release that came with the album. Monroe created an album that was much better than the one his band did this year. I also nominate Monroe for album title of the year.
On the Web: RyanMonroeMusic.com Best Tracks: “Doritoys,” “A Painting of a Painting on Fire,” “Turning Over Leaves”
11) Bahamas - Barchords (Brushfire Records/Universal)
This album takes a mellow path like Jack Johnson (not surprising since the group is signed to Johnson's label) but Bahamas mastermind Afie Jurvanen doesn't make me think I should be in Hawaii. The guitar tones on this album are some of the coolest sounding ones I’ve heard in years echoing 60s surf guitar masters. I don’t want to sell this whole album as a sleepy beach nostalgia trip…even though there is a song called “I Got You Babe,” which should be titled “Not That I Got You Babe (As It Sounds Like Neil Young’s Zuma).”
On the Web: Bahamasmusic.net Best Tracks: “Caught Me Thinking,” “Okay, Alright, I’m Alive,” “I Got You Babe”
10) Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)
I was disappointed with Spoon's last album, Transference, as it seemed frontman Britt Daniel was just rehashing previous efforts. Perhaps Daniel felt that way himself, as this side project with Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner seems to have reinvigorated his knack for hooky songs presented in a minimalist way.
On the Web: DivineFits.com Best Tracks: “My Love Is Real,” “Would That Not Be Nice,” “The Salton Sea”
9) First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar (Wichita Recordings)
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg wrote interesting songs with great harmonies on their first album The Big Black and the Blue. This second album has all those elements are still in play, but producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) gives the duo's songs some well deserved production heft. The title track deserves to be played at an ear-shattering volume on top of a huge mountain because, well, it's that epic.
On the Web: ThisIsFirstAidKit.com Best Track: “The Lion’s Roar," “King of the World,” “Blue”
8) Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit (Rounder)
Delta Spirit strip out some of their American and alt-country influences on their third album, aiming for a sound that sounds a bit more contemporary. They don’t always hit the mark, but when they do on tracks like “Empty House” and “Tear It Up” it’s exciting and captures the energy of their phenomenal live shows.
On the Web: DeltaSpirit.net Best Tracks: “Empty House,” “California,” “Idaho”
7) Young Fresh Fellows - Tiempo de Lujo (Yep Roc)
Any year that has a new album from my favorite Seattle quartet can't be that bad. (Well, okay, maybe that’s not exactly true of this year.) There’s something that happens when Scott McCaughey, Kurt Bloch, Jim Sangster and Tad Hutchinson get together. It’s a smart-yet-silly kind of fun music that is sorely lacking these days. Reportedly the 12 songs on this album were recorded in one 12 hour session at Bloch’s studio. If that is actually the case (these guys like to cloak the truth in some, at times bizarre, wordplay so I’m doubtful) that makes this album all that more impressive. And they wrote a song about Dr. Zizmor from those subway ads!
On the Web: Facebook.com/theminus5 Best Tracks: “Cleflo and Zizmor,” “A Fake Hello,” “Margaret”
6) Shovels and Rope - O’ Be Joyful (Dualtone)
My friend Jim Flammia sent me this debut from the Charleston, South Carolina duo. Jim is a publicist I’ve known for 15 years, and he and I share a similar taste in music. Yet I wonder if he knew exactly how much I would love this album when he dropped it in the mail. The first time I heard Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent sing together on the album opener “Birmingham” I knew that there was something special going on here. The gritty guitars, clanging old drums, and raw harmonies -- it’s a stunning combination that produces some of the best rootsy music I’ve heard in ages.
On the Web: ShovelsandRope.com Best Tracks: “Keeper,” “Hail Hail,” “Birmingham”
5) Hospitality - Hospitality (Merge)
I have to give props to my friend Bill Pearis for hipping me to Hospitality with a mix he sent me in 2011. Amber Papini has one of the most distinctive voices I’ve heard in years (apparently she taught herself to sing via repeated listenings of the Psychedelic Furs' Talk Talk Talk, which is so crazy it has to be true) and the album is wisely built upon putting her voice front and center. Papini is also fascinated with doors, keys and locks, as half the songs on her use some combination of those words. Hospitality is probably too quirky for mainstream acceptance, but in a perfect Steve-led world they’d be big stars. (And the Yankees would never make the playoffs.)
On the Web: Facebook.com/HospitalityLives Best Tracks: “Friends of Friends,” “Eighth Avenue,” “Sleepover”
4) Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (Def Jam)
Frank Ocean made headlines when he wrote a lengthy blog post about how the first love of his life was a man. In the world of R&B and hip-hop, that's a huge leap of faith believing that your audience won't turn upon you. His bravery is reflected in Channel Orange, an album that demands you give it some real focus to catch its true greatness. Ocean is an incredible singer and he bares his soul through his raw lyrics. It’s incredibly compelling. And I’d rank his performance of “Bad Religion” backed by The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as the best TV appearance of the year.
On the Web: FrankOcean.com Best Tracks: “Bad Religion,” “Thinking About You,” “Pyramids”
3) Bob Mould - Silver Age (Merge)
When I interviewed Bob Mould about his book See a Little Light in 2011 he mentioned that when he started writing songs again he wanted to do something fun after digging through his past for two years. Who knew that he'd come up with his best album in two decades? Mould and his band of the past four years (bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk/Mountain Goats drummer Jon Wurster) are the closest he’s come to the power of Sugar and this album echoes Copper Blue in many aspects. Mostly because it fucking rocks.
On the Web: BobMould.com Best Tracks: “The Descent,” “Star Machine,” “Keep Believing”
2) The Figgs - The Day Gravity Stopped (Stomper)
How many acts can say they recorded one of their finest albums 25 years into their career? Neil Young? Bob Dylan? Van Morrison? Bob Mould? Whoever you believe should be on that list, it's a short one. The Figgs have done just that -- and with a double album. Side one -- “On the Grounds of Stately Homes,“ “Chased,” “The Lovely Miss Jean,” “Inspector R.T” and “Brain Be Gone” -- is easily one of the Top 3 sides of an album the band has ever recorded. A fine example of a great band learning to age gracefully.
On the Web: TheFiggs.net Best Tracks: “On the Grounds of Stately Homes,” “Do Me Like You Said You Would,” “Chased”
1) Nada Surf - The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Barsuk)
This may be the first Nada Surf album that captures the essence of their concerts -- the heartbreak, the joy, the longing and most importantly, the rocking. The band really lets it rip from the opening track “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” and doesn’t let up throughout, taking advantage of their touring fourth member Doug Gillard. He joined the band in 2010 when they toured behind their covers album and eventually became an integral part of their sound. His stint with Guided By Voices produced some of that band’s best work and he’s seemingly done the same magic for the songs of frontman Matthew Caws. Gillard’s sharp solos aren’t that flashy, yet they’re perfectly constructed and improve each track. (The brief solo in “Waiting for Something” is a work of guitar art.) Caws isn’t writing about heartbreak and despair anymore, but as someone else who’s found some serenity in his life, I really appreciate how he’s been able to take the next step with his art without having to tap into a reservoir of pain. (Ooh, that’s a good name for an album. Don’t steal it.)
On the Web: NadaSurf.com Best Tracks: “When I Was Young,” “Waiting for Something,” “Teenage Dreams”
20) Joey Ramone - “New York City” (Mutate Music/BMG)
Joey Ramone sings about the places he loves in the greatest city in the world? Hell yes, I'll purchase that.
19) Bruce Springsteen - “We Take Care of Our Own” (Columbia)
Springsteen is pretty angry on Wrecking Ball (with good reason), yet once again people missed the point of this song. Hello, doesn't any one remember "Born in the U.S.A." was not a patriotic anthem?
18) Ben Folds Five - “Do It Anyway” (Imaveepee Records/Sony Music)
Welcome back boys, part 1. I didn't realize how much I had missed the bass playing of Robert Sledge. His lines and use of distortion to make his bass a solo instrument was an essential part of this band that is the missing piece from Folds' solo career.
17) Benjamin Gibbard - “Teardrop Windows” (Barsuk)
This laid back pop gem sounds like Gibbard spent a lot of time listening to the Byrds before he hit the studio. There's nothing wrong with that.
16) David Byrne & St. Vincent - “Who” (Todo Mundo/4AD)
I think collaborating with other solo artists brings the best out of the former Talking Heads main man. The album he did with Brian Eno four years ago was Byrne's best work in ages. And this pairing with St. Vincent is pretty strong. My favorite part of this track from Love This Giant is St. Vincent's voice (or a sample of her voice perhaps) yelling (heck, let’s call it grunting) "who, who." It sounds like she's punching herself in the gut each time she does it. Although I hope she didn't do that. That wouldn't be good for her singing ability.
15) Soundgarden - “Been Away for Too Long” (Seven Four/Republic)
Welcome back boys, part 2. You were away too long. This song makes me want to air drum as much as Superunknown's "My Wave." That is not good news for my carpel tunnel.
14) John Wesley Harding - “Making Love to Bob Dylan” (Yep Roc)
The lyrical conceit of this song (not being able to get it while Bob Dylan's voice is in the room) makes me laugh every time. And the line "I'll lie on my back for Roberta Flack" has actually made me laugh out laugh on the F train.
13) Hospitality - “Friends of Friends” (Merge)
This song reminds me so much of Romeo Void. And that is a very good thing.
12) Nada Surf - “When I Was Young” (Barsuk)
In the album section I mentioned how much the presence of Doug Gillard seems to have inspired Nada Surf on The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. And the monster guitar solo Gillard rips out during this two part epic is the perfect example of that.
11) Gomez - “Jumpin' Jack Flash (Live at Carnegie Hall)” (ATO)
To create a very memorable cover you have to either outperform the song's originator (like, let's say, Whitney Houston's take on Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," which I hate, but is an example that will work for this entry). Or you have to turn the song inside out and make it something truly new. And that's what Gomez does on this take on The Rolling Stones’ classic. They fuck with the time signature throughout until final 40 seconds, taking it from a slow groove to almost punk rock speed and back again. And the best part of this live recording (which the band gave away as a free download) is that the crowd doesn't even know what song it is until the lyrics come in. And then after the first line, you can hear a bunch of people scream in recognition. It's a great moment.
10) Grouplove - “Tongue Tied” (Canvasback/Atlantic)
I know my pal Jay Frank despises this band (or at least thinks their live performance is craptacular). I haven't seen them perform live, so I can't speak to that part of the band. I can say that this former iPod Touch ad tune makes me nostalgic for my youth. Better yet, somebody else's youth that was in the suburbs and included making out at my best friend's house. I also liked this song before I found out the drummer is the son of former Yes ax man Trevor Rabin, who was the guy behind all of my favorite parts on 90125. Way to pass on the genes Trevor!
9) Norah Jones - “Happy Pills” (Blue Note/Capitol)
Norah Jones has really gotten more interesting as her career has hit the decade mark. It's hard to imagine the woman that could sing the snoozer "Don't Know Why" could eventually do a sultry, slinky kiss off song like "Happy Pills." I have a feeling her next decade will be even more fascinating.
8) The Figgs - “Do Me Like You Said You Would” (Stomper)
The first time I ever heard this song was at a show in April 2011 at the Rock Shop in Brooklyn. The laid back groove and the double entendre lyrics were familiar, yet so so different for these guys. I knew that they had something on there hands when people started singing the chorus the second time it came around. It was a pretty cool moment and one I think of every time I play the song. (This, by the way, is the first Figgs single to crack the Top 10 on this list in 18 years. Wow.)
7) Calvin Harris - “Feel So Close” (Ultra)
I got turned onto this song one night while scrolling through the channels and stopping at MTV Hits. I'm not sure what Harris used to get that "it sounds like a guitar but I know it has to be a keyboard or a sample" that plays throughout the track, but my goodness it buried its way into my brain. The song might be higher, but it was used in the ads for that Billy Crystal and Bette Midler "comedy" Parental Guidance and that was worth a few demerits.
6) Ellie Goulding - “Lights” (Polydor UK)
This song gets the award for the song I heard the most while getting breakfast in 2012. The trophy for that award is made out of bacon. So Ellie, get in touch with my people when you can.
5) The Shins - “Simple Song” (Aural Apothecary/Columbia)
I'm not a big fan of Port of Morrow, frontman James Mercer's first Shins album without any of the band's original members. "Simple Song" is the only track that echoes the majestic pop feel I always got from tracks like "So Says I" and "Phantom Limb." And it does it so well. When the little piano lick comes in and Mercer reaches for the highest range in his voice, it's pure sonic heaven. I just wish the rest of the album reached these heights.
4) Bob Mould - “The Descent” (Merge)
I knew that Mould had a shot at having his biggest album in ages when the video for this gem hit YouTube. I posted it on my Facebook page, and I saw it on the timelines of 11 other friends within two hours. That's a sign of a great track.
3) Carly Rae Jepsen - “Call Me Maybe” (Schoolboy/Interscope Records)
You've heard this song a thousand times. You've seen hundreds of lipdub videos on YouTube by everyone from Justin Bieber to Katy Perry and numerous sports teams. You've probably heard (or watched) a few good parodies (and plenty of bad ones). And you know what? That still doesn't take away from the fact that this song's chorus is easily one of the best constructed in the past decade. (And the "I want you so bad" line, which is like a post-chorus, is pretty damn good too.)
2) Superchunk - “This Summer” (Merge)
Mac McCaughan seems to have hit a good songwriting vein with Superchunk's last three singles. "Digging for Something" and "Crossed Wires" (from 2010’s RT 20 #1 album Majesty Shredding) were instant classics that sounded as if they'd always existed. "This Summer," with its' handclaps, harmonies, great riff and nostalgic lyrics is timeless and a song I'll return to whenever it gets warm. (This, with climate change, will soon start happening in February here in New York.)
1) Kelly Clarkson - “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” (RCA)
I'm not sure how a song that takes its title from a cliché made it to the top of this list. Perhaps it's just Clarkson's knack for always delivering an "I'll be fine without you, asshole" lyric with more grit than almost every singer currently on the Top 40 charts. It could be that quirky dance done in the song's video. Or maybe most of all, it's just a perfectly constructed pop song that sounds great blasting out of car, on a dance floor or in your headphones. This is a song that deserved to hit number-one and score all those Grammy nominations.
Reissues, Live Albums, EPs, Etc
10) Rufus Wainwright - The Gum EP (Funny or Die)
Rufus Wainwright sings gum jingles. Thank you Funny or Die for making this concept come true.
9) Chorus vs. Solos: A Tribute to Charlie Chesterman (Stereorrific Recordings)
Charlie Chesterman was the singer for one of my favorite college-era discoveries, Scruffy the Cat. Chesterman has been battling cancer for a couple of years, and those bills can mount up. So a bunch of great Boston acts got together to record songs from Chesterman’s Scruffy and solo era catalogs. Simply put, it’s great music for a great cause. Buy it digitally on Bandcamp or the CD version on Amazon.
8) The English Beat - The Complete Beat (Shout Factory)
For a band that had such a brief career, they made a shocking high amount of quality music. I had no idea until I got this comprehensive box set.
7) Uncle Tupelo - The Seven Inch Singles Box Set (Legacy)
I already owned much of this material, but the B-sides I didn’t have (and the digital download code that came with box) made it my favorite Record Store Day pick up.
6) Mike Doughty - The Question Jar Show (Snack Bar/Megaforce)
Mike Doughty’s Question Jar shows have featured him and his bassist Andrew “Scrap” Livingston answering questions from the audience that were dropped into a jar on the stage. The questions that were selected for this double disc set are funny, intriguing and even creepy. And that is what makes it stand apart from your typical live album fare.
5) Old 97’s - Too Far to Care (Omnivore Recordings)
This reissue of what is arguably the band's strongest album is a must own for any hardcore 97s fan. The demos on the second disc show how complete Rhett Miller’s songs were before they were ever properly recorded in the studio.
4) The Minus 5 - The Minus 5 (a.k.a. The Gun Album) (Yeproc)
Eight previously unreleased Scott McCaughey songs? Um, hell yes, I’ll re-buy an album I only bought seven years ago
3) Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (Nonesuch/Elektra)
Here’s the highest amount of praise I can give a box set that had two albums and a DVD that I already owned -- the 13 previously unreleased songs on Volume 3 within the box were totally worth shelling out cash for the whole package.
2) Paul McCartney - Ram (Hear Music/Concord)
I had the 1993 remaster of this album (which is co-credited with Linda McCartney) and I was able to compare that and the 2012 remaster side by side. It was no contest. It seems like people are finally realizing that remastering an album doesn’t mean you just push up the volume. (I’m looking at you, folks that did the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls.)
1) Sugar - Copper Blue/Beaster (Merge)
The remastering job done for this reissue is one of the best I’ve ever heard. This edition of Copper Blue has warmness to it that I never sensed before. And wow, the drums sound massive.
10) Delta Spirit, Webster Hall, New York, NY 3/29
I think Matt Vasquez has become one of the best frontmen in rock, and this show just added to my impression of that. He made the 1500 capacity hall seem as tiny as a 70 person capacity club.
9) Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY 12/4
I think my Facebook status from after this show summed it up well: “Well, tonight's Neil Young show at the Barclays featured no one spilling beer over my head. That, plus hanging with Scott Wells, makes it my favorite Neil Young show of the year.”
8) Wilco, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY 7/24
Each time I see Wilco (this was my 23rd show, maybe 24th? I’ve actually lost count. Heck, I think I’ve forgotten where I am as I type this) I’m always impressed by how comfortable and funny Jeff Tweedy has gotten doing banter. The songs from The Whole Love have really grown with a year’s worth of touring behind them.
7) Lyle Lovett, The Concert Hall at the SEC, New York, NY 2/28
There’s a famous (or infamous) album of Elvis Presley’s stage banter called Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. It’s a notable cash grab, for sure, but it also makes me think that Lyle Lovett needs to do one of these. He was so entertaining between songs that I would gladly download Having Fun with Lyle on Stage. Oh, and the music was pretty great too.
6) The Baseball Project, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY 4/13
This was not your typical gig (as if the venue didn’t give that away). There was a panel about the Met’s baseball card collection featuring Dale Murphy and Jackie Robinson’s daughter followed by a great performance by the five piece edition of the Project (with Mike Mills on keyboards and vocals) featuring a song written especially for the event. And then I met Dale Murphy. So yeah, that went well.
5) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Titus Andronicus, Andrew WK, The Bell House,
Brooklyn, NY 12/7
This Sandy benefit hosted by Ted Leo and Tom Scharpling was a perfect mix of rock and the kind of comedy that literally makes you bend over laughing. The highlights are too numerous to mention, but I can say that I really look forward to Leo’s next album after hearing the new songs he played. And that Chris Elliott is still one of the funniest fucking people on the planet.
4) The Figgs, Littlefield, Brooklyn, NY 3/2
I always feel good when I can get a couple of people that have never seen The Figgs to one of their shows. My friends Jon and Jessica caught the guys on a really good night with a bunch of new songs from The Day Gravity Stopped, a diverse of mix of songs from seven of their albums and two balls out great covers (Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” and The Rolling Stones’ “When the Whip Comes Down”). Not bad for some guys that have been playing together for 25 years.
3) Nada Surf, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY 1/24; Webster Hall, New York, NY
4/8; Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY 12/15
I really couldn’t choose just one show from these guys. All three were fantastic for varying reasons. The January 24th show was memorable as the band played their new songs as if they’d been touring them for weeks, not debuting most of them for a worshipping hometown crowd. The tour-closing show on December 15th was such a joyous occasion in the wake of what was a very difficult weekend. And I’ll never forget the April 8th gig because the band covered a song by one of my favorites, The Gravel Pit. They did that song inspired by a conversation we had after I interviewed them. I will admit it -- I screamed like a five year old girl when they started doing “Something’s Growing Inside.” Somehow I was still able to film it.
2) Bob Mould, Williamsburg Park, Brooklyn, NY 9/7
Bob Mould and his current band playing Copper Blue all the way through? For free? Um, yes, thank you rock gods? It was the best album performance I’ve seen to date. And the mix of new tunes and Husker Du classics I had never seen before. Oh yeah, it was that good.
1) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, XL Center, Hartford, CT 10/25
I hadn’t Springsteen and the E Streeters since 2003. And with two members passing away over the past four years, I was pretty sure I would kick myself if I didn’t catch the Wrecking Ball tour. And I couldn’t have picked a better night. This new expanded version of the band is a force to reckon with. And the set list was, well, fucking amazing. Opening with “Held Up Without a Gun?” “Incident on 57th Street” into “Point Blank?” A seventeen minute take on “Kitty’s Back?” Incredible. It’s definitely my top three Springsteen shows ever.
5) The Poscast with Joe Posnanski
Joe Posnanski moved from Sports Illustrated to a new web venture (Sports on Earth) but he kept his podcast going. His conversations with Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur (who is virtually the only guest Posnanski has) are smart, silly and thought-provoking conversations about sports and whatever else crosses their minds.
4) The Fogelnest Files
You might remember Jake Fogelnest from that 1990s MTV show Squirt TV. Foglenest has come a long from being a teenager interviewing stars in his bedroom. This podcast sees him digging up weird, arcane clips from the Internet for us to enjoy. And to enjoy others making fun of them.
3) The Ronna & Beverly Podcast
I have laughed so loudly about inappropriate things uttered by Beverly (played by Jamie Denbo--full disclosure, I know her) on the F train on my way home from work that I’ve scared people and they moved to other parts of the car. That, my friends, is some powerful comedy.
2) WTF with Marc Maron
Marc Maron has become, for better or worse, perhaps the biggest name in podcasting. And when you listen to his conversations with Todd Glass about coming out, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne about creativity or Steven Wright about, well, hell, anything, you’ll understand exactly why people want to write about what they hear.
Community creator Dan Harmon and former Whose Line Is It Anyway panelist Jeff Davis get drunk, play Dungeons and Dragons, make up raps about your mother and go on lengthy stream of consciousness rants about, well, anything that cross’s Harmon’s mind. This is not a podcast for just anyone. If you liked Community, this is just for you.
5) Person of Interest (CBS)
Okay, I must be getting old -- I non-ironically enjoy a CBS crime procedural (and I don’t watch it in reruns on USA). The second season of this sci-fi version of The Equalizer has added more humor and doubled down on the extensive conspiracy arcs. By my count there are four different running threads the show can tap into any week, which is four more than any other CBS show. Alas, Jim Caviezel still acts as if he’s in a walking coma (except for the well crafted action sequences). Fortunately the very talented Michael Emerson and Taraj P. Henson more than make up for Caviezzzzzzels sleepy delivery.
4) Community (NBC)
The nine month wait for new episodes almost made me leave one of my favorite shows ever off the list. (Stupid NBC.) Then I remember how hard I laughed when Troy and Abed were being “normal,” Jeff turning into the Incredible Hulk or the entire cast turning into 8-bit video game versions of themselves. Dan Harmon made some great television over three seasons. Let’s hope the fourth (and likely final season) is a worthwhile coda to that time when it debuts in February.
3) Louie (FX)
I must admit that I missed the boat on the first two seasons of Louie. I read so much great writing about how amazing this series from Louis C.K. was that I decided to set the DVR and give it a shot. Most critics said this year wasn’t as good as its second season, which made me think I better catch up on those episodes because I was hugely entertained by season three. (I suppose I’ve got something to watch on the iPad this winter.) Parker Posey’s guest turn as the most unnerving yet memorable date of Louie’s life and the three-episode arc where Louie auditioned to succeed David Letterman weren’t just funny, they were genuinely moving. That’s a hard act for a comedy to pull off, yet Louie did it each week.
2) Sherlock (PBS)
The only disappointing thing about this 21st Century update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective is that there aren’t more episodes. The three 90-minute episodes we do get feature everyone in involved working at the top of their game, especially Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. The Conan Doyle-inspired cliffhanger will have me anxiously awaiting the next brief run, which isn’t likely to hit these shores until 2014 because of the busy schedules of the leads. (Damn you Star Trek: Into Darkness and The Hobbit!)
1) Parks and Recreation (NBC)
I didn’t think this show could improve on its greatness of 2011, but both the hysterical and heart-warming arc about Leslie’s campaign for city council wrapping up in the spring and the transition into a new season with every character adapting to new roles was superb. Amy Poehler and Adam Scott play one of the best couples on television and I applaud the writing staff for creating a realistic relationship that has stayed fresh and funny.
5) Lockout (Europa/Canal Plus/Open Road Films)
I believe the pitch for this film had to be one sentence -- “Escape From New York, set in outer space.” Guy Pearce chews through every bit of scenery in the film as the convict that has to rescue the president’s daughter. Add it to your Netflix cue right now. It’s the perfect so stupid it’s smart action film
4) Skyfall (MGM/Sony)
Daniel Craig just may be my favorite James Bond ever. (Well, behind George Lazenby.) What a relief the series didn’t go down further after the drudgery of Quantum of Solace. And (spoiler alert!!!!) Judi Dench will be missed.
3) Fat Kid Rules the World (Whitewater Films & Whippany Park Productions)
Full disclosure: my friends Michael Galvin and Pete Speakman wrote the screenplay for this film based upon the 2003 young adult novel by KL Going. But don’t let my personal bias distort from the fact that this is a great film. First time director Matthew Lillard (yup, the guy from Scream and that played Shaggy in the Scooby Doo films) picked an excellent cast to bring this tale of an overweight teenager that gets indoctrinated into punk rock culture to life. Get it on iTunes now!
2) Lincoln (Touchstone Pictures/20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Pictures)
I’ll admit it -- the last Steven Spielberg film I liked was, heck, could it be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Really (Goes to IMDB to check.) Oops, forgot about Saving Private Ryan. So it’s been 14 years since I was impressed by Spielberg. And I didn’t expect Lincoln to be so entertaining. The healthy doses of humor in Tony Kushner’s script (and the delivery of those lines by the amazing cast) enliven what could have been a very dry historical artifact of the nuts and bolts of passing a constitutional amendment. I’m pretty sure no one’s going to be making a film about how today’s Congress can’t get their own heads out of their asses and pass any bill.
1) The Avengers (Marvel/Disney)
I’m still amazed that some film executive was smart enough to give Joss Whedon the keys to a blockbuster franchise. This was my favorite superhero film since the first X-Men film, and in most ways surpasses it. Whedon made the Hulk a viable film character, which is miraculous after Ang Lee and Edward Norton messed it up in separate tries. The excitement of seeing this with an insanely audience on opening day reminded me that some movies are best experienced on the big screen with a bunch of people high on adrenaline and candy.