Friday, December 31, 2010

Party Like It's 1999 12/30/10

This night was wack. Seriously. Look at how packed The Bell House was.


Our next edition is February 24th.

Here's what you heard last night:

The Wallflowers - "One Headlight"
Dan Baird - "I Love You Period"
The Black Crowes - "Jealous Again"
Aerosmith - "Cryin'"
Counting Crows - "Mr. Jones"
Toad the Wet Sprocket - "All I Want"
The Verve Pipe - "The Freshman"
Pearl Jam - "Better Man"
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Breaking the Girl"
R.E.M. - "Monty Got a Raw Deal"
Lemonheads - "Into Your Arms"
Stroke 9 - "Little Black Backpack"
Smashing Pumpkins - "Today"
Veruca Salt - "Seether"
Danzig - "Mother"
Third Eye Blind - "Graduate"
Eve 6 - "Inside Out"
Blues Traveler - "Run Around"
Dave Matthews Band - "Ants Marching"
Matchbox Twenty - "Real World"
Everclear - "Father of Mine"
Screaming Trees - "Nearly Lost You"
R.E.M. - "Shiny Happy People"
Beastie Boys - "Sabotage"
Sublime - "What I Got"
Blind Melon - "No Rain"
Alanis Morissette - "Ironic"
The Cure - "Friday I'm In Love"
Gin Blossoms - "Hey Jealousy"
Jesus Jones - "Right Here Right Now"
Lucas - "Lucas With the Lid Off"
New Radicals - "You Get What You Give"
Hanson - "Mmmbop"
Mandy Moore - "Candy"
Ace of Base - "The Sign"
Spice Girls - "Wannabe"
Christina Aguilera - "Genie in a Bottle"
Britney Spears - "Hit Me Baby One More Time"
NSYNC - "Tearing Up My Heart"
Chumbawamba - "Tubthumping"
Snow - "Informer"
Will Smith - "Getting Jiggy With It"
Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch - "Good Vibrations"
Blackstreet - "No Diggity"
MC Hammer - "U Can't Touch This"
Naughty by Nature - "Hip Hop Hooray"
Salt N Pepa & En Vogue - "Whatta Man"
Digital Underground - "Humpty Dance"
LL Cool J - "Doin' It"
Notorious B.I.G. - "Juicy"
Craig Mack - "Flava in Your Ear"
ODB - "Got Your Money"
Outkast - "Ms Jackson"
House of Pain - "Jump Around"
Sir Mix A Lot - "Baby Got Back"
Montell Jordan - "This Is How We Do It"
Heavy D & The Boyz - "Now That We Found Love"
Boyz II Men - "Motownphilly"
Prince and the New Power Generation - "Cream"
TLC - "Creep"
Backstreet Boys - "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)"
En Vogue - "Free Your Mind"
Arrested Development - "Tennessee"
2Pac & Dr. Dre - "California Love"
Puff Daddy - "All About the Benjamins (Rock Remix)"
Blur - "Song 2"
Nirvana - "Smells like Teen Spirit"
The Offspring - "Come Out And Play (Keep 'Em Separated)"
Blink 182 - "What's my Age Again"
Rancid - "Time Bomb"
Third Eye Blind - "Semi-Charmed Life"
No Doubt - "Just a Girl"
Green Day - "Longview"
Weezer - "My Name Is Jonas"
The Rentals - "Friends of P"
Candlebox - "Far Behind"
Foo Fighters - "Everlong"
Everclear - "Santa Monica"
Hole - "Violet"
Garbage - "When I Grow Up"
Madonna - "Ray of Light"
Fatboy Slim - "Praise You"
Dr. Dre - "Ain't Nothing But a 'G' Thing"
Ini Komoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper"
Jay-Z - "Hard Knock Life"
Aaliyah - "Are You That Somebody"
Skee-Lo - "I Wish"
Destiny's Child - "Say My Name"
4 Non Blondes - "What's Up"
En Vogue - "Don't Let Go"
The Fugees - "Killing Him Softly"
Extreme - "More than Words"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Song of the Week 12/24/10

Roger Hodgson - "Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy)"

As much as I know that it's not doing any favors for artists, I can't help but love the Amazon MP3 albums for five bucks deal. I've gotten many classics from my teens using this bargain price, finally scoring digital versions of cassettes and vinyl I never upgraded to CD. Roger Hodgson's 1984 solo debut In the Eye of the Storm is the latest Amazon deal I downloaded in my iTunes.

I'm not sure exactly when I picked up the vinyl (I'm thinking late 1984 or early 1985). I do know it came after I heard "Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy)" one late night on the Albany rock station PYX 106. It might have been their Headphones Only program, which exposed me to a bunch of prog rock I hadn't heard before. And Hodgson -- the guy that was in Supertramp that sang "The Logical Song" and "Breakfast in America" -- definitely indulges in his prog rock side on this entire album. (When I first heard the intro to "Had a Dream" I thought it was a Roger Waters solo track.) Four tracks clock in over 7 minutes, with opener "Had a Dream" coming in at 8:26. After listening to it on my iPod on the snowy journey home Sunday evening, I wanted it to be 18:26. It's proggy but oh so catchy.

And wow, I never knew that the video for "Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy)" was rather insane:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Co-Songs of the Week 12/17/10

Sweet - "Ballroom Blitz"

The B-52's - "Love Shack"

As of Saturday afternoon I was pretty sure this was going to be another Weezer-related blog entry after seeing them play Pinkerton in its entirety that night at Roseland. Yet as great as that was (one of my Top 5 concerts of the year, for certain) the time we had at Shenanigans afterwards was even more fun. Moria, Allison, Susan and I trekked there from Manhattan and were joined by Heather to enjoy a few hours of karaoke with Eddie Mac. As I planned, I did Weezer's "Say It Ain't So." What I had not planned on was Susan signing us up to do "Love Shack." Even I was surprised at the quality of my Fred Schneider impression. It sort of went like this:

Okay, it wasn't exactly like that. But it was pretty darn close.

I feel like I'm kind of accepted by the Shenanigans crowd and staff now as a regular: Eddie Mac came over and shook my hand and remembered my name; I got a buyback; and one of the great singing regulars, Erin, grabbed me to say "You missed my birthday party two weeks ago. You should see the cake." She showed me a picture of the cake -- it looked like a leather jacket, and it seriously looked too good to eat. After that conversation Allison said to me, "That's the woman that does 'Ballroom Blitz' so well." In my somewhat altered state I said, "Well, maybe we can get her to do it again." After Erin sang, I grabbed her and said everyone needed to see the pic of her birthday cake -- and that my friends loved it when she sang "Ballroom Blitz." Erin totally was into changing her second song and nailed it. It didn't look like this, but it sounded this good:

It was a fantastic night with a great group of women. More Shenanigans will have to be had in '11.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Song of the Week 12/10/10

The last line in this track from the new Bastards album Hurry Up and Wait is "Why are you so unproductive?" And holy crap, did I say that a lot getting this year's RT20 done. Look for it to be online NEVER because I'm so sick of it.

Or, just after Christmas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The 21st Annual Reynolds Top 20 List

21 vs. 21: The Year the RT20 Became Legal

2010: Vuvuzelas, Critical Pigeons and Double Rainbows

2010's Top 20 Albums

2010's Top 20 Singles

Other Musical Stuff From 2010
--Compilations, Reissues, EPS, Soundtracks, Etc.
--Discovery of the Year
--ReDiscovery of the Year

2010's Top 10 Visual Aids

21 vs. 21: The Year the RT20 Became Legal!

Wow. I can’t believe the RT20 is now old enough to legally drink! Dudes, let’s take this pile of papers out and get it wasted on shots of Rumple Minze and a case of Coors Light and then watch it throw up in the bathroom!

Whoa, my 21 year-old self grabbed the keyboard for a second. It’s amazing to think that I wrote out my first list in 1990 when I was 21 years-old. Do the math—I’ve been doing this thing for half of my life.

(Other things I’ve done for this half of my life: breath, eat, sleep, crap, brush my teeth, shower, shave, listen to Neil Young, fail miserably with the opposite sex, drink beer.)

(Hold on. Yeah, that list made me get up from the keyboard and punch the chair behind me. Better now, thanks.)

The number 21 made me think about what it takes to get the RT20 finished now, and what it took keep my 21 year-old self going. Let’s break it down list style:

List at 21: Made partially under the influence of Rolling Rock.

Steve at 21: Bloodstream partially replaced by a stream of Rolling Rock.

List at 21: Is distributed in 13 states in the U.S.

Steve at 21: Was excited when he drank 13 beers on the Micwaber’s beer list.

List at 21: Struggles to make cracks about 21 year-old singer Taylor Swift.

Steve at 21: Struggles with his crack addiction.

(Umm, let’s move on.)

If I had to rank this year’s list in degree of difficulty to finish, it would be in the top two. (The other being the 2002 edition when I got the flu and finished it a month late.) Perhaps it’s the hangover from devoting so much effort to the 20th anniversary edition. Maybe after 21 years it’s time to retire it? Or is it that I’ve done so much writing for my daytime job that my brain just doesn’t want to work in concert with my fingers anymore. Or could it be that recording podcasts ( seems much easier and more fulfilling? It’s certainly a less solitary process (well, except for the editing) and I always seem to gleam something new after each one. I certainly don’t have the answers.

Enough with the downer talk—I’m here to say that my 40th year on the planet was perhaps the best of my life. Seriously. I lost a ton of weight and seem to be keeping it off with (you’re gonna be shocked) actual physical activity, i.e. working out. I think it’s going to stick (unlike my previous two weight loss attempts) because I’ve gone to workout when it was 35 degrees. At 5:30 in the a.m. Which is quite insane.

Before I wrap things up, I need to give a shout out to three people that played a big part in making my 40th a great year to be alive. Allison Keiley, who reignited my love of corned beef hash and helped me escape the comfort zone (a.k.a., the rut) I’d lived in for a decade. Captain Jon Quinn, whose infectious enthusiasm at 6:15 in the morning made me actually enjoy exercise for the first time in 13 years. And Heather Scott, who played the 15 year card to make this fall an outstanding time. I couldn’t have made it through this year without the three of you, so thanks a bunch.

2010: Vuvuzelas, Critical Pigeons & Double Rainbows

I had a pretty great 2010. Well, maybe as not a great a year as Taylor Swift or Eminem or Train and its singer Pat “Lizard Face” Monahan. (Seriously, how in the hell was that turd “Hey, Soul Sister” the most downloaded song of 2010? The stupidity of the U.S. will never cease to amaze me.) Still, I had some of the best experiences of my life, at an age I never thought I’d see. I learned a great deal about myself and what my brain and body are capable of. (Some days, like when I juggled four Scrabble games and two Words With Friends games at the same time, quite a lot. Others...well, can one person’s extreme laziness on a Sunday afternoon in the late winter suck away the ambition of others within a 3 block radius? If yes, I apologize to a great swath of Brooklyn.)

So at this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “Steve’s that’s great and all, but I don’t care. Where are the jokes about bands you hated 10 years when they were popular and for some reason you still hate them with the same amount of vitriol even though they’re no longer commercial viable?” To that, my friends, I say turn to page 12. For the rest of us, let’s go through a handy checklist of cultural signposts that we observed this year:

Meat dresses = awesome.
Seriously. I was totally dismissive of Lady Gaga until I saw this picture. I can't imagine a more ingenious stunt to pull at an awards show. Perhaps the only thing that could top it is if Bjork showed up at an event wearing an actual dead swan as a gown. (Now that would get PETA to stop writing letters.) The meat dress taps into so many taboos about our bodies, our way of eating and our perception of proper attire that it goes beyond a simple promotional appearance. I’m not exactly sure what that “beyond” might be. All I know is that it’s smart and funny, which is great combo. It’s rare (ha, ha, ha) that someone has changed my opinion about them with cuts of beef. But I’m pretty sure that if some crooked politician gave me a half a cow, I’d vote for them for the next decade.

Pigeons are as sick of "Use Somebody" as the rest of us humans.
I don’t think there was a story that made me laugh harder than Kings of Leon having to flee the stage at an amphitheater outside St. Louis because a pigeon shit into the mouth of their bassist. Their drummer Nathan Followill later had one of the best lines ever when he tweeted, “You may enjoy being shit on but we don't.” Which begs the question—do Kings of Leon have a group of fans that are sexual deviants? Was “Sex on Fire” some sort of message to them? What about other tracks like “Pistol of Fire,” “Soft” and “Joe’s Head?” What kind of sick people are following the Followills?

Going viral has nothing to do with getting sick and sitting in your doctor's office for hours hoping for a cure to make you stop coughing.
That bed intruder song guy. The dude that cried on Intervention. The “Rent is Too Damn High” guy running for governor of New York. Mr. “Pants on the Ground.” No one knows their names (okay, you might know the bed intruder song guy, but you’ll forget once the calendar turns over to next year) yet I imagine 75% of the people reading this can picture each and every video these guys starred in on YouTube. If Andy Warhol was alive right now I imagine he’d be stunned by the amount of flash-in-a-pan media creations that our junk culture kicks up to the surface day after day, week after week. (Warhol would probably also say, “Geez, how long have I been napping? And why is it so dark in here?”)

Rock bands should stop doing this Broadway musical shit right fucking now.
I know that we can’t get Congress to extend well needed unemployment benefits because they only care about wealthy folks whose jobs are just seeing how much dough they can bleed out of the lower classes, or provide health care for the folks that worked at the World Trade Center after 9/11, or repeal a law that shames the brave men and woman that have given greatly to our armed services in defending our country. So how about we shoot lower—how about a law that forbids any rock band from turning an album into a Broadway musical? Oh, and can we throw in a earmark to that bill that will prevent any singer and guitarists from a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act from composing songs to be sung by Peter Parker? C’mon, we’ve got another week before you go off to your luxurious homes, you do nothing, partisan-paralyzed bunch of whiners. This is a bill we can get passed with 60 yes votes in the Senate.

No major sporting event should be held in South Africa until every TV has built in EQ filters.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to look back on my life at some point and go, “Yup, it was that summer of 2010 when my tinnitus turned from that high pitched noise to that oh-so-comfortable bee setting up shop in my upper eardrum for the past 40 years.” And then my doctor will say something and I’ll yell at her, “What did you say? Who are you? Who am I?”

Katy Perry's breasts are armed & dangerous—and nothing our children should see.
They shoot fireworks. They scare the shit out of Elmo. They make Snoop Dogg do subpar rhymes. Those boobs have caused more havoc than Janet Jackson’s nipple. If given the chance, they could probably find and assassinate Osama Bin Laden, stop the Wikileaks guy and scare the glasses off Kim Jong Il.

People take their late night talk shows a bit too seriously.The amount of web space and ink spilled covering the fall out of NBC’s decision to yank Jay Leno’s 10:00 p.m. show and move him back to late night made for the most entertaining January I’ve seen in ages. It made everybody hate Leno even more, which was joyous. Conan O’Brien did one of the classiest (and funniest) sign offs of recent TV history. Better still, it actually made David Letterman seem alive behind the desk for the first time in years. Of course, it was only white guys between the ages of 35 and 54 that cared about what happened. Everybody else just watches their clips on YouTube the next morning.

Musically, 2010 was The Year of Returns. North Carolina’s Superchunk reappeared after a nine year gap in between albums to deliver one of the great works of their highly respected career. Guster had only four years of silence, but their long struggle to create their best album must have made them feel like they’d taken twice as long. Both of those pauses were well worth the final product.

Lastly, I just want to tell you both good luck. We’re all counting on you.

2010's Top 20 Albums

20) Meaghan Smith - The Cricket’s Orchestra (Sire)
The time between finishing up each year’s list and major acts releasing albums again spans about three months. From mid-December to mid-March the decks are cleared in my brain, at least musically. (The rest of the space in my brain is usually taken up with baseball stats, which probably explains all that excessive drooling from April to October each year.) I use that time to go through albums that I might not have time to listen to fully or by brand new acts. Meaghan Smith’s label just so happened to release The Cricket’s Orchestra in February, which meant I could spend more than just a cursory listen upon it. I’m glad I did, as Smith has a gorgeous voice and a musical attitude that sees her embracing everything from jazzy torch songs to elements of hip-hop. Yes, hip-hop. The opening track “Heartbroken” and “A Little Love” feature samples of old jazz albums, scratched and messed with almost beyond recognition. It’s a sound unlike any other I heard this year. The second half of the album does start to peter out a bit (how many producers can try to make a female chanteuse sound like Norah Jones anyways?) but there’s enough quality material to keep me intrigued to see what Smith does next.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “You Got Out,” “A Little Love,” “Heartbroken”

19) Neil Young - Le Noise (Reprise)
Neil Young experienced a traumatic 2010, as his best friends L.A. Johnson and Ben Keith died within six months of each other. (And as I went to press, I read that Young’s dog died last month. Seriously.) Those deaths inform Young’s first ever truly solo album Le Noise. Made at a house in Hollywood with super producer Daniel Lanois, this is Young at his most raw since the days of Tonight’s the Night. The opening song “Walk with Me” lays bare Young’s thoughts on the passing of his collaborators—“I lost some friends I was travelling with/I miss the soul and the old friendship.” The rest of the album sees Young reflecting on his youth (“Hitchhiker”) and more recent concerns (“Love and War”). Lanois guided Young into recording this album just with his electric guitar, and it’s a choice that makes it unlike anything else in Young’s 42-year solo career. There are times where Lanois uses his sonic genius to make Young’s guitar sound like three or four guitars at once. And this isn’t the messy garage rock riffs he’s made second nature with Crazy Horse. These songs see Young strumming his ax, making the notes ring out like cries for his lost friends. Le Noise is a fitting tribute to the men that helped Young achieve his creative visions over the past four decades.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Hitchhiker,” “Love and War,” “Walk With Me”

18) Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Propellor Time (Sartorial/Yep Roc)
Propellor Time is the third album Hitchcock has made with The Venus 3—R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on guitar, Scott McCaughey on bass and Bill Rieflin on drums. Recorded right in between 2006’s Ole Tarantula and last year’s Goodnight Oslo (and the subject of a good portion of the documentary Sex, Food and Other Insects), Propellor Time focuses on more of Hitchcock’s down tempo and acoustic-based compositions. Once again, it’s easy to discern that there’s a comfort level Hitchcock has with these three musicians. Buck, McCaughey and Rieflin have an unspoken communication of how to get the best out of every song, giving Hitchcock a solid base to work upon. (Buck’s mandolin work on “Luckiness” is a joy to hear, and the performance is so spot on that it’s surprising to hear the applause at the end and realize it’s a live recording.) Add in a top notch list of guests (John Paul Jones, Nick Lowe, Johnny Marr, Chris Ballew), and you have this Hitchcock fan hoping that there’s more than just three albums coming from the Venus 3.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “The Afterlight,” “Luckiness,” “Propellor Time”

17) Mt. Desolation - Mt. Desolation (Cherrytree/Interscope)
I’ve had an ambivalent attitude about the piano-driven UK band Keane. I’ve dug some of their hits (“Somewhere Only We Know,” “Is It Any Wonder?”) but have found the rest of their albums not that inspiring. So why am I bringing up Keane in this paragraph below the name Mt. Desolation? Well, this shockingly good album comes from Keane keyboardist and songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley and bassist Jesse Quin. The pair wrote songs specifically for this project after touring the world with their main band in 2009. They drafted some famous friends (Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. of The Killers, Country Winston of Mumford & Sons and John Roderick of The Long Winters, just to name a few) to help cook up an album of catchy pop songs that are tinged with a hefty dose of American alt-country. Although they’re the non-singers in Keane, Rice-Oxley and Quin have two pretty decent voices that work well within this mix of up-tempo numbers (“Departure,” “Annie Ford”) and sweet ballads (“Home”). Mt. Desolation’s secret weapon is Jessica Staveley-Taylor, whose gorgeous vocals add a nice touch to several songs. With an album this good, I might have to go back and listen to those old Keane albums again.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Departure,” “Bitter Pill,” “Another Night on My Side”

16) LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening (DFA/EMI)
LCD Soundsystem’s last album Sound of Silver snuck up on me. Mastermind James Murphy concocted 55 minutes of music that met in the exact spot where my love of rock and dance and punk all collide. It was—simply put—a revelation. The epic “All My Friends” from Sound of Silver made me want to pogo and dance at the same time. (This, with the state of my knees, would not be a wise thing to do. Ever.) I also had a chance to see Murphy and his insanely tight band play for the first time at the Austin City Limits Festival that same year, and I couldn’t stop talking about how great they were for a month. This year, I couldn’t name an album that I anticipated as much as This Is Happening. That’s probably the only reason that this album isn’t higher. The initial rush of discovery (which happens maybe once ever one of two years for me with a new band) has worn off. I know what I’m going to get with an LCD album. I know that I’m going to be listening to a guy my age who has an amazing knowledge of music pay homage to his influences. Yet at the same time, Murphy makes it seem something totally new. “I Can Change” could have been beamed in from 1985, yet still sounds like nothing else being made. (And it has the amazing self-aware line “Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry... and this is coming from me.”) Murphy dives headlong into Brian Eno and David Bowie's Berlin trilogy with “All I Want” which borrows that “Heroes” guitar and kraut-rock beat. Yet it never feels like a rip-off. He makes it fiery with his own tour-born lament: “You learn in your bed you’ve been gone for too long/So you put in the time, but it's too late to make it strong.” Murphy has stated that he might retire the LCD Soundsystem name at the end of this tour cycle, which would be a major shame. I’d love to hear whatever else his brain could come up with for this project. I guess I’ll have to settle for being a fan of a band that left us wanting more.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “I Can Change,” “Dance Yrself Clean,” “Pow Pow”

15) The Black Keys - Brothers (Nonesuch)
At the end of my entry about The Black Keys’ singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach’s 2009 solo debut Keep It Hid I wrote, “I’m interested to see what Auerbach comes up with when he returns to his day job next year.” What he and drummer Patrick Carney have come up with is an expansion of their sound that is more like an evolution from Auerbach’s solo work than the Keys' Danger Mouse-produced 2008 album Attack and Release. I’m sure many folks have heard “Tighten Up,” which is the group’s breakthrough whistling hit. That song is great and hopefully inspired a bunch of folks to buy this album. Yet it’s “Everlasting Light” that shows off the best the duo has to offer. The track is the finest T. Rex tribute I’ve heard in, well, since I first heard T.Rex. And Auerbach reaches up in his vocal to deliver a killer falsetto. At almost an hour long, the only thing that drags the 15-track Brothers down is its length. They could have shaved off a couple of songs and saved them for their next album without diluting the impact of this one. So, I guess what I’m saying is that the Black Keys should tighten up. Um. Well. Yes, please, someone go back into time to December 3rd at 9:15 p.m. and break into my office and punch me in the arm for using that joke. Oh, and also use that time machine and travel back to March so we can bet on the Giants to win the World Series.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Tighten Up,” “Everlasting Light,” “Too Afraid to Love You”

14) Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (Glassnote)
Last year, I might not have given a second glance to the December 7th email announcing the debut album from heart-on-the-sleeve, folky Mumford & Sons if it weren’t for my best friend April Bernard. She had spent much of the CMJ Marathon in October of last year trying to see a couple of their shows. I emailed the publicist (one of the good ones in the business, Jim Merlis) to ask for an advance. It arrived a couple days later and quickly I was hooked. A year later, they’re nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys. I never would have thought it possible. I could write more about the album, but I’d rather talk about noisy people at concerts. Specifically, I want to crucify the loud people standing next to April, Allison and I when we ventured to Webster Hall on a rainy Wednesday night in May. The venue holds about 1400 people, which is a big step up from the 500 people I had to share space with when I first saw Mumford & Sons at Bowery Ballroom in February. Those extra 900 people must have been the douchiest 900 folks in Manhattan that night. They were loud at all the wrong times. They seemed to have lost the art of sliding through crowds without elbowing each person. And the three loudest Irish women in North America happened to plant themselves right next to us for the entire show. I have rarely had a more miserable time at a concert. It was so bad I wanted to delete this album from my iTunes. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed—mainly because “Blank White Page” is still one stunner of a tune.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Blank White Page,” “Little Lion Man,” “Awake My Soul”

13) Tired Pony - The Place We Ran From (Mom + Pop)
(Okay, this paragraph might look a bit familiar if you’ve read every entry so far. But trust me, it totally makes sense.)
I’ve had an ambivalent attitude about the guitar-driven UK band Snow Patrol. I’ve dug some of their hits (“Run,” “Eyes Open”) but have found the rest of their albums not that inspiring. Why am I bringing up Snow Patrol in this paragraph below the name Tired Pony? Well, this shockingly good album comes from Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody. Lightbody started thinking about exploring his love of American alt-country while touring the world with his main band in 2009. He drafted some famous friends to help out (Peter Buck of R.E.M., Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5, and Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward from She & Him, just to name a few), spent a week in Portland, Oregon, and cooked up an album of moody pop songs that are tinged with a small dose of alt-country. They recorded the whole damn thing in a week. Deschanel makes the most on her guest appearance on “Get Out on the Road,” wrapping her vocals around Lightbody’s to create a hypnotic anthem. (Well, if you can call a song that is as slow as my running pace for its first two minutes an anthem, then yeah, it’s an anthem.) Lightbody and Buck spoke in interviews this fall about getting together to make another album in Portland in January if their schedules line up. I for one, certainly hope that they do.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Dead American Writers,” “Get Me on the Road,” “The Silver Necklace”

12) eels - End Times (Vagrant)
eels frontman Mark “E” Everett has—rather unfortunately—written much of his greatest work after tragedy. His sister and mother passing away in quick succession was the basis for much of 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues. Those deaths came back to inform the songs on his double album masterpiece Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. In the past 18 months Everett has released three albums, part of a trilogy about love, breakups and moving on. The second of these, End Times, is one of the most painful albums ever about the end of relationships. Everett is brutally honest about his own faults. In “Gone Man” he lays it out for us: “Some things you can fuck right up…my problem was that I could not see/what was important right in front of me…too soon gone man gone…She used to love me but it’s over now.” That’s the uplifting number on the album. (Here’s a tip: do not listen to this album if you’ve just had a breakup. Not unless you have a lot of pharmaceuticals nearby that can totally defeat severe depression.) There are charming moments of irony and self-awareness, but it’s mostly it’s an unflinching look at a damaged psyche and a man mourning what he fucked up. There are times when great art will extract a terrible toll on its creator. End Times most definitely proves that.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Little Bird,” “In My Younger Days,” “End Times”

11) Bastards of Melody - Hurry Up and Wait (Face Down Records)
Full disclosure: Bastards of Melody is my karaoke band Bunnie England and the New Originals, minus my “talents” (cough, cough, joke telling and beer fetching) plus the great original songs of guitarist Paul Crane. I find it pretty hard to have any sort of critical distance on this album of mature power pop that fans of Big Star, Cheap Trick and The Raspberries will eat up. So I just decided to do a list within the list (ooh, meta, or something like that) and encourage you to pick it up.

Top 5 Things I Love About Hurry Up and Wait
1) The album is nine songs that clock in 30:25. A half hour! People, it’s almost impossible to make a 30-minute album and not have it be great. Heard of The Beatles? Hello?

2) The cover photo (of Troy Messina, the Bastards drummer at the time these basic tracks were done) was taken at Bunnie’s last gig at our birthplace, Magnetic Field, in March of 2008. I miss that bar. This album cover makes me wistful.

3) Paul Crane obviously took his time in layering loads of guitars and harmonies to make these songs have a lush full sound. Yet there are still tunes that totally rock like “Around You” and “Unproductive.” (And there’s a song title I’ve totally identified with doing this year’s RT20.) It’s a great balance between the two.

4) “Flunkin’ Out” makes me think of AM hits of 1973 and going to Lake Taghkanic in Columbia County in upstate New York. And that’s pretty cool.

5) Holy crap, I’m thanked on the inside! That’s even cooler!

On the Web: Best Tracks: “Flunkin’ Out,” “Around You,” “Unproductive”

10) Broken Bells - Broken Bells (Columbia)
Ever have a friend (say, me, for example) tell you repeatedly, “Dude, okay, you might not totally dig their records, but wait until you’ve seen them live. You’ll be blown away!” Well, I’d like to switch that around for Broken Bells—“Dude, don’t go see them live. It might make you dislike what’s a great album.” The duo of The Shins frontman James Mercer and star producer Danger Mouse do not exactly have a compelling stage presence, which their technically proficient five piece band can’t make up for. I always thought that the best part of The Shins stage show at past shows was the fun that keyboardist-bassist Marty Crandall exuded from stage. (Alas, Crandall got booted by Mercer in 2009.) When I saw Broken Bells at the ACL Festival in October, I actually felt like I was getting lulled to sleep. (Maybe the beer and sun had a bit to do with it as well.) I think you probably get my point: boring live band, excellent album. The first time I listened to the album I was making the trek from my office to a great restaurant called Aurora in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The trip took 38 minutes, which is just 35 seconds longer than this atmospheric collection of songs. The various moods that these songs explore meshed perfectly with the natural rhythms of a New York commute. I decided that night that listening in headphones is the only way to experience this album. Something gets lost when it’s coming out of speakers and then hitting my ears. That direct connection from the in ear phones right to my eardrum…damn, I can’t even describe how cool it sounds. Mercer’s multi-tracked vocals; the perfectly mixed guitars; loose, almost off-the-beat drumming from Danger Mouse; the meticulous use of piano and organ all add up to a great listening experience. As much as I’d like to hear another Shins album, I wouldn’t mind if Mercer and Danger Mouse worked on another Broken Bells album instead. I’ll just know not to waste my time going to see then play it.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “The Ghost Inside,” “The High Road,” “October”

9) Delta Spirit - History From Below (Rounder)
Delta Sprit won me over the old-fashioned way two years ago—by putting on a kick ass live show. The second time I saw them was during an opening slot for Nada Surf. The next day, I ordered their debut Ode to Sunshine. Singer Matthew Vasquez has a powerful voice and a stage persona to match. I’m wary to use this comparison, yet I have to say I see bit of Bruce Springsteen’s old showmanship in the way Vasquez delivers his songs about love, family and spiritualism. Delta Sprit’s music doesn’t sound anything like Springsteen—they combine a mix of blues, country and a small dose of Tom Waits and weave it together with some great guitar work. History From Below takes the sound of Ode to Sunshine and makes it -ier: it’s grittier, moodier and rocking-ier. For a band that toured incessantly for 18 months, it’s not a surprise that History From Below comes off as a travelogue, taking the listener from New York (“911”) to Brooklyn (“Bushwick Blues”) and all the way back to their home of California (“The Golden State”). History from Below is clever, very heartfelt, and well-produced. Delta Sprit is a band that seems well placed to have a long career ahead of them. (So guys, please don’t break up in the next six months and make me look like an asshole, okay?)
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Vivian,” “Bushwick Blues,” “Ransom Man”

8) The Acorn - No Ghost (Bella Union)
I wrote above that Delta Spirit won me over the old-fashioned way. Ottawa, Canada’s The Acorn won me over with a combination of old-fashioned and rarely used ways—a friend’s recommendation and personal contact with the band. My friend Jonah Eller-Isaacs raved about the band’s 2007 album Glory Hope Mountain, so much so that when I was pitched by their label I decided to book the band for an interview at my day job. I also said I would go see them play even before I interviewed them, which is a rarity for me. I hardly interview bands that I like, and it’s rarer still that I start digging a band because I’ve interviewed them. Yet Acorn singer Rolf Klausener was instantly likeable and very funny once we got into the recording studio. As the session went on, I found myself thinking “Damn, I wish I had really spent a lot more time with this No Ghost album before this interview.” At the show that night, the band showed off a powerful ability to go from full on powerful rock to delicate and haunting acoustic material without breaking a sweat. (Well, that’s a figurative sweat. It was a VERY hot summer in NYC, and all the air conditioning in the world can’t help in most venues when it’s that hot.) After that I found myself listening to No Ghost more often and its many moods would be a perfect fit for long walks as I attempted to wrestle my body into some kind of shape. I’m sorry Arcade Fire, but I don’t think you made the best album by a Canadian indie rock band this year. (And you what I think is a great band name now? Figurative Sweat. Hell yeah.)
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Misplaced,” “Cobbled From Dust,” “Bobcat Goldwraith”

7) Bettye LaVette - Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti)
I must admit to having a soft spot in my musical heart for tribute albums and well done covers of hit songs. (Also have a soft spot for Rolling Rock, McDonald’s fries and Pop-tarts, but those soft spots actually attack my heart.) That love has made me pick up (or download) some pretty piss poor singles and albums just to add to my collection. I haven’t extended that love to placing any of these collections onto the main RT20. I created a specific category (Reissues, etc) just to have a catchall place where I could note the rare collection that stood above the rest. And then Bettye LaVette came along with her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “All My Love.” I’m not bullshitting here when I say that it’s one of the top five covers I have heard in my entire life. It was available as a free download through one day and I had to click on it just to see what kind of person would tackle this In Through the Out Door ballad. And holy crap, my jaw was agape after the first two minutes. This piano-driven take sees LaVette just obliterate any thoughts that Robert Plant was the best person to sing this song. LaVette sings every word as if she’s lived them for years. It’s stunning. And because of that performance, I agonized about whether to place The British Song Rockbook on the proper albums list. I finally decided that LaVette's vocals are so powerful and the arrangements of such warhorses as “Wish You Were Here” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” are familiar yet broach enough new territory that, in my mind, I couldn’t classify this as just a covers album. There was a time where singers did entire albums of other writer’s material and critics didn’t think it was less of an artistic endeavor. Lavette proved to that point to me in the space of four minutes and eleven seconds.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “All My Love,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Wish You Were Here”

6) The Young Veins - Take a Vacation! (One Haven)
Hey readers, do any of you remember Panic! at the Disco?


(Still waiting.)

(Opening a box of Jujyfruits that to acquire I had to plow through 100 tourists wondering aimlessly in Rock Center.)

Yeah, me neither.

Okay, okay. I do recall them. They were a Las Vegas quartet that road on the coattails of The Killers to have a couple of huge MTV hits. (Yes, I had to go to Wikipedia to look up those hits and was stunned to find out that one of them, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” actually won Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards.) The band dropped their exclamation point from their name for their follow-up album Pretty. Odd. The first single “Nine in the Afternoon” sounded quite different. All of sudden they mutated from an emo-type band into worshippers of the Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. I actually liked it. So I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when two former members of Panic at the Disco--Ryan Ross and Jon Walker—started a 60s influenced band. The Young Veins’ music has these guys worshipping at the altar of pop radio hits from 20 years before they were born. There’s garage rock, homages to The Kinks and 50s balladry (“Dangerous Blues”) and psychedelia. Yet they do it a way that doesn’t make me think, “Hey, get an original idea!” Their respect and joy at playing this type of music is infectious. And like those 60s acts they love, The Young Veins keep it short—11 songs, 29 minutes. All records should be this concise and this much fun. (Alas, the fun wasn’t meant to last. On the day we went to press, The Young Veins announced they were going on hiatus. Dammit.)
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Take a Vacation!” “Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won’t,” “Capetown”

5) The Figgs - The Man Who Fights Himself (Stomper Music)
Recorded over two years in Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, The Figgs’ latest studio effort isn’t as easily accessible as their last album Follow Jean Through the Sea. As people say in the music criticism biz, “It’s a grower.” (Or, if you were a Boston area critic, “a growah.”) Much of the album (“Stuck on Leather Seats,” “Some Desperate Measure”) is in the same acoustic guitar driven pop vein that singer-guitarist Mike Gent explored on his self-titled 2009 solo disc. My favorite track “A One Man Fiasco” is probably a first in the Figgs catalog—it’s totally a power ballad. I mean that in the best way possible, not in the “Which is better? Warrant’s ‘Heaven’ or Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn?’” way. The verses are quiet and contemplative of a man’s life and his misfortune, yet the chorus makes me want to punch one fist in the air and wave my iPhone lighter app in the other. I also like the musical sequel on the album, “…And Here’s Some More.” Gent plays a riff that’s similar, but not exactly the same, as the one in “Hobble Skirt (In Erie)” from Follow Jean Through the Sea. I suppose that the song has a perfect title with a musical heritage like that. Finally, I couldn’t review The Man Who Fights Himself without mentioning drummer Pete Hayes’s acapella track “I Got the Drums.” With its lyrics about “I got a van/that’s how I got in this band” to the fake crowd noise and bottle clinking background effects that make it sound like a crowd totally disinterested in what’s going on on stage, “I Got the Drums” is an anthem all drummers can get behind.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “A One Man Fiasco,” “…And Here’s Some More,” “Gone Spent”

4) Pete Yorn - Pete Yorn (Vagrant)
It’s been a rather productive two years for Pete Yorn. Last year saw the release of both a melancholy, slick album called Back and Fourth and the lightweight duets album Break Up with Scarlett Johansson. Yorn’s self-titled fifth album was recorded before Back and Fourth and shares one song with that album, “Paradise Cove.” And that’s about all the two share. Where Back and Fourth is polished to perfection, Pete Yorn is a messy, gritty dark but catchy hell of a breakup album. Yorn strips bare his lyrics and music, no doubt under the influence of producer Black Francis. The Pixies frontman drew out of Yorn his most impassioned vocal performances, even if at times he sound like he’s battling a cold or just got done crying over the girl that ditched him. The guitars have a hint of Pixies at times (or some of Black Francis’s first solo efforts under the name Frank Black) and are easily the grungiest parts of Yorn’s career. Back and Fourth saw Yorn lamenting a lost love and there’s much of that here, but he’s clear in pointing the finger at himself now as a bad man. (Um, especially in the song “Badman.” Duh.) And all the self-examination comes to a stunning peak on “Future Life,” the finest 4:12 of Yorn’s musical career. His voice seems at the edge of cracking on every line. I find that the second verse and the chorus cut pretty close to home:

“House, a dog, two kids and a van
Good jobs in real estate, a fireman
Why the hell does it scare the shit out of me
Am I different, am I afraid

Life's been great to me
It feels a little sad
Gotta break out of here
Appreciate what I have”

You and me both Pete. You and me both.

On the Web: Best Tracks: “Future Life,” “Stronger Than,” “Velcro Straps”

3) Egghead. - Would Like to Have a Few Words With You (KnockKnock)

Full disclosure: The three members of Egghead.--Mike Faloon, John Ross Bowie and Johnny Reno (a.k.a. Michael Galvin)—have been good friends of mine since college. And they’ve thanked me in each of their albums as well as had me write an essay for their collection Dumb Songs for Smart People. Heck, there’s a picture of me in this CD’s inlay card flashing the devil horns along with a bunch of other friends and fans. So any objectivity is out the window on the trio’s first full length studio album since their breakup in 1998. I love it. I can’t imagine my 20s and 30s, and now 40s without their music to cheer me up when I need it. Bowie and Reno write catchy punk-pop songs that are filled with humorous insights about life, family, um, script writing and, well, spying? After many years of seeing most of these songs at shows (and on the live disc of the unofficial collection Intellectual Valentine), it’s just pure bliss having these full-fledged studio versions. Of course, I thought “What the Hell Is She Thinking” was titled “What the Hell Is He Thinking,” so yeah, that song has a different meaning now. As for the newer material, Bowie’s take on raising a tough little kid, “My Daughter,” would be a hit in the perfect Reynolds radio world. (And they even provided an edit for the chorus “My daughter can fuck up your daughter.”) It’s also the best song about child-rearing since “Cat’s in the Cradle.” That song’s about being a great parent, right?
On the Web: Best Tracks: “My Daughter,” “Thompson is in Trouble,” “What the Hell is She Thinking”

2) Guster - Easy Wonderful (RCA)
Full disclosure: I was hired by the band to write the bio for this new album. It was an up and down experience. Up: I was making some extra money, singer-guitarist Ryan Miller took me to Cobble Hill’s Char 4 for an amazing dinner, and I had a great Turkish lunch with drummer Brian Rosenworcel. Down: I just went through a breakup and then had to listen to a song titled “This Is How It Feels to Have a Broken Heart” repeatedly to prep for these interviews; and getting paid by a large corporation can be a lengthy process. I’m very glad that I go to do it because I was able to spend moths with this album before anyone else heard it. It made me feel like I had a great secret in my iPod. I wrote a couple of drafts of the bio, and when I looked at them to write this entry, I realized that the opening to the second one summed up my feeling perfectly. So here it is:

Guster’s 15-year recording career has seen them challenging preconceptions from day one. Critics scoffed that a band that started out with two acoustic guitars and some bongos and played colleges in the Northeast could never produce any timeless music. But Adam Gardner, Ryan Miller, Brian Rosenworcel and Joe Pisapia have been quietly confounding expectations for more than a decade. The band has steadily evolved from their acoustic roots into a group fully capable of creating melancholy ballads, harder edged rock and smartly crafted guitar pop with ease. Many people might have dismissed them upon first impression years ago. But like such artists as Wilco and The Flaming Lips, Guster has grown into a band that demands to be heard with new ears. And with their new album Easy Wonderful, the quartet has made a piece of art that delivers new rewards upon each listen. With the reflective opener “Architects and Engineers,” the pop gem “Do You Love Me,” the optimistic anthem “Bad Bad World,” the wall of sound production of “What You Call Love” and the haunting ballad “Stay With Me Jesus,” Guster has produced its best album ever.

I still believe every word of that. There’s also something Rosenworcel told me over some hummus that stuck with me as an apt description for the album: “When I tried to describe our album to people I’ve been saying, we really just honed in on trying to write 12 great pop songs. I think Easy Wonderful is more consistent than anything we’ve done.” Indeed Brian, indeed.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “What You Call Love,” “Bad Bad World,” “This Could All Be Yours”

1) Superchunk - Majesty Shredding (Merge)
My initial spin through Superchunk’s first album in nine years made me recall think of an album from two years ago—R.E.M.’s Accelerate. That album saw Stipe, Buck and Mills stop hunting around for some new musical avenue to explore and just be themselves. It was a rousing back-to-basics album that saw the band focused like they hadn’t been in years. Of course, while R.E.M. has been making albums throughout the aughts, Superchunk stayed quiet during that time except for a single, a couple of compilation appearances and the occasional weekend show around the U.S. The last couple of Superchunk albums saw them moving to a more layered and mid-tempo approach that took them away from their away hooky neo-punk indie rock roots. Those explorations disappear on Majesty Shredding. It’s as if the band stepped back in time and made it 1995 all over again. The sound that was exhilarating back then sounds just as fresh now—loud drums, a thrilling twin-guitar attack, and singer Mac McCaughan’s always impassioned vocals. This batch of tunes is as catchy as anything the band has ever recorded. Yet it’s not a total nostalgic trip—McCaughan has adroitly shifted his lyrical focus to more adult concerns like kids and growing old mixed in with the usual tales of anxiety and heartache. There are songs here that stand with the best the band has done (“Learned to Surf,” “Crossed Wires,”) songs that you’ll want to yell along at an “annoy the neighbors at 10:00 p.m.” top volume (“My Gap Feels Weird”), and songs that sound exactly how I’ve imagined the perfect Superchunk song would be if it was created in a lab (“Digging for Something”). Superchunk certainly wouldn’t be considered hip now like their label mates The Arcade Fire or Spoon, but they sound as vital, fresh and important as they did when I first heard them back in 1994. It’s a crowning achievement in a career that hopefully will continue well into a third decade.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Digging for Something,” “My Gap Feels Weird,” “Learned to Surf”

2010's Top 20 Singles

20) Eminem featuring Rihanna - “Love the Way You Lie” (Aftermath/Interscope)
I have an odd admission about this song: I’ve never heard it on the radio. But oh my goodness, I’ve heard the opening seven seconds what seems like hundreds of times. A co-worker mixes a weekly hip-hop countdown show just outside my cube area at my office, and I swear that this year the only time I’ve ever heard him assembling something besides the host’s voice track is when he’d cue up the intro to “Love the Way You Lie.” The first time I ever heard the song all the way through is when I saw the video one night on MTV Hits. And it got stuck in my brain for a couple of days. It’s easily the best track Eminem has done since “Lose Yourself.” And considering Rihanna’s history, it’s a perfect song for her to supply the hook.

19) Josh Ritter - “Change of Time” (Pytheas Recordings)
Josh Ritter’s So Runs the World Away wasn’t as strong as his 2007 effort The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. However, the first single from So Runs, “Change of Time,” is a total standout. It builds from a sole acoustic guitar and Ritter’s soothing voice in the first verse all the way to massive of electric guitars and bashing drums that (this is gonna sound weird) reminds me of a ticking clock. Ritter’s drummer keeps hitting the ride symbol and all I can think of is the ugly faux grandfather clock that was in the living room of my house growing up. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what Ritter was thinking of when he penned this song about dreaming of one’s love. Yet it’s another example of what makes music great—it gives the listener the ability to place his own life experience into the song and identify with it.

18) Robert Plant - “Angel Dance” (Rounder)
17) Carolina Chocolate Drops - “Hit Em Up Style” (Nonesuch)
16) J.C Brooks & The Uptown Sound - “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” (J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound)

2010 was a pretty damn good year for covers. So much so that for the first time in 14 years I have three of them on this year’s singles list. (The three from 1996, you ask? Oasis’ “Cum on Feel the Noize,” Prince’s “Betcha by Golly Wow” and The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly.”)

Robert Plant continues his late career renaissance with his Buddy Miller-produced album Band of Joy. The ex-Led Zeppelin singer has excelled at finding interesting collaborators and picking interesting material to cover over the past decade. “Angel Dance" is originally from Los Lobos’ 1990 album The Neighborhood. I’ve given that album the short end of the stick over the years because it didn't seem as strong as 1987's By the Light of the Moon and then paled in hindsight compared to 1992's masterpiece Kiko. I’ve gained new respect over the years for The Neighborhood because I’ve seen the Lobos perform many of the songs, outstripping their studio incarnations. I saw Los Lobos at Bowery Ballroom back in August and seven songs into their set singer-guitarist David Hidalgo made a comment about Robert Plant giving him a call saying he wanted to cover one of their songs. I had to chuckle when Hidalgo said, “Wow, it turned out really good,” because he’s exactly right.

Carolina Chocolate Drops are a string band from North Carolina that, according to their bio, does “traditional music from the Piedmont region of the Carolinas” with the occasional modern song thrown in. And what a modern song to take on in Blue Cantrell’s 2001 smash “Hit ’Em Up Style.” The Drops transform this ladies’ revenge song into something that sounds like it could have been broadcast on radio back in the 20s and 30s. (Well, except for the reference to Neiman-Marcus.)

And speaking of transforming, I’m sure that Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy had to be ecstatic with how the Chicago soul combo J.C Brooks & The Uptown Sound rearranged the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot opening track “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” into an infectious old school R&B song. And as much I consider myself to be a huge Wilco fan, it took until the fourth time I heard this cover to figure out that Brooks sings a verse from the A Ghost is Born song “Theologians” as the bridge. That totally blew my mind. It’s rare that a cover will show a song in a completely new light that makes me rethink the original. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is precisely one of those.

15) The National - “Bloodbuzz Ohio” (4ad)
It’s taken me a while to get into The National, mostly because the baritone voice of Matt Berninger. Whenever I heard the guy sing I thought, “Is he bored with his own lyrics? The guys in his band? The last season of Survivor? The service at his coffee shop in Brooklyn?” It took their contribution to the Red Hot compilation Dark is the Night, “Around the Bend,” for me to crack the key to Berninger’s voice. That newfound keymaster ability made The National’s latest album High Violet the first one I was able to listen to all the way through. (I do plan on revisiting a couple of their older albums once this year’s list is done.) Now that I have a feel for the voice, I just have to figure out what the heck Berninger is singing about. Here’s a “Bloodbuzz Ohio” sample lyric: “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees/I’ll never marry but Ohio don't remember me.” Huh?

14) Vampire Weekend - “Giving Up the Gun” (XL)
This New York quartet avoided a total sophomore slump with their second album Contra. It’s true that most of it was more of that Afro-pop-lite that they perfected to a T on their 2008 self-titled. That didn’t take away from me enjoying tracks like “Cousins” and “Holiday.” (Well, in the case of “Holiday,” I ceased enjoying it about the 805th time I saw that Tommy Hilfiger Christmas ad or heard that Honda radio spot that featured the song’s opening lines. Now the initial guitar line makes me want to go all Ladysmith on someone’s ass.) My first listen through the album I almost thought something was wrong with the CD when track eight started. There was some weird drum machine loop, followed by a whole messy of dancy-type programming. This sounded nothing like Vampire Weekend, except when Erza Koenig’s vocals came in singing about someone’s rusty sword. (Hmm, I wonder what he could be talking about.) “Giving up the Gun” was that track, and I think my Led Zeppelin In Through the Out Door theory can explain my love of this song. Back in college (a time we like to call the Reagan years), someone scrawled a note on 106 VIC’s vinyl copy of In Through the Out Door—“This is my favorite Led Zeppelin album, because it doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin.” That’s exactly why I loved (heck, still love) that album, and it’s precisely why I dig “Giving up the Gun.” I’d love to hear an album of songs like this from these guys. Oh, and I’d like more videos like the bizarre one for “Gun” that features a Jonas brother, a member of Wu-Tang Clan and the dude dating Taylor Swift. But have them wear longer shorts next time, thanks.

13) The Hold Steady - “Hurricane J” (Vagrant)
12) The Baseball Project (featuring Craig Finn) - "Don't Call them Twinkies" (YepRoc)
The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn can spin a tale in the space of three and half minutes unlike any songwriter working today. These two tracks show off his talent in spades. “Hurricane J” is the story tale of an older dude dating a younger woman and trying to nudge her into a better life—and admitting to himself that he’s not the man to help her get there. His description of that breakup conversation is a thing of beauty: “I know you’re gonna say what I know you’re gonna say/I know you’ll look at the ground, I know you'll probably cry/You're a beautiful girl and you're a pretty good waitress/but Jessie, I don’t think I’m the guy.”

In “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” Finn penned the lyrics to a gritty track written by The Baseball Project singer-guitarist Steve Wynn per the request of the band’s resident Minnesota Twins fan, drummer Linda Pitmon. I wish that the lyrics were on the web somewhere, as they are an amazing history lesson of the three times the Twins have gone to the World Series. Finn nails all the details of certain plays (“Ron Gant was out” is something Twins fans have yelled before, I imagine) and the vibe of the tightly fought series that went seven games in 1987 and 1991. My favorite line just might be “I’ve never seen something so lame as that Fonda-hawk chop.” Yet with all the nuances of Twins lore he crams into the lyrics, the whole thing is damn catchy. I found myself singing along to the chorus upon my first listen. This bodes well for the second Baseball Project album (Volume 2, natch) that is due out in February.

11) Tired Pony - “Dead American Writers” (Mom + Pop)
There are certain years where I sit down to write this list and it just pours out of me. I’ve found myself up at 1:00 a.m., pouring another glass of Diet Coke just because I know I’ve struck a rich vein of creativity and I don’t want to lose it by going to sleep. Other years, errrrr, not so much. This year, for example. It’s been like, well, I can’t even come up with a good cliché to describe how hard it’s been to extract the words from my brain and get them to come out my fingers into this here ancient keyboard. When you’re checking your Twitter feed once every six minutes or so because you’ve written only a sentence in a half hour and you’re desperate for anything to take your brain away from writing…well, it’s not good. In the midst of my mind needing some Metamucil, I started looking over the lyrics to Tired Pony’s “Dead American Writers.” And I’ll be damned if Gary Lightbody didn’t nail the pains of writers block in a song, um, about dead writers. Check out the first and second verses:

“Here's to every time that you rock a boat
Here's to every word that you ever wrote
There were clues but it was never clear
You've got to choose your own way out of here

I've been waiting for the spark myself,
I've been scrambling in the dark for health
I have read your words a thousand times
All this spark but smashed up love and crime.”

Waiting for the spark myself. Fucking a, Gary, I feel your pain. Thankfully, I listened to this insanely catchy song enough to help break that block. I mean, if I hadn’t, you’d be holding this list in February.

10) Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - “The Game Gets Old” (Daptone)
I love, love, LOVE how this song starts. There’s this crescendo of horns and strings, as if it’s the opening of a classic film that (said in a big announcer voice) is totally important and requires your attention. Come to think of it, Sharon Jones is a New York classic (MTA and Rikers Island worker hits it big) who should really capture everyone’s attention as soon as she opens her mouth. Jones usually comes across as big and as brassy as her band, yet in “The Game Gets Old” she tones it down a notch to inhabit the character of a wounded lover. It’s a tremendous performance by Jones and company. And while the entire I Learned the Hard Way album is solid, they don’t come close to capturing the magic this opener provides.

9) Mumford & Sons - “Little Lion Man” (Glassnote)

Okay, I am still amazed that a song with such a blatant “fuck” in the chorus became a hit.


Let me rephrase that.

I’m amazed that a rock song with such a blatant “fuck” in the chorus became a hit.


Wait. Let me try that again.

I’m amazed that a rock song that uses a banjo as its lead instrument that contains such a blatant “fuck” in the chorus became a hit.

(Thinking some more.)

Ladies, it’s because that Marcus Mumford guy is a cutie, right? Thought so.

8) Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce - “Telephone” (Interscope)
I’d like to apologize for my dissing of Lady Gaga last year. I just didn’t understand how smartly she has developed her persona. It’s like watching a master’s class in marketing. Make one crazy video after another, upping the ante of shock value and/or surprise each time. How did I not grasp how awesome it was to wear a gown made of Kermits? And the meat dress? Holy shit, that is either the stupidest thing ever, or the best gag of the decade. I’m still not sure. I can pinpoint exactly when I started to grasp the whole Gaga thing. I was up in the middle of the night in the late winter (not surprising with my proclivity for insomnia) and as I often do when I turn on the TV that late (or early, whatever) I punch in the numbers for MTV Hits. It was the exact moment the “Telephone” video started. Seven minutes later, I was converted. And then the next day I had to download the song. The way the producers turned a ring and a dial tone into a hook of the backing track is truly inventive. This is one of the few songs on this year’s list that sounds good on the dance floor—but is an even better experience in headphones.

7) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - “Bottled in Cork” (Matador)
If someone asked me, “Hey, can you sum up Ted Leo’s solo career into three minutes?” I would give them an MP3 of this song. (Or say to them, “Who the hell are you, and how did you get into my living room?”) It’s as if Leo decided to make a greatest hits album in one song. He packed his pop, punk, political and heart-on-the-sleeve emotional sides all into this track. And even though the final chorus (which doesn’t pop up elsewhere in the song, so maybe it’s not a true chorus at all?) lasts for about 30 seconds, I could easily listen to that line “Tell the bartender, I think I’m falling in love” for another two or three minutes. (Not that I’ve ever thought of uttering that line. Um, how about we forget that last sentence happened and we move onto #6? Excellent. Join me at the next paragraph.)

6) B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars - “Nothing on You” (Atlantic)
I could type out a few words about how B.o.B. is pretty multi-talented guy that has a smooth flow when he rap and how easy he makes the transition to singing within this song. Or how awesome it is that he namechecks Wonder Woman and Mister Fantastic from the comic world. Or how Bruno Mars and his production team The Smeezingtons are the hitmakers of this year. But really, this song is up this high because it sounds awesome when it’s blasting out of car speakers and that Mars guy has a great voice. So, there you have it.

5) LCD Soundsystem - “I Can Change” (DFA/EMI)
"I Can Change" bears more than a passing resemblance to Eurythmics’ “Love is a Stranger.” I have no problem with that. “Love is a Stranger” is my second favorite Eurythmics song behind “Would I Lie to You,” so that puts “I Can Change” in good company. I don’t know how LCD frontman James Murphy gets his voice so damn high on the line “hoping and hoping and hoping/the feeling goes away.” It could be some sort of studio trickery, but Murphy seems so into playing the character of a guy who’ll do anything to save a relationship falling apart that I can imagine him pushing himself to hit that high note without any extra computer help. Oh, and did I mention it’s a nifty dance number too? Nothing like dancing to someone’s depression!

4) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - “I Should Have Known It” (Reprise)
The first time I heard this single from Petty and company's new album Mojo, I was not happy. I even wrote on my Twitter, “Uh-oh—TP w/o hooks? Not good.” Where was the classic Petty chorus that I would want to sing at the top of my lungs while driving my car with the windows down? I just didn’t hear anything that would stick with me. Then I finally watched their performance on Saturday Night Live. And holy shit, I was wrong. Everything about the song is a hook. Mike Campbell and Scott Thurston’s intertwined guitar lines, Steve Ferrone's Bonhamesque thump, Petty’s venomous vocal…fuck me, it’s all fantastic. I even recorded the SNL performance to put it my iTunes, just so I could relive that adrenaline rush again and again. Petty hasn’t written something this nasty since Echo. It’s about damn time, Tom.

3) Superchunk - “Digging for Something” (Merge)
Decades from now when I listen to “Digging for Something” (and trust me, it’s that good to make such an outrageous claim…which is that I’ll have my hearing in decades from now) it will always make me think of the summer of 2010. Mac McCaughan’s lyrics “We were dancing on the propane tank/Everybody in the half-light out on the lawn/They were kicking up dust ‘til they were gone” and “It’s just getting dark and you’re waking up, waking up, waking up” instantly take me to a summer bash somewhere. (It’s not a bash I would have been at this summer since I was on the wagon, but the alternate universe version of me must have been drunk all the time, so I’m sure he pulled a daysleeper few times.) And the backing vocal from The Mountain GoatsJohn Darnielle is so infectious that I can actually picture him smiling in the studio while he was belting it out. And that puts a smile on my face. Even if I did spend an entire summer without a single beer. Okay, let’s focus here…

2) Cee-Lo Green - “Fuck You” (Elektra)
I have one question. Does anyone think “Forget You” is a suitable edit? Hands? Anyone? Yeah, I thought not. Good. So let’s just enjoy this insanely catchy, insanely filthy song in high rotations in our iPods and YouTube and our brains. Fuck the FCC.

1) B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams - “Airplanes” (Atlantic)
Again, I wish I could come up with some lengthy essay about this song and how B.o.B. is sharing about his life before a record deal. But I got nothing. It’s just a great pop song with a great hook sung by the young lady that fronts Paramore. Jeebus, this song just sounds so fucking good when it’s blasting out of a rental car as you’re driving through the sunny streets of Austin. I’m sure a few of you, dear readers, are probably sick of this song. But I’ve never even heard it on the radio. I first heard it walking around an Old Navy while buying a pair of pants. I had to use the Shazam feature on my iPhone to figure out the track’s name. I still have never heard it on the radio, so I guess I’ll have to spin it 1,000 times on my iPod to catch up with the rest of America.

Compilations, Reissues, EPs, Soundtracks, Etc.

10) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes: Deluxe Edition (Backstreet/Geffen/UME)
In the era in which seemingly every album needs to be reissued or repackaged as a deluxe edition (sometimes just a few months after the disc was first released) it’s slightly surprising that it’s taken this long for one of Tom Petty’s albums to get afforded this treatment. The extra disc that comes with Damn the Torpedoes is kind of flimsy as these types of things go. Nine tracks that barely scratch 30 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot when compared other packages further down on this list. Yet those nine tracks are of extremely high quality. The two previously unreleased leftovers, “Nowhere” and “Surrender,” could easily fit in on Torpedoes or its follow-up Hard Promises. The alternate take of “Refugee” shows a fascinating window into how the song developed into the monster hit. Anyone who’s listened to a classic rock station over the past 30 years can sing most of those lyrics. The original album gets a nice facelift, too, as songs like “Even the Loser” and “Century City” sound much, much better than the ones on the CD version I’ve owned since 1988. Hopefully the rest of Petty’s catalog will be spruced up soon. I’d kill for a deluxe version of Southern Accents. (Well, not literally kill. Hmm. Maybe if I could kill one certain older person my co-worker know and get Southern Accents as a reward. Yeah, that’ll do nicely. Let’s get cracking on that Universal.)

9) Doves - The Best of Doves (The Places Between 2000 - 2010) (EMI/Astralwerks)
I find it hard to believe that a band that’s issued only four albums over a decade could be doing a best of collection, especially in the era of cherry-picking single tracks. Yet here we are, with single disc, double disc, and two CD/one DVD packages from the UK trio Doves. I’m not trying to demean the quality of these collections--Doves have been one the most consistently rewarding bands I’ve been exposed to over the past decade. They have more than enough great songs to fill up an entire CD. The new song “Andalucia" that closes out the single disc version is on par with the other tracks that precede it. The two disc version of The Place Between comes with 19 rarities, B-sides and alternate versions. And these guys know how to make quality B-sides. After having to collect singles and download EPs the past few years, it’s nice to have a bunch of them all in one place.

8) Sweetheart 2010: Our Favorite Artists Sing Their Favorite Love Songs (Hear Music)
It finally happened. I bought a disc sold only at Starbucks stores. (Well, it was sold through iTunes too, which is where I downloaded it.) The years of iced venti skim chais took over my brain. Heck, I’ve even got a Starbucks Gold Card because I spent so much on my regular Starbucks card. The next thing you know I’ll be going to McDonald’s or ordering things online through Amazon and using a Microsoft web browser to do it from my desk at a Clear Channel owned company. (Oh, wait…guess my level of selling out to corporate America has already been rather high. I feel less guilty now. Thanks.) No matter what the origins were for Sweetheart, they’ve attracted a great roster of artists. Jose Gonzalez (tackling Kylie Minogue), Spoon (transforming a song by The Damned), Broken Bells/Shins frontman James Mercer (a low key take on Bob Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident”) and Yo La Tengo (doing justice to The Zombies great “You Make Me Feel Good”) deliver some great covers. One stands way above the rest—The Long Winters’ stripped down piano and vocal version of ZZ Top’s “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” It’s one of the smartest reworkings of a hit song I’ve ever heard. Singer John Roderick takes Billy Gibbons words and turns them from some oversexed dude demanding more booty to a plaintive cry from a man struggling to keep a relationship going. It’s a stunning achievement, and one of the best covers I’ve heard. Go to iTunes and download it now. You’ll thank me later.

7) Nada Surf - If I Had a Hifi (Mardev Records)
When a band does an entire album of covers that’s usually a warning sign that something is amiss, as if they’ve run out of original ideas and they’re just looking to have something to tour behind. That might be the case with Nada Surf, but If I Had a Hi-Fi sounds like more than a holding action. Matthew Caws, Ira Elliot and Daniel Lorca give this wide array of songs their personal stamp without losing sight of what makes the originals worthwhile. The arrangements are imaginative, with the trio bringing in top notch guests like guitarist Doug Gillard and keyboardist Joe McGinty to broaden the scope of the music. It’s obvious to see why they would cover tracks by fellow pop lovers The Go-Betweens and Dwight Twilley, which makes the choices of The Moody Blues and Kate Bush that much more interesting. The cover of the Moody’s “Question” surprisingly hews the closest to the original. I love the original Bush track “Love and Anger” and I honestly had a hard time picturing a man singing it. But Caws uses the upper range of his voice to deliver a beautiful performance. “Love and Anger” has a big expansive sound that I’d love to hear them try with one of their originals. Hopefully, whatever the trio learned in making this album can be applied to their next original project.

6) Norah Jones - …featuring Norah Jones (Blue Note/EMI)
Norah Jones became an in demand duet partner since the release of her 2002 blockbuster debut Come Away With Me. Invariably these duets would require Jones to tap into sultry, low key delivery that she used to great effect on her debut and the albums that followed. While that sounds like a very limited use of Jones’s talents, ...featuring proves otherwise. This collection brings together 16 of these duets (as well as songs from two of her side projects, The Little Willies and El Mad Mo) with a wide range of collaborators. Jones sounds as comfortable trading lines with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton as she does sweetening up tracks from Q-Tip and Outkast. Jones pulls off a neat trick on these songs—with the veteran acts she gives them a youthful vibe, while the acts more her age get a touch of classy elegance. All these tracks might have appeared on other artist’s albums first, but when put together in this format, they seem to belong only to Norah.

5) Through a Farway Window: A Tribute to Jimmy Silva (Steadyboy Records)
Any tribute album that includes four songs with lead vocals from my friend Scott McCaughey is going to make this list. McCaughey and his two bands Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5 have appeared on plenty of compilations and tributes over the years. But this one, which sees a roster of cool acts covering the late Jimmy Silva’s pop gems, holds a special place in McCaughey’s heart. So instead of me blabbering on trying to explain why Silva’s music is worth checking out, I asked Scott to pen a few words about his friend:

"Jimmy Silva was a great friend of mine, and probably the guy who most got me started at writing and recording my own songs. (Don't hold that against him!) The half a million or so who bought the Smithereens first LP were privileged to hear them tearing up Jimmy's creepy ‘Hand of Glory.’ Until his untimely death in 1994, he was a constant companion/collaborator/inspiration in the Young Fresh Fellows historic rise to, uh, whatever we rose to. Here, the YFF's extended family pay tribute to the songwriting greatness of our obscure, stage-shy, legendary, brilliant, and sorely-missed pal. Roy Loney of the Flamin' Groovies, Sal Valentino of the Beau Brummels, Dennis Diken of The Smithereens, Jon Auer of The Posies, Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts, John Wesley Harding, the Minus 5, and of course the Young Fresh Fellows. Amongst others. Hopefully this heartfelt sampling will encourage fans of The Who/R.E.M./Byrds etc. to seek out Jimmy Silva's four albums, most of which are still available on CD or LP by mail order from PopLlama Products ( Kudos to Freddie Steady Krc and Jud Cost for herding the cats and making this album a reality. You can get more info at:"

4) Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (The Bootleg Series Vol. 9) (Columbia)
This two disc compilation serves up 37 songs Bob Dylan recorded for his publisher at the time, Witmark and Sons. And Dylan wasn’t in a true recording studio when making these demos—it was a tiny room at the publisher’s office. That gives these recordings of some of Dylan’s greatest songs (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Masters of War”) an intimacy that’s at times breathtaking. These familiar songs receive a new level freshness when you hear Dylan thump against a microphone or someone quickly closing a door as they were trying to leave before he starts the next demo. It’s a fascinating look at these songs in their infancy. As the collection goes on, you can hear Dylan get more confident in his own songwriting voice. It’s Dylan truly becoming “Bob Dylan” and it’s just as thrilling as it was almost 50 years ago.

3) The Monkees - The Bird, The Bees & The Monkees: Deluxe Edition (Rhino Handmade)
I was very fortunate to get the deluxe versions of the first four Monkees albums—The Monkees, More of The Monkees, Headquarters, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.—for free from the folks at Rhino. Alas, as the record industry slow dies, the gravy train of free collections has dried up. Along with that, labels are also more wary of mass producing reissues of minor releases from well known artists. So The Bird, The Bees & The Monkees: Deluxe Edition was produced in very limited quantities by the Rhino Handmade division of the amazing Rhino label. My co-worker Mike got a rare promo copy of the three disc box, so I borrowed it and ripped it into my iTunes. The original album features two killer singles (“Daydream Believer,” “Valleri”) and some cool deeper cuts, but damn, this box is chockfull of great songs that didn’t make the album that the four Monkees were recording on their own. Forty-five out of the 88 tracks are previously unreleased, a stunning amount of productivity for a group dismissed by critics over the past four decades. One listen to the gems on The Bird, The Bees & The Monkees: Deluxe Edition might make people change their minds.

2) Weezer - Pinkerton: Deluxe Edition (DGC/Geffen/UME)
As write this I’m exactly three weeks away from going to see Weezer on their Memories tour, which has them playing their self-titled debut album (a.k.a. The Blue Album) in its entirety one night and then Pinkerton the next. Unfortunately, the album performance comes after they play a set of “hits,” which will likely include such crap as “Memories,” “Beverly Hills” and a bunch of shit from their last three insanely horrible albums. I can predict that when any of those songs are being performed, I’ll either be at a bar at Roseland or checking Facebook and Twitter on my iPhone. To prep for that show, I’m sure I’ll be playing this fantastic reissue a few times. The two disc version of this 1996 classic gathers up all the B-sides, tons of live performances and a bunch of unreleased tracks in one handy package. In that spirit, I thought I’d gather up some greatest hits of writings about Pinkerton over the years:

1996 RT 20: “Many people have slammed it for not being as sonically smooth as their Ric Ocasek debut, but there’s nothing wrong with sloppiness (just look at my handwriting).”

SOTW 5/13/05: “I could go on and on about Pinkerton's impact on me and the many messed up young adults who worship the album, but plenty of other folks have already done that. I will say that its crazy, mixed up, self-loathing lyrics resonated with a self-loathing unconfident 26 year-old, and they still do to a much more confident, yet still incredibly self-loathing 35 year-old.”

2005 RT20: “Thankfully they only did five songs from Make Believe, and redeemed those poor selections by doing a few songs from Pinkerton. Those tracks got me pogoing, and then gave me the Achilles heel problem I’ve battled for most of the year. So thanks for that leg pain Weezer, it was worth it.”

(Postscript to that last one: my right heel has bothered me ever since. Oh, joy.)

1) Bruce Springsteen - The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (Columbia)
I feel like I offered up most of my thoughts about this incredible box set during the two part podcast I did last month with my friend and fellow Springsteen fanatic Bob Giordano last month. (Check it out at Basically, this was perhaps the most productive time in Springsteen’s career. Between the proper Darkness album, the Darkness-era outtakes on the 1998 box Tracks and the 22 songs included on The Promise (the two disc collection of unreleased material available in the box or as a standalone album) there are over 40 tunes that Springsteen and the E Street Band recorded in 1977 and 1978. The dude wrote four albums worth of material to boil it down to one. Amazing. It’s a staggering amount of songs to create. The best one that never made any album, the full band version of “The Promise,” I think ranks among the best 20 songs the guy has ever written. It’s an epic song that takes some characters from “Thunder Road” and puts them in the prism of Springsteen’ own legal hassles with his manager after Born to Run. It’s easy to see why he scrapped releasing it, as it’s an unflinching look into the battle of artistic vision versus the harsh realties of business. The Promise also includes “Racing in the Street (’78),” a powerful, souped-up version of the Darkness ballad. It’s such a 180-degree turn from the album take that if I didn’t know the original’s lyrics, I never would have known they were the same song. And I hate to say it, but I think it’s better—much, much, much better that the version Springsteen decided to release all those many years ago. I’m very happy to have it right now, as I listened to it three times in a row composing this paragraph.


10) Guster, Beacon Theater, New York, NY 10/29
Here’s a good rule of thumb to determine the quality of a concert—if a ukulele is lowered from the ceiling for someone to play (twice!), you’re probably getting your money’s worth. That cheeky nod to big rock productions (and reminiscent of the Stonehenge sequence in This Is Spinal Tap) was one of many humorous moments that make seeing Guster a fun experience. It also helped that the two songs I requested via text—“What You Call Love” and “The Beginning of the End”—were on the setlist. Oh, and the fact that we drank a large amount of hugely overpriced Bud Lights. And that my voice had come back after losing it earlier in that week so I could sing along with the chorus of young women screaming the words to “Amsterdam.” Basically, there was a whole lot of fun happening on stage and off that night. As an added bonus, I only saw two people dressed in costume. That was a relief, because at the rate Halloween seems to have expanded over the past few years I’ll soon have to deal with idiots wearing Frankenstein masks on my birthday.

9) The Acorn, Littlefield, Brooklyn, NY 9/24
I saw this Canadian quintet twice this year and both shows were great. I’ve rated the second show a little higher because the crowd seemed much more responsive and in tune with what the band was doing. During very quiet songs you could barely hear a peep out of the crowd. When the band ramped up the volume, the cheers at the end of each song responded in kind. And even though I had been up since 5:30 in the morning, I was still able to make it through their entire post-midnight set without thinking “Gosh, I’d like to lie down in the corner during this nice ballad and just close my eyes.” Of course, the bottle of Coke I had at 11:15 p.m. might have helped a bit. And frontman Rolf Klausener’s sense of humor helped, too. The band’s music can be rather serious and, at times, somber. But Klausener offsets that with witty, self-deprecating humor. I recall saying something like, “Who knew we’d get some stand-up at this show?” to my friend Lynne during their set. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another three years before they return to our fair city.

8) Buffalo Tom, Mercury Lounge, New York, NY 5/21
Like The Acorn, I saw Buffalo Tom twice this year. Unlike The Acorn, I’d rate the first BT show just a bit better than the second. Everything I would expect from a BT gig was delivered at this gig: singer-guitarist Bill Janovitz singing as if his life depended on it on each and every song; singer-bassist Chris Colbourn adding great backing and counterpoint vocals to Janovitz’s songs and delivering passionate performances whenever he stepped up to sing lead; drummer Tom Maginnis laying down a steady beat that holds it all together; and Janovitz joking with the crowd about various topics (aging, baseball, the 90s), bringing smiles to the faces of his two bandmates. Both shows saw the guys debut material from their new album Skins, which is due out February 15th of next year. What I’ve heard so far has me excited that I’ll be starting my third decade as a fan of BT.

7) Pavement, Rumsey Play Field, Central Park, New York, NY 9/22
I’ve heard reports and rumors that by the end of this lengthy reunion tour the five members of Pavement were not on the best of terms. I didn’t see any evidence of that during the rain-filled night two out of four in Central Park. I do believe that I never saw them play as tight or focused at any of the five shows I witnessed during their ’90s heyday. Frontman Stephen Malkmus didn’t toss off the lyrics as if they were totally inconsequential. His singing was strong and he enunciated all of the words, giving them a heft that I suppose only age and wisdom can imbue in them. (Or, if I was to be a cynic, that only a ton of reunion tour cash can imbue in them.) He and Spiral Stairs played crisp intertwined guitar lines and multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich was as enthusiastic as I’ve ever seen him. Giving that guy a wireless mic so he can run around screaming lines in songs like “Conduit for Sale” was a technical masterstroke. If they never get together again, that’s fine. At least I was able to witness a Pavement show that wasn’t a letdown in any aspect. (Even the rain came with an amazing lightning show, so props to Mother Nature as well.)

6) The Baseball Project, Solid Sound Festival, North Adams, MA 8/13
The Solid Sound Festival was Wilco’s baby. They picked the bands playing over the three days, all of their side projects performed and they did the longest show on the main stage (which was set up in the backyard of Mass MoCA). Yet The Baseball Project’s hour-long set was my favorite part of the weekend. R.E.M.’s Mike Mills filled in for his bandmate Peter Buck on bass, and seeing (and hearing) him tackle material that wasn’t his own made me realize that he’s one fine melodic bass player. I’ve known that, of course, for many years. But it was nice to get a little reminder of the man’s talent. And it was great getting to hear some new Baseball Project songs and to watch Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey (in stop action motion below) do some guitar heroics on Wynn’s “Amphetamine.”

5) Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents, Barrence Whitfield & The Monkeyhips, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY 3/3
Full disclosure: my good friend Ed Valauskas plays in Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents with his wife Jennifer (a.k.a. Jenny Dee), so I’m obviously biased about their 60s girl group-influenced music. Each time I’ve seen them perform they deliver a level of musicianship and fun that seems lacking in other acts that mine the same rich territory. I went to this show with every intention of watching Ed, Jen and company play and then head back home since it was Wednesday night. Then I saw Pete Caldes walk into Union Hall and I discovered he was playing with the headline act on the bill, Barrence Whitfield & The Monkeyhips. Pete is the drummer in two of my favorite bands, The Gravel Pit and The Gentlemen, and I’ve been fortunate to see him display his talent with other bands as well over the past decade. So I figured I had to stay and see Pete play with this act I knew nothing about. After Ed got done playing I told him I’d never heard of Barrence Whitfield. He cocked his head to the side and said, “Oh man Reynolds, you’re going to have your mind blown.” Now if anybody else had said this me I would have discounted it as just typical hype. But I respect Ed’s opinion (and ears) very highly, so I sensed I might be in for something special. And holy crap, it was incredible. Whitfield—who is a highly respected old school R&B vocalist from Boston—has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. He can go croon in a low growl, stop on a dime and switch to a high-pitched wail. And the man has stage presence by the bucketloads. If it could be bottled and sold, there would be hundreds of singers half Whitfield’s age (he’s 55) clamoring to buy as much as possible. I left Union Hall 2 hours later than I expected—and with a shit-eating grin that was entirely surprising.

4) The Figgs, Fontana’s, New York, NY 5/14
The late booking of this gig meant that The Figgs were playing very early and only had a 45 minute slot. When they arrived on stage they decided to just play their new album The Man Who Fights Himself in order. I had seen all of the songs live in the past four years since their last album Follow Jean through the Sea, but it was fun hearing them all bunched together like that. Before the show singer-guitarist Mike Gent told me that his uncle had died and he'd have to travel up to Troy in the morning for the funeral. Just before the fifth track “A One Man Fiasco,” Gent told the crowd about his uncle and asked everyone to raise their glasses in honor of him. And every single person did. It was a very moving sight. And then when Gent got to the third verse, things got a little bit dusty in Chinatown:

“Maybe some sleep, will bring a little peace.
The saddest thing I've ever seen.
Family will come, and eventually
All will have to leave.”

It was the most emotional moment I've had at a Figgs show in probably a decade, and one that I won’t soon forget.

3) Wilco, Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ 4/3
It seems every year I have a Wilco on this list. I’m running out of words and phrases to describe how much I enjoy them. So I’ll just say that any time I can see Jeff Tweedy and company play 37 songs—and close their main set with two Big Star covers (“Thank You Friends” and “In the Street”) in tribute to the late Alex Chilton, I will totally go through the hassle of renting a car (and making a wrong turn in the swamps of Jersey) to go.

2) LCD Soundsystem, ACL Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX 10/9
Here’s a funny thing about the concert list this year—seven out of the 11 acts I’ve mentioned I’ve seen two or more times this year. So a lot of these artists have been competing with themselves. Hmm, weird. In any case, I was able to see LCD Soundsystem at two very different parts of their tour schedule. The first was back in April as LCD mastermind James Murphy was warming up the latest lineup of the band with two New York club gigs before they officially started their tour at Coachella. It was okay, but it was obvious throughout the night that Murphy was letting his perfectionist side take over as he kept going to various band members to critique whatever part they were playing. The second time was six months after that show just as the sun was starting to set on Zilker Park. The crew of folks I was hanging with at the festival all planned on seeing other acts at the time. So I focused on getting ready to enjoy what could be the last time I see LCD Soundsystem. (Murphy has made comments about retiring the band after this tour cycle is over, which would be a shame.) I got a couple of huge cans of beer and got up close to the stage. As showtime got close, I found myself next to a guy who was getting ready to film a few songs with a snazzy looking camera. We ended up talking about the band and other times we had seen them. I mentioned that I had seen their second warm up show and that they weren’t as tight as I expected. Then the band came on and played an epic version of This Is Happening opener “Dance Yrself Clean.” At the end of the nine-plus minutes the camera guy turned to me and said, with a huge smile, “Dude, I think they’ve gotten a bit together since then.” And he wasn’t kidding. LCD Soundsystem is the only band around that makes me want to dance during their entire set. And I’m no dancing fool, as Frank Zappa would say. Yet the mix of rock elements, vintage keyboards and phenomenal playing from drummer Pat Mahoney touches some part of my musical soul and I feel my body moving. It’s not a pretty sight, trust me. I suppose that’s why I’ve loved both times I’ve seen LCD Soundsytem at ACL—I got to dance around amongst the younger teeming masses and no one I know saw it.

1) Nada Surf, John Roderick, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 3/26
Nada Surf joined the “let’s play an album straight through” club with a three-night stand in Manhattan and Brooklyn early this spring at three different clubs. The trio did Let Go the first night at Bowery Ballroom, The Weight is a Gift at The Bell House the second night and Lucky at the Music Hall of Williamsburg the third. I was lucky (no pun intended) to see the first two nights, each of which was thrilling in its own way. Both albums have become huge parts of my life over the past six years and definitely would be listed in my fifty favorite albums of all time. (I won’t be writing that list this year. You’ll have to wait until the 25th anniversary or something.) The Weight is a Gift is the album I prefer, so I guess it’s not surprising that show was better to my eyes and ears. Yet what truly made the night special was the opening acoustic set by The Long Winters’ frontman John Roderick. He was side-splittingly funny in between his songs. And the man’s songs, goodness. His creative wordplay and knack for memorable melodies have made them one of my biggest discoveries of the past decade. Roderick was obviously honored to be sharing the stage with Nada Surf in their hometown, commenting “if [frontman] Matthew Caws wants me to open, I’ll fly wherever needed to do it.” Roderick’s set closer “The Commander Thinks Aloud” saw Nada Surf and their guest keyboardist Joe McGinty come out and slowly transform the song from an acoustic number to a full-fledged rock anthem. The joy in Roderick’s and Caws’s faces as the song built were total infectious. It was one of those rare moments of: “Wow, I can actually feel the hair standing on the back of my neck, seriously, it’s really doing that.” Roderick later returned the favor by reprising his studio role of singing on two Weight songs, “What is Your Secret” and “Your Legs Grow.” And while seeing Weight all the way through was a joyous and cathartic experience, Caws and company followed that up with a great set drawn from their other albums and their brand new covers disc If I Had a Hi-Fi. All in all, it was one of those nights that make me realize why I’ve devoted so much time of my life to seeing and listening to music.