Top 10 lists are tricky for me, because I’m old, woefully out of touch and can usually count the number of new albums I like, let alone hear, on one hand. If it weren’t for Pax tipping me off to three of my picks this year this list would be just ludicrously short.
But quality over quantity, right?.
Also, “Top 10” lists are ginormously dorky.
That said, here’s mine. It doesn’t have 10 albums and the rankings don’t mean squat. Except I really liked the first few one hell of a lot, probably more than the others.
1 – The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit
I am forever indebted to Pax Arcana for saving me from those bloodthirsty zombie macaws deep in the Brazilian jungle. That man knows how to handle a blowgun, let me tell you.
I’m also in his debt for hepping me to this poppy, angsty jewel from some seriously disturbed Scots brothers and associated hangers-on. It didn’t take long for me to develop a truly problematic addiction. These are some fabulous, fabulous tunes. RIYL your pop served with healthy sides of jilted bitterness and acoustic goodness. “Head Rolls Off,” “Twist,” “Old Old Fashioned” and “Modern Leper” are standouts.
We played this album a lot after the kid was born. Along with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.
2 – For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver
Mournful, angsty acoustic goodness from a mildly bothered Wisconsinite. Spare and haunting. Weird that two albums heavily featuring acoustic stylings are my two favorites. I am getting soft in my dotage.
I find myself going back to two songs again and again: “Re: Stacks” and “Lump Sum.” That’s some good shit right there.
Stick with this video. The camera operator evidently caps the lens to better enjoy the sound, but goes back to the visuals later:
3 – Stay Positive, The Hold Steady
Our reader will find it unsurprising that I had this as my Number One Pick for a long time this year (Here’s my first draft of this review in its entirety: “Well, duh.”)
Serving the opening track, “Constructive Summer,” to me is like dishing a fastball low and outside to David Ortiz. Couldn’t be more through my wheelhouse. As Dr. Dan the Birdman* put it, “It sounds like a cross between Hüsker Dü and the Replacements.” In fact, lead singer Craig Finn has cited the Hüsker classic “Celebrated Summer” as an inspiration for this song. This is one of my all-time favorite songs.
Money lyric: “Our psalms are sing-along songs.”
Besides “Constructive Summer,” I also really like “Yeah Sapphire,” “Lord I’m Discouraged” and “Magazines” one whole hell of a lot.
The Pride of the Bushwood Country Club evinced disappointment about this record, but I really dug it. Then again, my proclivities in this area are notorious around these parts, my Holdsteadyarewayoverratedygdala never having been removed.
* The Birdman and I saw the “Rock & Roll Means Well” tour when it rolled through the Orpheum and it was awesome. The show was a double bill between THS and DBT. Both bands arrived loaded for bear and proceeded to rock the acoustically-challenged Orpheum. DBT “opened,” forever endeared by passing a bottle of bourbon amongst themselves and belting out some of the finest honky-tonk raunch this side of the Taunton River. Their songs are so much better live than the records might lead you to believe; I like their records, but they really put on a killer live show.
The Hold Steady came out after a brief pause (time enough for the good doctor to replace the beer I ditched after he swore we couldn’t bring in to our seats) and detonated an atom bomb for about an hour and a half.
They were joined by various DBTers for some encore action. Really one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve ever taken in. And it never hurts to sit in the fifth row (from the front this time).
4 – District Line, Bob Mould
An admixture of some trademark guitar work and his more recent forays into electronica, some tracks work better than others. But I’d rather have the experiments, even the less successful ones, than tired retreads. That’s how you get songs like this:
Pax put it best: “I’m glad to see he still has some fucking fire in his belly, even if he covers it with all kinds of thoughts and stuff.” A decent album by Bob Mould is really, really good. Really, really good Mould is superlative. And the songs always seem to improve with repeated listenings.
Money songs: “The Silence Between Us,” “Very Temporary,” “Who Needs to Dream.”
5 – The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem
Like Frightened Rabbit and Bon Iver, this came into my playlist after a tipoff from Pax. It’s like a blend of Drive-by Truckers and the rockier songs by Whiskeytown. I like it but I don’t love it; it isn;t aging as well as my first four picks.
I like “Old White Lincoln,” “Great Expectations” and the title song.
6 – Accelerate, R.E.M.
I used to have a serious R.E.M. habit. It was a real problem; for a few adolescent years I listened to them almost exclusively. It was sad.
But some of their earliest albums are just amazing. One of the things I always appreciated about them is their willingness to experiment and put out an album that’s a radical departure from how they’re “supposed” to sound (a proclivity they share with Bob Mould).
This album isn’t exactly that (they mined some of this ground with Monster) but it’s pretty good. I was particularly taken with “Living Well is the Best Revenge.”
7 – Cardinology, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
It burns me to put this so low on the list, because I think Ryan Adams has written some of the all-time great songs, but it’s just such a spotty effort.
A few gems here, interspersed with some truly craptastic ass-hattery (“Fix It,” “Natural Ghost” or “Magick*” anyone?).
I hate to add fuel to the Interhose geeks’ conventional wisdom on the guy (I actually think the majority of his records are pretty consistent), but this is really a semi-baked effort. It’s like eating a fatty, gristly steak that’s cooked absolutely perfectly. There are two or three really delicious bites of pure meaty goodness and the rest is infarction-inducing rubbery fat and that annoying cartilage that gets stuck between your teeth.
Given the quality of last year’s Easy Tiger, and the speed with which he evidently churns out tunes, couldn’t Adams have had a bit of patience and combined the best elements of each? It could have been a serious classic. I mean, who wouldn’t wait an extra six months or so for that? I just don’t get it.
And by the hair of the beards of the Aesir, ditch the Jerry Garcia wannabe lead guitarist. Seriously. Stop it. Now. He’s killing you. What’s with the bad Grateful Dead schtick? “Sink Ships” is a particularly egregious example of this. I blame that tour with Phil Lesh.
I really like “Cobwebs,” though. And “Go Easy” is OK.
*The Padre, Pax and I got a sneak preview of this a few months back, ably recapped by the Padre here. At the time I kind of liked it, but it only took one or two replays for it to become revolting. It just sounds like a crappy retread of already-crappy 70s music to me. That’s why the gods made WROR, not Ryan Adams.