Dec 29, 2010

2010 Year in Review Part III: The Songs

I've decided to switch things up a little bit this year when it comes to my favorite songs of the year. Normally this list is composed of my favorite "singles" of the year, but as that distinction becomes more and more difficult to ascertain in the internet age (promo singles, "street" singles, video tracks, and different types of promotional tools really muddy the water), it made more sense to just call it "songs" of the year. Anyway, with that out of the way, here are 100 songs that via//chicago really loved this year, complete with YouTube links when possible.

100. "I Only Know (What I Know Now)" - James Blake
99. "Cheaters" - Teengirl Fantasy
98. "Returnal" - Oneohtrix Point Never
97. "Moses On A Snail" - Robert Pollard
96. "Solitude is Bliss" - Tame Impala
95. "American Slang" - The Gaslight Anthem
94. "Flash Delirium" - MGMT
93. "Breathe The Fire" - The Soft Moon
92. "You Put A Smell On Me" - Matthew Dear
91. "Forever and Ever Amen" - The Drums
90. "Mirrors" - Dam-Funk
89. "The Curse" - Josh Ritter
88. "Superfast Jellyfish" - Gorillaz f. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul
87. "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend" - Violent Soho
86. "Stay Close" - Delorean
85. "Friendly Ghost" - Harlem
84. "Valley Hump Crash" - No Age
83. "Beautiful Complication" - Guido
82. "Pyramid of the Sun" - Maserati
81. "Soldier of Love" - Sade
80. "Marathon" - Tennis
79. "Sleep Forever" - Crocodiles
78. "Apply" - Glasser
77. "Little Golden Age" - Wolf Parade
76. "A More Perfect Union" - Titus Andronicus
75. "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" - Against Me!
74. "The Haunted Rider" - The Jameses
73. "Daydream" - Beach Fossils
72. "Make Up Bag" - The-Dream f. T.I.
71. "One Life Stand" - Hot Chip
70. "Aston Martin Music" - Rick Ross f. Drake & Chrisette Michele
69. "Younger Us" - Japandroids
68. "The House That Built Me" - Miranda Lambert
67. "Good Intentions Paving Co." - Joanna Newsom
66. "Live In Dreams" - Wild Nothing
65. "Nothin' On You" - B.o.B. f. Bruno Mars
64. "Celestica" - Crystal Castles
63. "Born Free" - M.I.A.
62. "Angela Surf City" - The Walkmen
61. "She Makes Me Feel Alright" - Freeway & Jake One
60. "Sing" - My Chemical Romance
59. "New Yorker Cartoon" - Jenny & Johnny
58. "Playing the Part" - Jamey Johnson
57. "Boyfriend" - Best Coast
56. "Out of Tune" - Real Estate
55. "Right On" - The Roots f. Joanna Newsom & STS
54. "Love the Way You Lie" - Eminem f. Rihanna
53. "Telephone" - Lady Gaga f. Beyonce
52. "Swim Until You Can't See Land" - Frightened Rabbit
51. "Hard In Da Paint" - Waka Flocka Flame
50. "Zebra" - Beach House
49. "Destroyer of the Void" - Blitzen Trapper
48. "Sun Hands" - Local Natives
47. "There Are Listed Buildings" - Los Camepsinos!
46. "Shine Blockas" - Big Boi f. Gucci Mane
45. "I Can't Write Left Handed" - John Legend & The Roots
44. "Laredo" - Band of Horses
43. "Speechless" - Lady Gaga
42. "Rest of Our Lives" - Dum Dum Girls
41. "Lightweight Jammin'" - E-40 f. Clyde Carson & Husalah
40. "Written In Reverse" - Spoon
39. "Odessa" - Caribou
38. "Answer To Your Self" - The Soft Pack
37. "I Can Change" - LCD Soundsystem
36. "Winterwind" - Bottomless Pit
35. "Undertow" - Warpaint
34. "King Night" - Salem
33. "Shutterbugg" - Big Boi f. Cutty
32. "Madder Red" - Yeasayer
31. "Only Girl (In the World)" - Rihanna
30. "Rill Rill" - Sleigh Bells
29. "Cold War" - Janelle Monae
28. "We Want War" - These New Puritans
27. "Round and Round" - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
26. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" - The National
25. "White Sky" - Vampire Weekend
24. "Yamaha" - The-Dream
23. "Cry" - Gayngs
22. "Window Seat" - Erykah Badu
21. "Airplanes" - B.o.B. - f. Hayley Williams
20. "Not Afraid" - Eminem
19. "Mr. Peterson" - Perfume Genius
18. "Crossed Wires" - Superchunk
17. "Mine" - Taylor Swift
16. "Spanish Sahara" - Foals
15. "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" - Arcade Fire
14. "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" - My Chemical Romance
13. "Wut" - Girl Unit
12. "End of a Spark" - Tokyo Police Club
11. "O.N.E." - Yeasayer

10. "Swim" - Surfer Blood
Blog-buzz couple Best Coast and Wavves got all the attention for being great summer records but, in my mind, there wasn't a single better tune this year to pull my mind immediately to the sunny beach, watching the waves crashing in. Part of the problem was that this single and its parent album were released way back in the darkest part of last winter, but this should have propped up many a summer 'Beach Mix'.

9. "Me and the Moon" - The Drums
From the insistent opening drums to the soaring chorus to the tightly-wound guitar lines, this is one of those absolutely timeless pop songs - though one that is especially indebted to 1960s pop and 1980s indie rock. Few songs in 2010 brought a smile to my face as large as this one did.

8. "Desire Lines" - Deerhunter
While most of us are well aware of the boundless energy and talents of Bradford Cox, the best track on Deerhunter's altogether excellent 2010 album featured guitar and vocals from one of the less, well, prolific members of the band. "Desire Lines" The first half, on its own, would have been an outstanding track, what with the uber-melodic guitar line. But it is the second half that endeared me and led it its placement on this list. As great as the entire album is, nothing topped the section where this really took off on the motorik groove and rode off into the krautrock sunset.

7. "Power" - Kanye West
The well-deployed King Crimson sample is what immediately pulled me in, but subsequent listens proved just how well crafted this song was and how well it worked as an opening salvo for his 2010 onslaught. If the rest of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was going be navel-gazing and soul-searching, it was important to lead it off with a defiant shot of adrenaline.

6. "Stylo" - Gorillaz f. Bobby Womack & Mos Def
On an album full of high points, this was easily the highest. A sleek and sexy electro beat that gave the soulful Bobby Womack plenty of room to do his thing. Whomever dreamed up this collaboration and made it happen deserves some sort of major award. This song is so engaging and memorable, it doesn't even matter that Mos Def's verse is a complete non-starter.

5. "Tightrope" - Janelle Monae f. Big Boi
I've spent a good chunk of this year enthusing to anyone within earshot about how amazingly talented Monae is and, if my target shows even the slighting interest in hearing more, I immediately point them to this song. I just love the way the tightly clipped verses explode into the soulful chorus, it was also a highlight of her live show. A great verse from Big Boi (who also had himself a stellar 2010) was just icing on the cake.

4. "Dancing On My Own" - Robyn
I'm amazed that the average American STILL only knows Robyn for her late '90s hit "Show Me Love", because this girl should be mentioned in the same breath as the Britneys, the Kylies, and the Rihannas of the world. Not only does this track feature an undeniably great hook, I love how the narrator just keeps powering through her misery, refusing to cede HER dancefloor even if she is being forced to watch the object of her desire kiss someone else. Its hard not to project this dedication to the music onto Robyn in general, sticking it out through some thin years and becoming a critical darling all over the world. Now if only we could get her the same kind of mainstream love.

3. "Monster" - Kanye West f. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, & Bon Iver
Even if this entire song was Nicki Minaj's INSANE verse (a verse that is not likely to be topped by any rapper, male or female, for years to come) and Kanye's funky-ass beat, it would have claimed a spot near the top of this list. But add in an endearingly odd Ye verse and decent verses from Jigga and Ross, then sprinkle on some unexpected Justin Vernon on the outro and you've got the weirdest, most entertaining rap song of the year.

2. "Not In Love" - Crystal Castles f. Robert Smith
The original, album version of this track was fairly entertaining, but once it was reworked to allow the Robert Smith to add his inhuman wail, it became not only the most catchy thing the band has ever had a hand in, but also the most darkly gorgeous. I'd really love to hear a full-length collaboration between these two.

1. "Fuck You" - Cee-Lo Green
From this instant I heard this via the short-lived initial YouTube leak, I knew there was no other place for this track to land come end of the year list time - I was hooked from the get-go. As if we didn't already consider Cee-Lo as one of this era's master pop creators ("Crazy" alone guaranteed his place in history), he one ups himself and creates a tune for the ages. No matter how easily offended one may be by vulgarity, I challenge anyone to not be nodding a head, tapping a toe, or even singing along by the time this track reaches an end. The instrumentation is pure 1960s pop and just about as joyous as it could get, but it really is his charming delivery that pushes this song from one-off novelty to timeless classic. Ten years from now, this will be rivaling "Hey Ya" for a prominent spot on wedding reception playlists. And I'll be out there dancing every single time. Even if it is the "forget you" version.

Dec 27, 2010

2010 Year in Review
Part II: The EPs and The Non-Eligible Releases

We continue our look back on the music of 2010 by looking at via//chicago's favorite short-form releases, as well as some of the cream of the crop in compilations, reissues, live albums, etc.

The Top 10 EPs of 2010:

1. Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/Body Talk Pt. 2 (Konichiwa)
Some of you may be crying foul on this one, considering these were compiled as a full-length album at the end of the year, but it was through these two EPs that I fell for Robyn all over again this year. Sure, we got two of the best singles of her career in "Dancing On My Own" and "Hang With Me", but what was more surprising was just how consistent these were as a whole. From the electropop of "Fembot" to the digital funk of "In My Eyes", Robyn proved again that she deserves to be a worldwide mega-star and not just a critic's darling.

2. Torche - Songs For Singles (Hydra Head)
A lot of fans were hoping the third Torche full-length was going to drop in 2010 and I'm sure there were more than a few mutterings of disappointment when it was announced that this stop-gap EP would have to tide us over for a little longer. But after hearing these eight songs, I can only think of all the bands out there that wish their full-lengths were as good as this band's EPs. The blistering run of the first six tracks is breathtaking, all crunchy riffs and catchy melodies, but the final two tracks are the ones that slow down and show off Torche's range.

3. Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People EP (Asthmatic Kitty)
The year-end lists popping up all over the internet would have you believe that The Age of Adz was Sufjan's 2010 masterpiece, but as far as I'm concerned, the electronic claustrophobia of that album doesn't hold a candle to this hour-long digital EP. The two versions of the title track showcase Stevens' ability to piece together exciting suites, but the seventeen minute "Djohariah" is my favorite thing he has ever done - channeling Neil Young for an epic guitar workout. While shorter tracks like "Enchanting Ghost" and "Heirloom" remind us about the gentle calm that made him so endearing in the first place.

4. Girls - Broken Dreams Club (True Panther Sounds)
Their breakthrough 2009 release, Album, had enough high points and engaging hooks to point to bigger and better things, but I don't think anyone expected the massive leap forward taken on this EP. From start to finish there isn't a bad tune in the bunch and I'm finding a new favorite every time I give it a spin. This is the kind of effortless, invigorating music that we just don't get enough of anymore and I can only hope this is the direction the band continues in when full-length number two comes our way. Gripping lyrics, wonderful instrumentation - this EP turned me from a casual observer to a full on Girls fan.

5. Cave - Pure Moods (Drag City)
Between the tongue-in-cheek EP title and the epic 13-minute closer that namechecks at least three different experimental music touchstones in its title ("Brigitte's Trip (White Light/White Jazz"), it is hard to take this Chicago band seriously on initial contact. But once you let their sound wash over you, they become even harder to forget. The word gets thrown around a lot these days, but this one of the few young bands that are able to naturally incorporate krautrock into their sound without simply aping the obvious influences.

6. Wild Nothing - Golden Haze (Captured Tracks)
Considering how many new bands get thrown at us as the supposed "next big thing" on an almost weekly basis, it gets easy to ignore a band like this that explodes onto the scene in such a short time. But, as it turns out, this one-man project by Virginia's Jack Tatum deserves every inch of blog space it got in 2010. While every new indie pop musician can list off the right combination of Kate Bush, Slumberland, and Cure records when asked about their influences, very few of them can actually back it up with songs that actually incorporate them in an exciting new manner. Tatum, however, is bursting with great pop tunes and this EP is no exception. Let's hope 2010 is just the start of a brilliant career.

7. Flying Lotus - Pattern + Grid World (Warp)
Considering just how brilliant and dense Steven Ellison's previous two full-lengths have been, it was easy to blow this off as an inessential, minor release from Flying Lotus. But the brevity and straight-forwardness of this EP doesn't make it any less thrilling, as Ellison packs more ideas and brilliance into these twenty minutes than most laptop jockeys are able to dash off over an entire career. Less jazzy and soulful than his full-lengths, this finds FlyLo embracing his more glitchy, 8-bit side. Consider it a quick buzz to tide you over until the next journey.

8. Beat Connection - Surf Noir EP (self-released)
It is entirely understandable if this got lost in the avalanche of chillwave and beach-inspired pop that choked the internet all year long, but don't let the title, cover art, or opening track scare you off. The surf guitar of "Sunburn" turns out to be a head fake, as the rest of the record quickly loses itself in dance-oriented, sun-drenched house beats. There is certainly room for improvement, but this Seattle gang has already made quite an impression.

9. The Clientele - Minotaur (Merge)
Considering how precious and fey their take on classic soft pop is at times, it can be a lot to digest a Clientele full-length in one sitting. Which is why I've found the EP to be a perfect format for this London-based band and this mini-album is no exception. There is plenty of the band's trademark sixties retro-pop on display, but the unsettling undertone of dread makes this one a bit more interesting. The twist on Greek mythology of the title track sets things up, but it is the spoken-word "The Green Man" that really sets spines to tingling. Probably not something that points the way forward for this band, but certainly a welcome departure.

10. The Get-Up Kids - Simple Science (Simple Psyence Recordings)
I'm sure this selection is at least partially colored by nostalgia for the wayward emo years of my youth and the heartbroken nights I spent with Something To Write Home About, but to my ears these guys sound completely rejuvenated after their hiatus and have me looking forward to the full-length due in early 2011.

The Top 20 Non-Eligible Releases of 2010 (live albums, compilations, reissues, etc):

1. The Cure - Disintegration (Deluxe Edition) (Rhino)
One of two absolute no-brainers for this particular list. The Cure's ongoing reissue campaign has been top-notch since the beginning, but they truly outdid themselves when it came time to spruce up their most beloved release. In addition to the radically improved sound on the album itself and the bonus disc of demos and outtakes, we also got an improved and expanded edition of the classic Entreat live material. An absolute must-own.

2. Weezer - Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition) (Geffen)
The second no-brainer and one of via//chicago's all-time favorite albums, this time enhanced with a boatload of B-sides, demos, and alternate takes. Not everything is essential, but there is enough great stuff here to make you forget all about the current incarnation of Weezer for an hour or two.

3. Refused - The Shape of Punk To Come (Deluxe Version) (Epitaph)
Another hugely influential album, both in terms of my personal listening tastes and heavy music in general. The live disc isn't exactly essential, but does provide deeper insight into just why this band is still so heralded by fans around the world. I just appreciate having such a crisp and solid sounding version of a visceral, gut-punch of an album.

4. Dwarr - Animals (Drag City)
I love it when stuff this awesomely weird crawls out of the darkness. Dwarr is a (mostly) one-man metal project that has been cranking out music since the mid-1980s. This was his second full-length album and must be heard to be truly appreciated. If you like weird metal and outsider music, this will be right up your alley.

5. Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 (Columbia)
For those of you that have been drowning in Dylan bootlegs for decades, little of this is going to be new to you, but I'm sure it is great to have it all in one place and in outstanding quality. For those of us who have just recently begun to really explore Dylan's back catalog, this stuff is a godsend and a thrilling look into his early days. I'd always avoided the very early, more folksy Dylan, but now I'm learning that was a dumb move on my part - the brilliance was there from the start.

6. Earth - A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra Capsular Extraction (Southern Lord)
Finally the uber-influential Earth's debut recordings available on one disc! This is absolutely essential for any fan of bowel-shaking, sludgy, heavy rock.

7. Bruce Springsteen - The Promise (Columbia)
How often do we get treated to two(!) discs worth of previously unreleased music from one of the world's greatest songwriters hailing from the era when their skills were at a peak? Not often enough, but that is exactly what we got with this package - twenty-one songs that The Boss recorded between Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town, and not a dud in the bunch.

8. Mark McGuire - Tidings/Amesthyst Waves (Weird Forest)
A compilation of recordings from Emeralds' Mark McGuire, previously available only on cassette, that warp your brain with trance-inducing, droning guitar landscapes. Definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed this years Emeralds release.

9. Neu! - Neu! '86 (101 Distribution)
Not exactly as groundbreaking as their 1970s material, but well worth the time of any krautrock fan who has worn out their copies of the first three records.

10. Neurosis - Live at Roadburn 2007 (Neurot)
Even though scores of younger bands aping their sound have threatened to lessen the impact of this groundbreaking group, Neurosis is still a force to be reckoned with as evidenced by this killer live set from Roadburn 2007.

11. The Fall - The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (Omnibus Edition) (Beggars Banquet)
12. Wooden Shjips - Vol. 2 (Sick Thirst)
13. Harvey Milk - Harvey Milk (Hydra Head)
14. Dead Meadow - Three Kings (Xemu)
15. Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (Deluxe Edition) (Interscope)
16. Doves - The Best of Doves: The Places Between (Astralwerks)
17. Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine (2010 Remaster) (Bicycle Music)
18. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - III/IV (Pax-Am)
19. Soundgarden - Telephantasm (A&M)
20. Andrew W.K. - Close Calls with Brick Walls/Mother of Mankind (Steev Mike)

Dec 26, 2010

2010 Year in Review
Part I: The Introduction

It may not have started out very promising, but as we reach the finish line for 2010 - I have to admit that the year ended up being pretty damn great. On a personal level, not only did I finally receive my architect's license after an intense year of studying and exam-taking, but I also began a fantastic new job back in August. When it comes to the music I heard this year, it felt pretty much the same. If you'd have asked me at any particular point during the first 7 or 8 months of the year, I'd have told you I was pretty underwhelmed by what I'd been hearing. There were a lot of albums that I liked, but few that really and truly blew me away from the start. And pop radio? Even more dismal than 2009, particularly when mediocre talents like Drake, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry dominated nearly every moment. There were bright spots, to be sure, particularly the unexpected success of La Roux's "Bulletproof" (via//chicago's #20 single of 2009) in America and Cee Lo Green's internet-fueled breakthrough, but I pretty much spent the year avoiding the radio and chasing down different, more exciting paths.

As anyone who has followed this blog over the last couple of years, you've noticed that I've increasingly found new and exciting sounds in the world of metal and its multitude of off-shoots and crossbred sub-genres. This year was no exception. Old favorites delivered big time this year, as were granted amazing new material by groups like Nachtmystium, Enslaved, Kylesa, High On Fire, and Electric Wizard. But many new (and just plain new to me) bands caught my ear with thrilling material. Agalloch, Thou, Ludicra, and Christian Mistress all dropped albums well worth hearing by fans of any forward-thinking music, not just metalheads.

Hip-hop was in a weird state of flux this year and I found very little to get excited over. A lot of the big talk this year was surrounding Drake's mainstream breakthrough and, honestly, I've yet to hear a more boring "rapper". The square quotes are necessary because the guy has one of the laziest and most lackluster flows I've heard in years, even his sung hooks are snooze-fest. I can't wait for his 15 minutes to be up. There was also a lot of rumbling about Waka Flocka Flame and continued buzz about Gucci Mane, but, outsides of the former's "Hard In Da Paint", I'm just still not excited about either. I'm encouraged by some of the stuff I've heard from Yelawolf and the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All crew (once I got past the obvious shock lyrics), but we'll have to see what 2011 holds. For me, 2010 in hip-hop was all about the veterans bringing their 'A' game. After months of leaks and internet buzz, Big Boi (he of Outkast fame) dropped a front-to-back classic early in the year, but the bigger surprise came in the form of the Bay Area's E-40 and his two Revenue Retrievin' albums. A more exciting, sprawling mass of hooks and killer verses was not to be found this year. Of course I can't mention rap this year without Kanye and his impressive statement album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I hope to spend more time talking about this in a longer post dedicated solely to it, so I'll keep it short here and just say that, yes, it really is good, but far from the classic status that people so desperately want to grant it.

Some of the most exciting stuff I heard this year didn't exactly fall into easy to define genres. The hip-hop influenced Flying Lotus album was huge for me this year, but its jazz and techno tendencies made it hard to pigeonhole. The ambient-drone trio Emeralds, out of Ohio, made some great noise this year, as did the instrumental trio Rangda (featuring Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance and Sir Richard Bishop) - the latter of which featured some of the greatest guitar work of the year. Definitely a record to recommend if you are into extended psych jams. And I was truly blown away by this year's record from Toronto's Holy Fuck, an instrumental orgy of dance beats, keyboards, and guitars. There was so much great stuff out there if you took the time to seek it out.

Without spoiling the lists that will be unveiled over the next several days, I have to say that even some of the old standbys made strong showings this year. Albums from Spoon, Caribou, Bottomless Pit (formerly Silkworm), Deerhunter, Superchunk, My Chemical Romance, and The Fall made the year worth living. But, as I always love to see, lots of new names pop up here for the first time - Gayngs, Jaill, The Drums, Tame Impala, The Soft Pack, Glasser, and Warpaint all made me excited for what is to come in the years ahead.

So join us over the next couple of days as via//chicago explores the best in 2010 music.

A quick look back at past number ones:

2003: Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2004: Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
2005: Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
2006: Mastodon - Blood Mountain
2007: Battles - Mirrored
2008: Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
2009: The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

2003: "Hey Ya" - Outkast
2004: "Take Me Out" - Franz Ferdinand
2005: "Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
2006: "When You Were Young" - The Killers
2007: "Stronger" - Kanye West
2008: "Time To Pretend" - MGMT
2009: "My Girls" - Animal Collective

Dec 2, 2010

np: "The Haunted Rider" - The Jameses

I've been spending a lot of time this year listening to Blank Dogs, particularly the band's two most recent full-lengths - Under and Under and Land and Fixed. As I learned more about Mike Sniper, the genius mind behind Blank Dogs, I discovered that he also runs the sweet record label out of Brooklyn by the name of Captured Tracks (who released Wild Nothing's Gemini - an album sure to rank highly on my end of year list). Now I'm starting to dig a little deeper into the label's roster and tonight has found me really getting into Florida's The Jameses. So far they've only released two seven-inch singles, but all four tunes are winners. The early favorite for me is "The Haunted Rider", which head fakes with a twisted organ intro before surging into a great little tune that sounds pretty timeless to these ears and definitely shares a spiritual kinship with Nuggets garage rock. Check it out.