Jan 072011

So I complained my butt off in my year-ending movie list about how there was just no good product out there. Which wasn’t really true. There were a buncha good movies, but compared to the killer year that was ’09, maybe I was expecting too much. Either way, year after year, I am never let down by the music world. So while I generally never like Grammy winners or Billboard’s top whatevers (except this Ke$ha girl. I swear – her songs are just so damn catchy), it’s usually not too hard to find really great music hiding in plain sight – the great stuff that actually might see some radio play, but doesn’t necessarily have 50 million screaming fans convincing Interscope or Capitol that we need another crazy broad out on stage wearing feathers and latex … not that I’m against that. So let me just say that I’m an equal opportunity music lover. I dig everything (but country), and I admit that pop songs have to try extra hard to get my attention. But to be honest, everyone’s got a shot with me. So, here’s the best ten of oh-ten: Music Edition. Alright. Maybe it’s not fair to say it’s the “best” of 2010. I’ve never been schooled in music. I’ve never taken a class. Let’s just pretend I said “favorite” of 2010.

10 ‚Äì “Like I Died (Remix)” by Tech N9ne featuring Krizz Kalico
From The Lost Scripts of K.O.D. [EP]
Krizz Kalico has been slowly forcing me to pay attention to him. With his work with the Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne, (along with KC sports writer Jason Whitlock constantly plugging his records whenever he hosts the Jim Rome Show), I’m finally ready to let these guys into my wheelhouse. Aside from my love for Busta Rhymes and Method Man, I usually prefer a less aggressive hip-hop. Not necessarily because I’m against rappers dropping their multiple N-bombs or my aversion to the Look-At-Me style of rap; I’m just more attuned to a funky back-beat and more involved music than guys like Dr. Dre and T.I. usually have time for. Give me K-os and Chali 2na anyday. (here’s the original for comparison’s sake)

09 – Love Reign O’er Me by Bettye Lavette
From Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

Frenchies take a decent pounding in my movie reviews. Mainly for being French. But they get my love here for keeping our icons alive. For whatever reasons, they really love our old jazz and Motown over there, and it’s allowed for a largely unsuccessful 60s Motown singer like Lavette to make a career out of her underappreciated music. Back in 2005 Bettye Lavette made her huge comeback with a covers album called I‚Äôve Got My Own Hell to Raise where she sang soulful, bluesy versions of an eclectic grouping of songs like Sinead O‚ÄôConnor‚Äôs ‚ÄúI Do Not Want What I Have Not Got‚Äù and Dolly Parton‚Äôs ‚ÄúLittle Sparrow.‚Äù (and especially Lucinda Williams’ “Joy”) Her version of The Who‚Äôs “Love Reign O‚Äôer Me‚Äù just continues her brand of ingenious interpretation.

08 – “Glitter Freeze” by Gorillaz
From Plastic Beach
I love this band. I love Damon Albarn. Everthing the dude does is perfect. I love Blur and Gorillaz, and The Good the Bad and the Queen (with DJ Dangermouse). I love the soundtrack to Ravenous. But, I didn‚Äôt love this album. When their self-titled record came out back in ‚Äô01, I wasn‚Äôt ready for it. I hated it in fact. I dug ‚ÄúClint Eastwood‚Äù with De La Soul, but I didn‚Äôt get what they were doing. In fact, I asked my parents for the new System of a Down instead. That was more my speed. I got a few cds for Christmas that year. Toxicity and DMX‚Äôs Great Depression and whatever was new from They Might Be Giants. You see where I was coming from? But I get it now. And I love it. Demon Days is one of my favorite records, and I‚Äôm hoping this is just a phase. We‚Äôre 40 years out now, but I hear it was difficult coming to terms with the new Beatles albums as they came out brand new. I‚Äôm not saying Damon Albarn is John Lennon (yes I am), but I‚Äôm betting I come around to eventually love the album. As it is, “Glitter Freeze” is hype and techno-y and fun.

07 – “This Too Shall Pass” (Marching Band Version) by OK GO
From Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
I‚Äôm not really a fan of OK GO. Not at all in fact ‚Äì too clever for their own good. It‚Äôs a theme I‚Äôm noticing with bands featuring dudes who shop at Hot Topic. No telling whether or not I‚Äôll like their music, but I‚Äôm betting they get too cutesy. But I‚Äôm a snob. So screw me. These dudes got famous for that cool treadmill vid, and have been doing their best to one-up themselves ever since, and they get my vote. Their videos are cool, and it‚Äôs damn near an event when they come out with a new one. The official video for the single ‚ÄúThis Too Shall Pass‚Äù is that¬†other cool vid with the giant Rube Goldberg machine. Check it. It’s awesome. And the machine is great. I just like the version with the horns more. Lionel would be proud.

06 – “Pain” by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse featuring Iggy Pop
From Dark Night of the Soul
I don’t know much about Sparklehorse; the wiki tells me they’re a two-man indie rock group with a  few albums. They sound interesting. I’ll check ‘em out in 2011. But for now, they only have my attention because of DJ Danger Mouse. I’ve been on Danger’s trail since the first Gnarls Barkley album. I backtracked a bit to get his collaboration with Brooklyn rapper Jemini, subsequently learned he produced the second Gorillaz album, Demon Days, and have been snapping up whatever he does (except Broken Bells – a collaboration between Danger and the lead singer of The Shins. Music is subjective, and lead vocals are a big indicator for me, and James Mercer just doesn’t do it for me. Much love to Broken Bells though, as they’ve had a great 2010.) So I stumble on this album with Sparklehorse and see they have a song with Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, and I’m all over it. But Iggy goes all David Bowie here and steals the show. And I always love noisy-ass guitars.

Break time!

2010 for me was also a year of catching up. So, it’s not 2010, but it’s new to me:
The Ting Tings performed on Saturday Night Live on January 16, 2010. So while their album actually came out in June 2008, I was outta the loop. They do that British pop sound pretty good, and I really dig Katie White’s vocals. And if it were valid, “That’s Not My Name” would totally be top 5 on this list.

Also Julian Casablancas! I just mentioned he‚Äôs the lead singer of The Strokes (who I just got into this year), and while the band has been taking time off since their 3rd LP in ‚Äô06, JC has been recording with various artists and dealing with alcoholism. Fun! And in November ‚Äô09 he released an 8-track solo album called Phrazes for the Young which I didn‚Äôt learn about til a month or 2 ago, and “4 Chords of the Apocalypse” is my favorite from it.

Other stuff? I spent 2010 catching up on the 3 albums from The Strokes, and also learning what all the fuss has been about regarding Tom Waits. I knew Tom Waits from his acting. He‚Äôs badass in Domino, Coffee and Cigarettes, Wristcutters: A Love Story and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and what do ya know, his music is awesome too. Love his comp album Beautiful Maladies and just about everything else I can get my hands on. But shit happens right? The same day I finally find a “slightly used” copy of his 3-disc epic b-side release, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, is the exact same day my car stereo decides to eat the next cd I give it. That was in JUNE. Effing cd player still won‚Äôt eject it. I know, I‚Äôm lame and should just take it to someone less retarded than me, but if you‚Äôre thinking that, you obviously don‚Äôt know how lazy I am.

05 – “Sinister Kid” by The Black Keys
From Brothers
Take your pick man. Seriously. This is one of the best albums of the year, and just about any song on it could’ve made this list. The Black Keys do what they do, and what they do is release album after album with cool, cool tunes. They’re a couple of dudes from Akron who really seem to have a ton of fun making music. They get compared to The White Stripes a lot for the same reasons that Peyton Hillis gets compared to Mike Alstott a lot, but it’s sort of unfair to both bands. I go with “Sinister Kid” ‘cause I love that Sly and the Family Stone sound. I wish I had more to say about these guys. They’re awesome, and even though the Grammy’s haven’t been relevant since before MTV, here’s hoping they sweep.

04 – “When Universes Collide” by Gogol Bordello
From Transcontinental Hustle
The higher up this list I’m getting, the less and less I have to say. I’m learning that the more I love something, the worse I am at conveying my opinion of it. Yeh? So I’ll tell a story! I got lucky finding this band. Living in Rochester at the time (which was traumatic enough), I had a crazy fight with my wife. It was the one and only time we yelled at each other, and I just needed to take a drive man. I got in the car and started cooling off, and I turned a corner and there was a used music store. So I went in still a little pissed and ready to spend some vengeance money, and I picked up an Atari Teenage Riot [EP] and this bright yellow (ooh pretty colors!) album called Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. I’m into punk, sounds angry, do it. And it was this awesome blend of eastern European folk music and punk rock, and all of a sudden, I’m feeling great and speeding home to put it on for my wife. Named after the Russian author Nikolai Gogol, they’re a totally awesome band out of NYC with crazy ass live shows, and I swear, every album is better than the last. In fact, if you like “When Universes Collide,” I’d almost advise you check out Gypsy Punks and Super Taranta! (their 2nd album) first in case those 2 lose their luster.

03 – “Fuck You” by Cee-Lo Green
From The Lady Killer
Like I mentioned, I’m not a big fan of pop, but dammit, sometimes they get it right. Cee-Lo’s classic use of Motown grooves knocked me on my butt the first time I heard it. Which was a whole lot later than everyone else I think. I don’t listen to the radio … ever. (<- that’s a lie. Diane Rehm and Jim Rome are two of my favorite people in the world) I don’t even remember why I heard this song for the first time anyway. My wife probably recommended it. But being a fan of Cee-Lo’s work with Danger Mouse in Gnarls Barkley (and even back to the Goodie Mob days) I checked it out on YouTube and must have watched the video a dozen times. He’s got that unique song-writing ability to take a horribly, unfair and tragic life experience and set it to music to dance and laugh about (see also “Last Kiss” by J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers). It’s cathartic as hell, and bubble-gummy and friggin awesome.

02 – “I’m New Here” by Gil Scott-Heron
From I’m New Here
I’ve got no real angle here, but just like with Bettye Lavette, it’s awesome to see a music veteran disappear for decades and then re-emerge with a bang. Gil Scott-Heron got semi-famous in the 70s and 80s with his political takes on his jazz/spoken word albums that were part rapping, part singing and part melodic talking. His best-known song is probably “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and while he’s been fairly influential in the development of rap and hip-hop, has been largely ignored by the rest of the music world. In fact, the only reason I know anything about him at all is because of the British techno duo Underworld. Underworld put out a compilation album back in 2003 of songs influential to their style (as a part of the “Back to Mine” series) and included “B Movie” by GSH as the opening track. It’s 12 minutes of genius political satire, and it made me an immediate fan. This song sort of reminds me of Johnny Cash’s Rick Rubin produced cover of “Hurt” that came out just before Cash died (or even Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Call Me Brujo” from the Best of the Bizarre Sessions in 2000). I’m not saying GSH is on death’s door, but it definitely has that “looking back” quality that kind of makes you wish you knew more about him.

01 – “Snow” by The Chemical Brothers
From Further
Call me biased. If it’s a year where the Chems release an album, there’s a pretty good chance that one of its songs will be my favorite of the year. So here you have it. The Chems have proven with every album that they really can do it all. In fact, they even contributed three songs to the Black Swan soundtrack. The movement and evolution from track to track on the new album is rhythmic and primal and yet still perfectly crafted and intricate. “Snow,” being the first track (borrowing from the immortal Jackie Wilson!), sets the ground work, and really, I understand if this doesn’t work for most people as a great song. But try to think of it the same way that I first heard it; I love this band; I take time off work to drive to Best Buy when a new Chems record hits the shelves; and hearing the first track off a new album is less like listening to music and more like reconnecting with a long-lost best friend. Further is just another example of greatness by the kings of big beat music. It features 8 songs that work perfectly as a unit, and are still awesome one at a time. I’m in danger of going all gushy here (yeah, even more than I already have), so I’ll just say, this is my favorite song of my favorite songs of the year, and I hope you like them!

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  • Anonymous

    10 – don’t really like a lot of rap on the radio or this song very much. I do like K-os, Blackaliscious, Roots Manuva, Busdriver…..
    9 – Bettye LaVette’s voice is one of a kind. I can only listen to one song a day (kind of like Nina Simone) I mean, I prefer character in a singer’s voice but I can only handle so much. She’s cool to have in the shuffle though.
    8 – I’m with you on Damon Albarn and pretty much everything he puts his hands to. And yeah, I don’t have much feeling toward Plastic Beach. Meh.
    7- There are some songs that make your heart sing and this Marching Band edition does it for me. It just makes me so happy!
    6- it’s groovey tune
    5- The Black Keys are my soul. ( dramatic I know )
    4- Gogol are very cool.
    3 – Ceelo’s F You is awesome and fun. Very catchy and I hope he gets more recognition for a song like this.
    2- This song makes me sad. Gil Scott-Heron is a classic for anyone’s music collection.
    1 – The Chem’s are always cool. I digit. They have grown up and out of the 90’s “techno-glowstick-ravey” thing that people who don’t listen to techno think they are. The Chems are true musicians.
    Fantastic Zack. So many links for people to enjoy when they get a chance. Hooray for music.

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