Friday, January 8, 2010

The Year in Music 2009

End of year lists are getting more difficult to compile. It's probably not something that will still be relevant even 6 months or a year later because our preferences and likes/dislikes are constantly evolving, especially when it comes to art and pop culture. And often times when you are discovering older albums, your favorite or most-played album in any particular year, may have been released several years before that. But nevertheless here is my small contribution to this huge waste of time and exercise in futility. I guess it is still kind of fun for music fans to do an annual inventory of what they bought that year and what they liked and disliked or else we wouldn't do it. So without further ado, enjoy.

2009 Shows

Jesse Malin – 4/3 at the Tin Angel
Jay Reatard – 7/4 at Johnny Brenda's
Face To Face with Pegboy – 9/20 at the Trocadero.
Dinosaur Jr with Bob Mould and Lou Barlow – 10/9 at the TLA.
Pearl Jam with Social Distortion – 10/28 at the Wachovia Spectrum.
Pearl Jam with Bad Religion – 10/30 at the Wachovia Spectrum.
Grant Hart with Taggart – 12/17 – at the World CafĂ©.

Best Live, Rare, EP, Singles, Compilation, Reissues, Cover albums of the year

Unless otherwise noted, these releases are just reissues of the original album, often with extra bonus tracks or bonus live discs.

Death Cab For CutieThe Open Door EP (Atlantic). These were some tracks left over from the sessions for their last album.

The GamilonsBlue Whispers EP (Not Lame Records). Promising Beatles-esque EP from Pete Wiedmann of Love Seed.

The Get Up KidsSomething to Write Home About (Vagrant).

The LemonheadsVarshons (The End). An album of covers by Evan Dando produced by Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers. Some interesting covers on here, as well as some head-scratchers. I actually would have preferred a few of these surprises mixed with an album of the covers Dando has performed frequently in concert over the last 15 years – "Skulls" by the Misfits, "Lake Charles" by Lucinda Williams, anything he's covered by Big Star, etc.

Modest MouseNo One's First and You're Next EP (Epic). This was a solid EP covering the same sonic ground of their last 2-3 albums, but with a little more experimentation than usual.

NirvanaBleach (Sub Pop).

NodzzzTrue To Life - Single (What's Your Rupture?). This song goes great with the rest of the Nodzzz album like tobasco sauce with a Bloody Mary.

The Pains of Being Pure At HeartHigher Than the Stars EP (Slumberland). An EP released earlier in 2009 before the full-length album came out with other new tracks than were on the album.

Pearl JamTen (Epic).

R.E.MReckoning (A&M).

RadioheadPablo Honey (Capitol).

RadioheadThe Bends (Capitol).

RadioheadOK Computer (Capitol).

SpoonGot Nuffin' EP (Merge). Decent little EP of some experimental rock by Spoon. A few tracks sound a bit different than what you are used to hearing. That’s what EP's are for. Well worth if it like Spoon.

Sun AirwayOh, Naoko EP (self-released). Sun Airway is the new band started by some of the members of the A-Sides. Solid power pop/rock.

SuperchunkCrossed With Wires Single and Leaves in the Gutter EP (Merge). Superchunk were always more of a singles/EP kind of band, than a full-length album band - at least until the mid to late 90's. These are no exception and represent some of the best material from them in many years.

U2The Unforgettable Fire (Island).

Paul WesterbergPW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys EP (Dry Wood Music). Another off the cuff release by Westerberg. 6 solid but unspectacular songs and DIY album artwork of pictures of Westerberg apparently hiking on family vacation. That's worth the price alone.

Vivian GirlsI Can’t Stay and Surf's Up Single (In The Red). These non-album releases also contain no tracks that were also on their 2009 full-length release. Definitely worth checking out if you liked the albums.

Disappointments of 2009

The Animal CollectiveMerriweather Post Pavillion (Domino). I had to check out this album to see what all of the rock critic fellatio was about early this year. It's fun in parts, but much of it sounds like pretentious background music to me. And Beck, the Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Wilco, and even Grandaddy have already covered this ground and done it better.

Julian CasablancasPhrazes for the Young (RCA). Casablancas opened the 2000's with maybe the best album of the decade as the frontman on the Strokes' debut album. And here he is closing it out with a flat out unlistenable release of electronic dance rock. This was the worst $12 I spent all year.

CrocodilesSummer of Hate (Fat Possum). This isn't a bad album, but it sounded a little like Fat Possum was looking for more bands that sounded like Wavves. And Crocodiles were close enough, although they weren't a good enough imitation. The title track is pretty damn good though.

Dead WeatherHorehound (Third Man/Warner Bros). Would I have bought this album if Jack White wasn't involved? Probably not. White plays drums here while the female singer from the Kills handles vocals. It has that fuzzy punk/blues sound that has probably been the signature rock sound of this decade. But sadly this album doesn't measure up.

Franz FerdinandTonight: Franz Ferdinand (Sony). What is it with all of these rock bands making 70's-sounding disco albums? I guess it's not a total shock that these bands who broke onto the scene earlier this decade heavily influenced by indie-techno-rock bands like the New Order, Joy Division, and the Smiths would eventually end up here. The Yeah Yeah Yeah's have also gone in this direction. And the Bravery, Killers, Bloc Party, and Interpol are on their way.

Ben KwellerChanging Horses (ATO). This was Kweller's "country" album. It's ok and there a handful of decent poppy/twangy songs. And I respect what he was trying to do with steel guitars and the like. But I expect a return to alt/pop soon. Maybe the lesson here is don't "change horses" in midstream.

Ben LeeThe Rebirth of Venus (New West). Surprisingly the 2 songs with the most cringe-worthy, this-song-is-going-to-suck-just-based-on-the-title titles – "Yoko Ono" and "I Love Pop Music", are actually 2 of the most tolerable efforts on here. The rest is a rather embarrassingly sappy effort by a songwriter who I respect quite a bit.

Them Crooked VulturesS/T (DGC/Interscope). A band with Josh Homme on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass, and Dave Grohl on drums sounds like an incredible project. But the sum of the parts is much greater than the whole. There are very few memorable songs or even riffs on here, which is a huge shock.

ThursdayCommon Existence (Epitaph). I thought this band was the best in this emo/screamo genre earlier this decade, but their last 2 releases have left me wondering what the hell I was thinking. It’s a solid effort, but another disappointment.

Honorable Mentions

The Black CrowesBefore the Frost...Until the Freeze (Silver Arrow). The Crowes had released no new material since 2001's Lions until 2008. And now they have cranked out the equivalent of 3 new records in about 16 months time. The first album of this double album release, Before the Frost, was released as a solo disc and if you purchased that you were given a free download of the companion album Until the Freeze. The 20 total tracks on the 2 albums were actually recorded in front of a sparse live audience in upstate NY in a barn owned by Levon Helms of the Band. This is the album the band has wanted to make for years. So the songs have that immediate jammy live feel to them – the sound that has made the band both so compelling and so frustrating at times over their 20-year career. They definitely seem to be stuck in an Allman Brothers/early 70's Stones phase the last few years and there are some really great tunes on here. But overall, much like their live shows have felt the last few years, it was just a bit too much "stretching out" for me to digest.

The DipsomaniacsSocial Crutch (Face Down Records). The Dipsos have been a somewhat local fave (Trenton NJ) of mine for nearly a decade now. Every few years they crank out another good album of Replacements and Who-inspired power-pop tunes. This is no different.

GlasvegasS/T (Sony). This indie rock quartet from Glasgow, Scotland caught my attention early in 2009. There are some obvious influences like U2 and the Clash, but the songs have a big Phil Specter-esque "wall of sound" layer to them. But without good songs all of that build up to the crashing choruses wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Tommy KeeneIn the Late Bright (Second Motion Records). Tommy Keene has been cranking out power-pop masterpieces since the early 80's. This album was a solid return to form after his last few releases where he seemed more intent on showing off his first class guitar playing. So it is a return to what he does best – 4 minute power-pop gems.

MastodonCrack the Skye (Reprise). As far as contemporary "progressive metal" goes Mastodon is probably at or near the top of the heap right now. You can definitely hear links to Metallica and System of a Down. But they also fall into some sub-genre I've heard called Alternative Stoner Metal or something like that – so you can hear traces of Queens of the Stone Age and Biohazard as well. Here you have 7 songs checking in at about 51 minutes with long solos, reminiscent of early Metallica albums. This is their 4th album and they worked with producer Brendan O'Brien (Springsteen, Pearl Jam) on this to smooth out the rough edges a little bit.

Rhett MillerS/T (Shout! Factory). For the first time in my life I was kind of bored by a Rhett Miller release. I guess I just enjoy his work so much more in the Old 97's that these solo releases seem a bit self-indulgent. But it's his best outlet for these poppy songs I suppose. It's better than trying to get the rest of the band to dress them up into something they aren't. And some of these songs are a little twisted lyrically too, which was a nice surprise, but otherwise I just wasn't feeling it. Good album, but a bit disappointing.

The Minus 5Killingsworth (Yep Roc). Scott McCaughey is joined by his usual sidekick, Peter Buck of R.E.M, on this album, as well as several members of the Decemberists. The result is a pop/country-rock album with fiddles and steel guitars. It sounds like it would be some fun crazy, off the cuff project, like the 2003 release Down with Wilco, with (surprise) Wilco backing him. But it's actually a pretty serious, somber set of songs.

Bob MouldLife and Times (Anti). I was finally able to cross off one of things on my bucket list in 2009: see Bob Mould play live. Hey, it's a modest list – scaling Mt. Everest wasn't on there. I'm a hipster douchebag, so I'd rather see an alt/rock guitar god instead. This album was a bit more stripped down than his previous 2 releases and the rockers were a little disappointing. But there also were some of his career best songs on here and the ballads were good.

Son VoltAmerican Central Dust (Rounder). Son Volt's previous 2 comeback releases were really good, making this one a tad disappointing. It has a handful of real high highs, but unless you are a diehard fan of SV or Jay Farrar, you probably won't get into the 6 or 7 songs that are steeped in his country/folk influences. Farrar can still bum out people with the best of them, singing about the plight of the working class havenots in our society in the same way Springsteen, Dylan, and Woody Guthrie did. So I will still find a Farrar release interesting because of the lyrics and storytelling, even if it doesn't move me as much musically.

Street Sweeper Social ClubS/T (SSSC). I had high hopes for this. Guitar god Tom Morello returns to a band with a tight rhythm section and Boots Riley of the Coup on vocals. I expected it to be like another Rage Against the Machine album. And I am a fan of the Coup also, so I thought this had potential. Riley's vocal stylings are actually smoother than Zack De La Rocha's were in Rage, but the songs just aren't up to par.

Times New VikingBorn Again Revisited (Matador). I liked this album a lot, but I thought it was a notch below last year's Rip It Off. And with so many other lo-fi albums on my list that I enjoyed more, it dropped lower on my list, just missing my top 25. Rip It Off was like a riot put to music. And this follows similar territory with the same lo-fi charm of sounding like it was recorded in my kitchen while I was making dinner and washing dishes. And I mean that in a good way.

U2No Line on the Horizon (Interscope). This album grew on me during the year. But I just had so much trouble getting into it, that I just feel nothing towards it. I think I actually listened to it 2 or 3 times right after it was released and then didn't listen to it again until several months later. There are some highlights, but I don't see the "return to greatness" and all that praise that critics were bestowing on this. I read that some critics were comparing this to Boy and I don't hear anything on here that sounds as immediate or inspiring as Boy was. I think it most resembles The Unforgettable Fire, which is probably my least favorite U2 album from the 80's to early 90's era of the band. Is it better than Zooropa and Pop? Sure. But I thought their previous two albums, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, were both more enjoyable than this release. There are no new tricks now. I think we've heard every riff and solo the Edge can play. I guess it'd be different if they came out with an album every year or 2 years, but to take 3-4 years between every release, I expect better than these 11 songs.

Top 25 Albums of 2009

25. Dan AuerbachKeep It Hid (Nonesuch). The Black Keys frontman/guitarist shows a more melodic side here with bluesy rock ballads, recalling contemporaries like My Morning Jacket, as well as the Band, and other 70's classic country/rock.

24. JapandroidsPost-Nothing (Polyvinyl). Japandroids follow in the footsteps of Wavves, No Age, Times New Viking, et al, making lo-fi art-punk records that are universally adored by all of the hipsters. There is an element of the 80's-90's shoegazer influence running through all of these bands that probably traces back to My Bloody Valentine and beyond. And maybe more so with this band, giving them a little more unique of a sound.

23. Langhorne SlimBe Set Free (Kemado). The "Langhorne" in his name refers to his old hometown of Langhorne, PA (Holla!). Sean Scolnick became Langhorne Slim, moved to Brooklyn and has now released 3 very good folk-rock albums recalling Ryan Adams, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and even early Beck. There is nothing groundbreaking here, although Slim does use a more varied array of musicians on this album giving it a more diverse sound than his previous releases. But it's just a collection of finely-crafted rootsy rock songs.

22. Benjamin Gibbard and Jay FarrarOne Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Music From Kerouak's Big Sur (Atlantic). This was a pleasant surprise – a collaboration between the frontmen from Death Cab For Cutie and Son Volt. These are 12 tracks written by Gibbard and Farrar on a project that started in 2007 writing music for the film about Beat poet/lyricist Jack Kerouak. Both Gibbard and Farrar were inspired by Kerouak's works. Much like the Woody Guthrie tribute albums on which Wilco and Billy Bragg collaborated, Gibbard and Farrar use lyrics from Kerouak's books set to original music they composed. Coincidentally, I believe Farrar has also been tapped to compose music on the 3rd Woody Guthrie album like this.

21. Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream (Columbia). This picks up where he and the band left off on 2007's Magic. It's been a busy decade for Bruce. He and the E-Street Band had several world tours. He did 3 big albums with the E Street Band, and 2 other folk-rock efforts either solo or with other musicians. To put that in perspective, after completing 4 decades in music now, this was the busiest decade of Bruce's career. Dream has some Bruce's best songs in decades – the title track, "Outlaw Pete", "My Lucky Day", "The Last Carnival", etc. And like on Magic, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, with an album that works well together without any duds in the mix.

20. Tegan and SaraSainthood (Sire/WEA). This has been a somewhat highly anticipated album for the Canadian twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin, following 2004's So Jealous and 2007's The Con. Like many music fans, I didn't become aware of this duo until after the White Stripes and the Alkaline Trio covered songs from So Jealous, but I've been a fan ever since. Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie produced this effort and he helped create a little more layered approach to their stripped down folky pop/rock songs. But they were already moving in that direction starting with So Jealous and at this point it is just mere fine-tuning. Their first few records sounded more like Lilith Fair stuff – kind of folk/pop versions of Alanis Morrisette, Melissa Etheridge, etc., but since then their sound has matured and the songwriting has improved immensely. They returned to their punk influences and that added a little more muscle to their poppier sound. "Hell" (see video here) was the first single and has been a staple on alt/rock radio lately and is even being used as bumper music on radio and TV shows. And there are at least a half a dozen better songs on this record.

19. CrackerSunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey (429 Records). Is this the best Cracker album since the early 90's? I'd say yes. Maddeningly, this good band has never released a great album. They seem to have a series of good albums. Cracker has never really been a "hit singles" band. I think their handful of hits were happy accidents and good timing being released during the golden age of alt/rock radio. Every album is solid to very good, but it just seems like there is always something missing. This is similar but ranks up there with Cracker and Kerosene Heat, as their best to date.

18. Lou BarlowGoodnight Unknown (Merge). Barlow practically invented, or at least helped perfect, this lo-fi, stripped down style, proving that you can still make punk rock records even when you use acoustic guitars. I liked his previous solo effort Emoh a little bit more than this, but this is pretty good too. Has a voice ever fit so perfectly with a musical style as Barlow's and his lo-fi no frills recordings?

17. Neko CaseMiddle Cyclone (Anti). Case and Jenny Lewis are neck and neck these days as my favorite female vocalist. Case has been singing with the New Pornographers for years and also has released several acclaimed solo alt/country discs. Her albums go down like a smooth cocktail of rock, blues, country, and folk, similar to what Lucinda Williams has been doing for decades. "People Got a Lot of Nerve" was an early favorite of mine for song of the year, and that is just the highest high of many other highs. Check out the video here.

16. Sonic YouthThe Eternal (Matador). This and Sonic Youth's previous release, Rather Ripped, may be the best consecutive releases by this band since the early 90’s or even the late 80’s. On the Eternal, they have returned to their indie roots on Matador and have added ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold. "Sacred Trickster" is a great opener (see video here) and the first thing that strikes you about this album is how hard it rocks coming from a band that has been together around 30 years. It's probably their heaviest album since the late 80's. All in all, this contains a little bit of everything Sonic Youth does really well.

15. A.C. NewmanGet Guilty (Matador). Carl Newman has been cranking out so many good pop/rock songs in the New Pornographers over the last decade that it's surprising that he has some really good ones leftover for a solo album. And many of the tunes on here would have been better than anything on the last few NP albums.

14. The Pains of Being Pure At HeartS/T (Slumberland). Oh Christ, not another band of hipster arty noise rock douchebags from New York. Yes, maybe and yes. But this album is actually pretty damn good, inspite of the horrendous band name. And this round of art/punk bands are much less douchebaggy to me than the Interpol types from earlier this decade. Much like Japandroids, they blend a lot more shoegazer stuff with the noise rock, owing much to My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub. And the songs are catchy to boot. And any band who titled a one-off single from last year "Kurt Cobain's Cardigan", is alright in my book. Check out the video for "Everything With You."

13. Vivian GirlsEverything Goes Wrong (In The Red). There probably wasn't a band in indie rock circles who received more backlash from a particualr scene in the last year than the NYC-based Vivian Girls. Their 2008 debut was good and I think this is even better. They are another shoegazer-influenced, noisy art rock band. They were at the right place at the right time, playing a style that was just starting to take off before the backlash started. They remind me more of Sonic Youth and the Smiths than any of the contemporaries. Check out the video for "When I'm Gone."

12. The RaveonettesIn & Out of Control (Vice). Well, I guess 2008 and 2009 have been years when arty noise/pop and noise/rock albums had a bit of a revival. The Raveonettes from Copenhagen produce a catchier version of this noise/pop sound and have been doing so since early this decade. There are great pop melodies buried in that noise. And I’ve always liked the way they have blended songs with dark subject matter (death, rape, suicide) in such catchy melodies. "Last Dance" (check out video here) and "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)" were among the top songs of the year for me.

11. Green Day21st Century Breakdown (Reprise). It was an impossible task for Green Day to top American Idiot. They certainly don't lack ambition though and did a pretty good job with this release. I was still listening to Idiot start to finish several years after the release, and it still kept my attention. Breakdown is a very good album in a similar way, but I think it just comes up a little short and after Idiot, it seems a little more repetitive. It's still quite an artistic accomplishment for a punk rock trio who haven't even yet hit their 40's to basically reinvent themselves, while still staying true to their roots as much as possible.

10. Built To SpillThere Is No Enemy (Warner Bros). Built to Spill have had a pretty quiet decade, with this being only their 3rd studio album during this time. This follows 2006's solid You In Reverse. Sonically, this doesn't sound much different than anything they have done since the late 90's, but for some reason the songs just seem more urgent to me and this is probably my favorite BTS album since the 90's. Here's a live clip of "Hindsight."

9. Dinosaur JrFarm (Jagjaguwar). It finally hit me why I like J Mascis so much as a guitar player. His style sort of combines 3 of my favorite guitar players – Kurt Cobain, Steve Turner of Mudhoney, and Slash. It's like he combines Cobain's power chords that could crack your ribs, Turner's fuzz, and Slash's minor chords. Except for the fact that Mascis was doing this on his own several years before any of these legends even had record deals. Mascis may be rocking the middle-aged lesbian look with his long gray mane and an "It's Pat" potato-shaped body, but he has no peer as a guitar player. This album continues where Beyond left off. I just found it to be a notch below Beyond, but "Over It" (see video here) and "Plans" would be on my shortlist of songs of the year. "Plans" is like the definitive kind of Dino Jr song – killer riff, killer solo, thunderous rhythm section, and in this case fitting lyrics, with the refrain "I got nothing left to be /Do you have some plans for me?" That pretty much sums up the slacker ethos Mascis has epitomized for over 20 years. It could be about a relationship. It could be about the band. It could be about him personally. He's felt like he's done it all – carved out a decent living, lived the rock dream, and got a 2nd chance to resurrect the Dino Jr legend. What else is there?

8. NodzzzS/T (What's Your Rupture?). You can't beat Nodzzz for being economical - 10 songs in about 16 minutes, with no frills or excess, just melody and lyrics. This was also released only on vinyl or as a download, I believe. While many critics and fans tended to lump them in with other lo-fi bands, Nodzzz stood out to me. They had a 60's surf/rock vibe to their songs and a power-pop sound that had as much in common with, say, Big Star or the Feelies as Times New Viking or Wavves. Check out "In The City (Contact High)."

7. The Von BondiesLove Hate and Then There's You (Majordomo/Shout Factory). The Von Bondies have gone through some major changes since their last release – 2004's Pawn Shoppe Heart with the hit single "C'mon, C'mon" (heard weekly on Rescue Me). BTW, their February 2004 show at the Khyber with local faves The Capitol Years and Cordalene opening was one of the best bills of the decade. Anyway, they were dropped from Sire/Reprise a few years after their last record. Guitarist/vocalist Jason Stollsteimer and drummer Don Blum remain, but they have gone through several lineup changes on bass, keyboards, and guitar since then. And in spite of all that, I think this is their finest release to date. There's nothing on here that is quite as good as "C'mon, C'mon", but I think you could argue that the 12 tracks on here are all better than anything else they've ever recorded. The VBs survived, polished their sound a little more, and have come out better for it. Check out the video for "Pale Bride."

6. O.L.D.I Live in a World (Fake Record Label Records). This pop/rock gem released by Craig Elkins (Huffamoose) and his new collaborator, Larry Chaye De Gasperin, was pure fun. It has great pop rock melodies, recalling Beatles, Kinks, and Rolling Stones, along with other 70's pop/rock. The album seems to have a little bit of an edge to it with lyrics full of sardonic wit. Being a big Huffamoose fan, I'm reluctant to call this the best album ever released by Elkins, but now that I think about it, it probably is.

5. Jay ReatardWatch Me Fall (Matador). Watching Jay Reatard play live in the summer may have been the most exciting 45 minutes of music with a sense of danger and anything-can-happen atmosphere I have seen in years. There is a definitely a Brian Jonestown Massacre aspect to Jay Reatard and his band, with that tightrope walking combination of pop/rock brilliance and self-destuctive disaster. Maybe Reatard has mellowed a bit on his latest release with a poppier sound. Gems like "Wounded", "It Ain't Gonna Save Me" (see video here), "Faking It", and "There Is No Sun" are worth the price of admission alone. And he really enjoys it when fans get up on stage with him.

4. WilcoWilco (The Album) (Nonesuch). Since their debut album, A.M., in 1995, Wilco seems to have done a little bit of everything musically. But probably not since their debut album have they sounded like they were having so much fun doing it. It's much less ambitious than anything else they have done this decade, but because it was a back to basics record in a sense, it seems more focused on songcraft and melody. This is my favorite Wilco album since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and is definitely more accessible than that landmark experimental album. I haven't enjoyed a Wilco album so much so soon after first hearing it since Summerteeth. I guess it's a sad irony they released this album just a few weeks before former member and co-collaborator Jay Bennett would die suddenly, considering it sounds more like the records he had a big role in shaping, than anything else they've released since he was fired in 2001. It is full of inside jokes and obvious jokes, like titling it Wilco (The Album), having a song called "Wilco (The Song)", and then selling t-shirts as part of the release package with the words "Wilco (The Shirt)" on it. They have proven to be a band that makes serious music and deserves to be treated as serious artists, while not taking themselves too seriously. "You Never Know" (live clip here), "Country Disappeared", "I'll Fight", and the great duet with Feist "You and I" are the highlights of an album with a lot of highs.

3. WavvesS/T (Fat Possum). Wavves may do the whole lo-fi noise rock thing better than anyone. Like Nodzzz, they also seem to have a bit of 60's surf/rock present underneath the fuzz. There is some instrumental filler on here from Nathan Williams and company, but the quality of songs like "To the Dregs", "So Bored", "No Hope Kids" (see video here), and "Beach Demon" more than makes up for it. I never get tired of listening to these songs.

2. Pearl JamBackspacer (Universal). I was wowed by how good this is. It is probably the most immediately digestible Pearl Jam album since Vs. And it may be their best, period, since Vs. "The Fixer" (see video here) was among the best songs of the year and probably their finest choice for a single since the mid 90's. "When something's gone, I wanna fight to get it back again." That lyric alone seems to represent the attitude the band has displayed throughout their career when it comes to causes they believe in and their place in the music world. Are they singing about settling into middle age and trying to relive their youth, or their relationships, or their status as a band, or their country? Who knows? But it's the catchiest damn song they've released in years. And I still think they are the best live band going today. Much like seeing Bruce Springsteen in his prime, seeing them play live is like going to church – a really cool church that serves alcohol.

1. RancidLet the Dominoes Fall (Epitaph). 18 years and 7 full-length studio albums since they began, here are one of the 90's most important alt/rock bands still standing tall. As is typical when a punk or metal band enters their 40's, they have a new younger drummer to play 100 miles an hour on tour, replacing original drummer Brett Reed with Branden Steineckert of the Used, but otherwise not much else has changed in all that time. Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen, and Matt Freeman remain. This is their best release since 1995's ..And Out Come The Wolves (which I believe was my top album of 1995). There are about a dozen stellar songs, including "East Bay Night", "Lulu", Disconnected", "Civilian Ways", the title track, and in particular "Last One To Die" (see video here). As the band wrote in the release notes - "This song is about the survival of our band. Over the last eighteen years weve seen a lot of bands and friends pass on, quit or move on for various reasons, yet we keep moving forward...." It contains a mix of all of the different styles of Rancid songs – hardcore punk, ska, pop/punk, and now even a few acoustic numbers, while touching on many social and political issues. And for those who got the deluxe version, it comes with a bonus CD of acoustic versions (Rancid Unplugged, basically) of 12 of the 19 songs on the album.


Michael B. Knowledge said...

Can you review an album I might consider listening to other than PJ. I respect your diversity and truth to real rock music, but I thought there was a decent amount of releases from popular rock music. I do like to not be swayed by what the radios throw down our throats, but I didn't recognize many of these bands or know them and am not that intrigued by there music. Sorry, I know opinions are like... but I used to look forward to these top 25's from you, but I think our tastes have went down 2 different paths. Any thoughts on some other music released this year, other than the usual.

Michael B. Knowledge said...

btw i hate rancid. and yes there are a few others in there like U2, Cracker, etc but not one album on there that I was looking to hear a review from you. Maybe I should send you a list of some albums I havent got a chance to check out.