Sunday, December 26, 2010

Q's 2010 Lists

Once again, I'm pretty sure I got through the whole year without listening to 10 total new releases, so doing a Top 10 list seemed a bit absurd. Here are a handful of shorter lists that hopefully you will find interesting:

Top 3 New Albums I actually listened to this year:
3. The Roots, How I Got Over
Another great album from a great band. I even loved the bonus track "Hustla" with the weird baby-crying sample.
2. Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot
I hope he and Andre 3000 do more work together in the future, but if Big Boi's solo output remains this good, there will be nothing to complain about if they don't.
1. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I'm going to have to go with the critical consensus on this one. I've just been obsessed with this album, and there's no denying that it was my personal favorite of the year, despite its flaws, and despite my reservations about it. In fact, with the possible exception of some albums by The Roots or Lupe Fiasco, I might have to go back to The College Dropout to find a new record I played this incessantly. I'm glad Kanye has been able to harness his batshit craziness to create something so compelling!

Top 3 Joni Mitchell albums besides Blue:
I've been listening to tons of Joni Mitchell this year, much more than I've been listening to new music. I started with Blue, which unsurprisingly is an incredible album. What I didn't realize, however, was just how much first-rate material she created in the 1970s. There are a number of absolutely classic albums that I had never even heard of before. Below are three albums which, in my opinion, are as much worth listening to as Blue, even if they are all less immediately accessible, and may require more time and attention to appreciate.
3. The Hissing of Summer Lawns
Weird, unsettling, and wonderful. This album is strange enough that it probably shouldn't be anybody's first encounter with Joni Mitchell, but there is some seriously great material here to explore.

2. Hejira
This album is a huge grower. For months of listening to it, most of the album seemed like sort of an easy-listening blur (even if a couple of the songs, such as "Amelia" and "Refuge of the Roads" were undeniably great from the first listen), and I couldn't understand why so many Joni Mitchell superfans on the internet claimed that this was her best album. But slowly, the extremely wordy complexity of Hejira began to open up for me, and I discovered it to be full of some of the best songs about how traveling affects the soul this side of Townes Van Zandt.

1. Court and Spark
If you haven't heard this album, you should give it a shot. It's the most accessible of her classic albums besides Blue, and it really has it all: sad folk songs, weird jazz experiments, a rare dash of unexpected humor, and even a couple of songs where for once Joni Mitchell just rocks out. I was hooked from the moment I heard about the character who "buried the coins he'd made in People's Park/and went looking for a woman to court and spark."

Top 3 Literary Giants Whom I Somehow Never Got Around to Reading Until This Year:
3. Thomas Pynchon
I really enjoyed The Crying of Lot 49, and I've been surprised how much this extremely short and strange little book has stuck with me since reading it. I'll even go so far as to say that it's made me think about the concept of a "mystery" in a new way, and has informed some of my teaching on the subject. Despite his reputation as being an impenetrable writer, this book is a fun, fairly quick read, that any of you might enjoy.
2. Franz Kafka
I started out by reading some of his short stories, and very quickly couldn't believe it had taken me so long to get around to him. Reading "Metamorphosis" reminded me of the sense of wonder and dread I used to feel as a kid when reading Stephen King...except that Kafka is almost certainly more terrifying. I also wondered if the strange torture machine from "In the Penal Colony" might have been J.K. Rowling's inspiration for the magic quill that carves "I must not tell lies" into Harry Potter's arm. Actually, much of Kafka's writing on the surface is so simple that it could almost pass for a pulp thriller or horror story; the further you go, however, all the details start to pile up into something far more obscure and disturbing than you first expect.
1. Marcel Proust
I'm currently reading volume 2 of Proust's 7 volume mega-novel A La Recherche Du Temp Perdu, and I am very excited that so much of it still lies ahead of me. Proust reminds me of James Joyce, at least in one sense: both writers have a way of looking at the world partly through the prism of art and literature, and try to make sense of life by finding surprising parallels between great art that they admire, and their own mundane, bourgeois, sometimes sordid lives. In other words: it's right up my alley. Proust is also dense in the best possible way. Every page is so packed with evocative descriptions, philosophical asides, and unexpected doses of comedy, (not to mention the surprisingly frank--and weird--discussions of sexuality), that you need to read it extremely slowly in order to take it all in (which is fortunate, since I'm attempting to read it in French, and slooooooooow is the only way I can go). A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu has even served as a sort of crash course in art history for me, as Proust assumes of his readers a certain level of familiarity with European painting, and often chooses to shed light on characters, or create interesting juxtapositions, by making extremely specific references to particular paintings. For someone like myself, who has only a passing familiarity with that material, regular internet searches to track down the relevant paintings become a must in order to fully understand the narrative. That may sound like kind of a chore, but honestly, I've found it to be kind of like an awesome treasure hunt. Not only does knowing each painting help me to more fully enjoy the book, but the book is actually helping me to appreciate European painting in a way I never have before. It's hard to ask for more!

Best Book I (Re)Read This Year:
Voltaire's Candide may be my favorite book. It's so short that I've actually read it once a year for the past several years, and it never seems to get old no matter how often I come back to it. I think what separates Candide from other snarky, remorseless take-downs of human vanity (such as may be found in the work of Jonathan Swift, Kurt Vonnegut, or sometimes Mark Twain, all of whom I also enjoy) is that there's something strangely life affirming and even uplifting about Candide. At the end of the book, after going on countless adventures in search of love, wealth, and philosophical glory, the main characters all decide that the only thing that will really make life bearable is to settle down and work hard at jobs that they enjoy. "We must cultivate our garden" is how the novel ends, and it's a phrase I often remember when the world seems unbearably depressing. In the end, life is never going to be easy, and sometimes it's going to be awful, so you might as well try to find something that makes you happy. There's no point in worrying about the rest.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Texplush's Favorite Albums of 2010

11. Gonjasufi - A Sufi and a Killer
Backed by two of my new favorite producers, Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus, Gonjasufi sings twisted soul in the midst of dense and disorienting electronics.

10. Frightened Rabbit - Winter of Mixed Drinks
I guess there's nothing quite like a thick Scottish accent to make sadness feel authentic. These guys are going to make the young girls swoon if they keep writing songs like 'Swim Until You Can't See Land'. Driving rhythms, hooky melodies and eclectic arrangements overshadow the occasionally over-earnest lyric. FR feels like sipping whiskey in a warm chair by the fire.

9. Janelle Monae - The Arch Android
A protege of Big Boi, Janelle Monae's album is the most over-the-top and ambitious of the year. She attempts a slew of genres- and invents a few of her own in the process. Her voice is absolutely insane and she's short and adorable. Also my vote for best album cover of the year.

8. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the Good Friday tracks
With Kanye, the highs have always been stunningly high, and the lows have been embarrassingly low. That is still true with MBDTF, but songs like 'Power', 'All of the Lights', 'Monster' and 'Runaway' are the best of his career. I could do without the Chris Rock monologue, but Kanye makes up for the unlistenable stuff with almost another album's worth of great tracks for free on his website (the GOOD Friday tracks). Here's one of my favorites:

7. Deerhunter - Halycon Digest
I have always flirted with liking this band, but previous albums have been inconsistent and immature. Halycon Digest, on the other hand, slays on almost every track. Neil Young meets Sonic Youth, with absolutely killer production. A headphones masterpiece:

6. Vampire Weekend - Contra
I drank the Kool-Aid. Contra is a great album and such a leap forward in terms of production, with a lot of new colors for VW's pallate that surprise and complement their established sound. There are still some embarrassing lyrics here and there, but Contra proves that Vampire Weekend is in it to innovate. Here's one of my favorite tracks:

5. Field Music - Measure
Field Music's third album is an embarrassment of riches. Twenty songs and every single one is impeccably written, arranged, played and produced. A modern XTC with a hint of Big Star - I like to imagine if I was a math major and british, this was the music I'd make.

4. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Just when I was on the verge of tiring of Sufjan and his ever-angelic anthems, this crucial work in the Stevens oeuvre appears, on the heels of the less impressive but still entertaining All Delighted People EP. The Age of Adz is not always a soothing listen - it's often dissonent and cacophonous - but it is nevertheless a welcome change of pace and a thrilling ride. This is a long player in the epic sense. As some have commented, the closing 20-minute track 'Impossible Soul' alone has more exciting musical ideas than most other albums that came out this year.

3. The Walkmen - Lisbon
This is their simplest record and most unified statement. Drawing inspiration from Sun Studios, the arrangements are spacious, warm and simple. Hamilton Leithauser croons like he's never crooned, the guitars chime with honeyed distortion and the Walkmen continue to sound like absolutely no one else. Lisbon is calming, invigorating, fresh and classic all at once. The money shot on this song comes at 2:28:

2. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
The best hip top album of the year. Thick, southern, purple and funky. This track says it all:

1. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
This year, I fell in love with LA's beat scene, of which Flying Lotus is sort of the godfather. Conceived as a 'Space Opera', Cosmogramma feels to me what I imagine it must have felt like to hear jazz for the first time. It has served as quite the gateway drug, introducing me to Gaslamp Killer, Teebs, Shlohmo, The Take, Baths and more. Total eargasm.

Honorable Mention:
Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings
Aloe Blacc
New Pornographers
Maps and Atlases
Mark Ronson
The Soft Pack
The Roots
Sleigh Bells
LCD Soundsystem
Mount Kimbie

Favorite Songs:
Swim Until You Can't See Land - Frightened Rabbit
Shadow People - Dr. Dog
Rill RIll - Sleigh Bells
When The World Comes To An End - Dirty Projectors
Shutterbug - Big Boi
Tightrope - Janelle Monae
Power - Kanye West
Coronado - Deerhunter
Norway - Beach House

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Any thoughts on the new Sufjan Stevens?

I found it very off-putting and hard to listen to at first, but it is officially growing on me. Have you guys been listening to it at all? What do you think?

Friday, December 17, 2010

All My Friends...

Ah year-end season... What better time to post a song from 2 years ago that I have only just now really started to appreciate.

I'm not sure what the general opinion here is on these guys, but I have recently become a full fledged convert to LCD Soundsystem. It took me quite a long time - I heard the singles but they didn't do much for me. Watched this video from Pitchfork this summer (alas, I was not there live as I only attended Pavement day) which increased my interest, and after about 3 or 4 listens of their new album, I'm finally all over it. Not sure exactly how I will put together my year end lists of sorts, but the new album is a 2010 highlight for me.

Anyway, here is "All My Friends" in a truly glorious performance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For Your Consideration: The G.O.O.D. Friday Dowloads

For those of you who love the new Kanye album, but haven't heard any of the free downloads which he posted on his website prior to its release: there are some very good songs which didn't make it onto the album, and which are definitely worth tracking down.

Below is one of my favorites. On one level it's really just a mash-up of a Justin Bieber song and an old Wu-Tang track, with some extra rapping thrown in...but what other major artist would not only have the audacity to release such a thing under his own name, but could figure out how to make it sound this good?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Best of 2010 Season Begins

The AV Club is rolling out their list.

The first detail that popped out at me: why does this band I've never heard of called Dum Dum Girls have basically the same album cover as Vampire Weekend? Is it just a weird cosmic coincidence?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Jim O'Rourke in a Walmart Ad

Drischord, I suspect that emusic is behind this treachery!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Recovery is a (sometimes fascinating) mess

Maybe this is just because ever since college, (when I was a reluctant fan of The Marshall Mathers LP, despite my best efforts to be repulsed by it), I've been dreaming of what Eminem would sound like if he ever attempted to peel through the layers of posturing and bullshit and make a "mature" album. Anyone hoping 2010's Recovery would be that album will be disappointed, but I still personally find it to be kind of a fascinating mess.

"Fascinating" is not to be confused with "good". At best, this album is unbelievably erratic, and contains numerous moments that made me literally wince the first time I heard them (who is laughing at all the Michael J. Fox jokes? For your own good, Marshall, cut it the fuck out!)

Eminem sounds at war with himself on Recovery. On the best songs you hear a man struggling to achieve a new level of honesty, and to figure out what a more grown-up, reflective, and even repentant Eminem might sound like. And then on the very next song he's right back in the sewer, doing tired, lazy retreads of the kind of shock songs he used to....wait, did he just make another Michael J. Fox joke? It's not funny, it's just stupid! Even those knuckleheads who might have thought it was funny the first time don't want to keep hearing it. Stop it!!

Well, anyway, this obviously isn't a recommendation of this album, but for anybody who's ever been quietly rooting for Eminem to grow up and achieve something more profound, you might want to go to YouTube and listen to "Talkin' to Myself" or "Love the Way You Lie" or "Not Afraid" and keep on hoping. Or at the very least, listen to "No Love" on which Lil' Wayne rhymes "broken bottles" with "open Bibles," and hope that maybe that guy's best days could still be ahead of him as well.