Top Ten Albums of 2013 & Year in Review(s)

Merry Christmas! I figure that at least a few of you are going to have gift cards to blow, so I thought I’d give you a HUGE list of music to spend them on. 🙂

2013 was a big year for me as a music fan. Discovered a lot of new (to me, anyway) stuff and reunited with some old favorites. I got very seriously back into metal this year. I never completely checked out from being a metal fan, but this year I hit it hard. Re-bought some of the classic stuff I’d lost track of (or loaned out and never saw again, or whatever), bought some of the stuff I always MEANT to have on file, and started exploring stuff I’d never heard of or given a chance before. And I did that with some of the rock/pop/etc stuff too…but with an extra slant toward metal this year. There are four in the top ten that you can call “metal” or a variant thereof (ie – Nine Inch Nails is better classified “industrial,” but if someone calls them “metal” I don’t get mad–though the record they released this year is really neither one). When you stretch the list to 15, you can add another two metal records. Metal was a recurring theme for me this year.

That’s not to say that’s all that was important to me though. You also see some country, classic rock/alternative, and a borderline folk record in my top ten. I bought a ton of music this year and it was tough to narrow it down to just ten, so I’m doing an “unofficial” 15 again this year. And I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the “honorable mentions” might find their way into the top ten in the years to come, when I look back. There was a lot of stuff that I loved this year…but let’s get going with honoring the stuff I loved the best at the time of writing. 🙂

THE TOP TEN 

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1. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

I didn’t do a great job of giving Jason Isbell a chance when he parted ways with Drive-By Truckers. My mistake. I think I just decided to ignore him–like I had somehow chosen a “side” in the split. Then when (Jason’s ex-wife) Shonna Tucker left DBT, I figured maybe I needed to give Jason another shot. He put out “Southeastern” this year, so I picked it up and gave it a spin. I was immediately in love with the relatively sparse and deeply introspective music that floated out of my speakers. Some of these songs are so good they make me want to cry. Country mixed with rock and overflowing with emotion, there’s not a moment on this record I don’t enjoy. I wouldn’t have guessed in January that this would be my #1 record this year…but it is. I really had no choice, once I heard it. If you need to gauge just how significant this record is to me, think about what you know of my musical taste, and then check out what I listed at #2. THAT’S how good Isbell’s record is…it put DAVID BOWIE in SECOND place!

Favorite Tracks: “Cover Me Up,” “Traveling Alone,” and “Flying Over Water”

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2. David Bowie – The Next Day

When I heard the announcement that there would be a new David Bowie record this year, I was flat-out overjoyed. It buoyed my spirit in a way I didn’t even know I needed and I immediately started counting down the days. On the release day, I took a long lunch (on a day I should’ve stayed at my desk) and picked it up at the local record store. I played it and played it and played it in the days that followed until I knew it almost as well as I know “Diamond Dogs.” It’s a great record, but almost TOO great. My brother described it pretty well… Bowie went away for 10 years, and this sounds like the compilation you’d have made for a friend of all of the best songs from the albums he WOULD have made in that time. It’s ABSOLUTE Bowie. Almost TOO MUCH Bowie. TOTAL blam-blam! To some that’s probably overwhelming. To me, it’s heavenly.

Favorite Tracks: “The Next Day,” “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Where Are We Now,” and “Valentine’s Day”

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This album cover comes in one of four variants. This is the vinyl one, which I have and like the best.

3. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

Nice to see Bowie’s name next to Trent’s again, isn’t it? Even if only on my list, there’s something very right about that. Like many NIN fans, when I heard that Trent Reznor would be resurrecting Nine Inch Nails ALREADY after the “Wave Goodbye” tour he did, I was skeptical. Even a little irritated. “I thought he was done. Was it all just a stunt? Come on Trent…you’re better than that…” All that. Then I listened to the first three tracks on Spotify and immediately ran out to buy a copy. Blew me away. It’s different from a lot of what Trent’s done in the past, but you can say that about every record. This one leans a little more on the electronic side of the act than the heavy side. But it has the atmospheric qualities that are unmistakably Reznor. A welcome add that I never should have doubted. I keep going back to this one, and I love it more every time.

Favorite Tracks: “Copy of A,” “Came Back Haunted,” and “Everything”

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4. Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob

I did not know that I love Tegan & Sara. I found that out this year, kind of by accident. I don’t remember what band I had entered into Spotify (maybe Rilo Kiley?), but they built me a radio station that kept playing Tegan & Sara. I kept finding that I’d think “I like that song,” and I’d look to see who it was…and there they were again. I found out that they put out the new record this year and picked up a copy. It’s dancy, poppy, and the kind of thing that a grown man in his 30s should be a little embarrassed about liking…but fuck that. I’m gonna dance!

Favorite Tracks: “Closer,” “I Was a Fool,” and “Drove Me Wild”

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5. Hatebreed – The Divinity of Purpose

…and in a complete left turn from Tegan & Sara, the next entry is a full-on hardcore metal act. In fact, Hatebreed is kind of the gold-standard for the genre. And I’d written them off for a long time as being “just” a hardcore band. Oops. This record is so heavy and screamy…and yet it’s a melodic and catchy screaming. Really great. The band’s lead singer described the album as “all pit, no shit.” That’s about right. Every song makes me want to start a fight in the best possible way. Throw this on and then throw the horns in the air. And if you’re driving, be prepared to look down and realize you’re doing 80. It’s a common side-effect.

Favorite Tracks: “Put it to the Torch,” “Honor Never Dies,” and “Nothing Scars Me”

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6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

This one isn’t quite as good as “England Keep My Bones,” but it’s still great. “Plain Sailing Weather” was my song of the summer, and has been carrying me through the winter as well. There’s not a lot that’s “different” from Turner’s usual pissed off acousta-punk sound on this one…but why should there be? He does what he does, and he does it very, very well. The really long piano-based song doesn’t do much for me…but to be honest, if the only song on the record I liked was “Plain Sailing Weather,” it’d still make it onto the list. And I like WAY more than just that one. 🙂

Favorite Tracks: “Recovery,” “Plain Sailing Weather,” and “Polaroid Picture”

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7. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam are back, and–good news!–they still sound like Pearl Jam! It’s not their best record blahblahblah…but twenty-plus years into their career, Pearl Jam is releasing solid rock records when so many of their contemporaries have given up or died. They won. They are your champions. This record sounds exactly how it should, and if you’ve ever been a fan, you’ll like it. I sure do.

Favorite Tracks: “Getaway,” “Mind Your Manners,” “Sirens,” and “Let the Records Play”

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8. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Spectre at the Feast

BRMC released a truly wonderful record with “Spectre at the Feast.” Robert Levon Been (the band’s singer/bass player) lost his dad suddenly last year. His dad was also the band’s sound engineer and a former member of the band The Call. He was their promoter, their sound-man, their friend, and from what I understand a father-figure not only to Robert, but to most-everyone in the outfit. His loss was a HUGE blow to the band. The album’s title makes a lot of sense…and yet it isn’t just an album of mourning songs. There’s hope and there’s fun, highlighted by an outstanding cover of The Call’s “Let the Day Begin.” It’s a funeral piece, to be sure…but it’s the type of funeral where it’s okay to feel things other than just sad…even if you can’t quite pinpoint what those things are.

Favorite Tracks: “Let the Day Begin,” “Lullaby,” and “Rival”

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9. Coheed & Cambria – The Afterman: Descension

I’d been aware of Coheed for years, but my fandom skyrocketed this year, largely thanks to my friend Brandon. Proggy, but on the heavy side of it. Catchy, but on the complicated side of it. And what with my love of concept pieces, I can’t believe I haven’t been RABID over Coheed for years. (Their whole deal is a long-assed concept piece with every record filling in a part of the story…and there are comic books…and so on…) This record is a lot of fun and seeing them live made it that much better. (Thanks again for the ticket, Brandon.) Knew it was headed for the list on my first listen, and look at that! Here it is!

Favorite Tracks: “Pretelethal,” “Number City,” and “Iron Fist”

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10. Dream Theater – Dream Theater

I can’t BEGIN to describe how happy I am to have a Dream Theater album in my top ten. It has been YEARS since that last happened! (Was the last one “Octavarium?” That was in 2005!) Their previous offering (“A Dramatic Turn of Events”) was good, but left me feeling like they were trying too hard. This one feels organic and effortless. THIS is the record they NEEDED to release on Portnoy’s exit from the band. THIS is the statement that the fans were waiting for them to make. It’s solid. It’s got a few earworms. It’s heavy, but pulls back into piano-ballad moments as well. It’s a Dream Theater record the way I REMEMBER them being. And I am so, so THRILLED to say that!

Favorite Tracks: “The Looking Glass” and “Along for the Ride”

EXPANDED LIST: The Top Fifteen…

11. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
One of the first records I really fell in love with this year. You’ll get lost in it and drive right through traffic lights if you’re not careful. True story.

 12. Stone Sour – House of Gold and Bones Part 2
If they’d released it all as ONE record in the same year, I’d be touting it as a masterpiece. But since they split it…well…part one is just way, way better. There’s GREAT stuff on this disk too, but it suffers from feeling like a rehash, when the truth is it’s a continuation. A great record, hurt by the presentation. Nevertheless, I listened to it again this past week, knew most of the words without having made the intentional effort to memorize them, and felt the urge to start a pit. So we’re good.

 13. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell – Love Has Come for You
Maybe the best Bluegrass record you’re going to find in the modern era. There’s a sweetness and a warmth to what Steve and Edie have created here that’s difficult to explain. But boy am I glad they did it.

 14. Those Darlins – Blur the Line
I wrote about this one on my vinyl blog in greater detail. Every Darlins record is something different, and I’m always glad to hear it.

 15. Norma Jean – The Wrongdoers
Nice and heavy hardcore. Melodies weave in and out of the screaming. Has all the anger you want out of this kind of thing with some real skill in there to back it up.

 Honorable Mentions:

  • Sound City: Real to Reel
    Ineligible because it’s a sound-track. And that bums me out. This is a truly great record and would be in my top five–probably top THREE–if it weren’t a soundtrack. Great stable of musicians. The first five songs on this record alone make it more than worth hearing. “From Can to Can’t” (featuring Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, among others) is a truly great rock song. “Cut Me Some Slack” (featuring Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana) is brilliant. “Mantra” (featuring Josh Homme and Trent Reznor) is epically hypnotic. You should really own this. One of the best rock records of the year…and I CAN’T LIST IT!!! Stupid rules! (Which I made! And could probably alter at any time!)
  • Shooter Jennings – The Other Life
    Really enjoyable–although I wish he’d get off the “white-trash” lyrical kick he’s been on lately. Starts off Floydian. Gets country. Does a few other things. A good companion piece to the “Family Man” record from last year.
  • Beady Eye – Be
    Well…it sounds like Oasis. Which is a shame, because “Different Gear, Still Speeding” was a fun, raucous, great rock record…and this one is FINE…but so what? I’m hoping it’s just the “sophomore slump” and the next one kicks ass. This one has some good moments…but it needs a few more of them.
  • Metallica – Through the Never
    Soundtrack/live album, so it doesn’t count…but MAN did I love hearing it. The parts of it that tie in to the movie don’t work on CD very well…but in all, it’s an enjoyable listen and makes me want to dig out the old records/CDs and throw up the horns. And that’s really all I ask.
  • Hugh Laurie – Didn’t it Rain
    Yes, it did. And it rained down some really great bluesy, jazzy tracks. The Doctor is in. (If they haven’t given him the Blues-nickname of “The Doctor” yet, I’m claiming credit for that. Tell your friends.)
  • Christopher Lee – Charlemagne: The Omens of Death
    It finally happened. Christopher Lee released a ballsy, genuinely really, really GOOD heavy metal record. Long-time fans have been aware of Lee’s singing ability since at least The Wicker Man (the 70s version, not the latter-day disgrace), and that booming voice has always been begging for a really heavy backdrop. And here it is. It’s not a joke and shouldn’t be treated as one. Horns way, WAY up for the White Wizard. (Watch the YouTube video about it here.)
  • Motorhead – Aftershock
    It sounds like Motorhead. That’s all you need to know.
  • Elvis Costello & the Roots – Wise Up Ghost
    WAY better than I thought it was going to be. I doubted it, and I shouldn’t have. It’s true Elvis Costello music, but it would be wrong to call it anything else than true Roots music as well. It’s a really, really good marriage of the two acts, and you really do have to hear it to believe it.
  • Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing
    Really good, proggy, ambient, almost hallucinogenic record. I had it on the top ten for a while, but realized that it’s so unclassifiable that I almost don’t know what to do with it…and I know I’m not going to give it a ton of listens. I’m going to listen to it in the moments where I need to escape myself. When I feel haunted and want to hear songs about being haunted. (Every track on the record is in some way a ghost story.)
  • Pixies – EP
    Kim Deal leaves the band and they immediately release new music. Those two things probably explain each other. The new EP is great, though it sounds more like a Frank Black/Black Francis release than a Pixies release. But whatever. It makes me happy. (Not on the top 10 only because EPs are ineligible.)
  • Deer Tick – Negativity
    I liked it a lot. I just liked the previous one a lot more. This isn’t quite more of the same or anything different, either. It’s a band that does what it wants when it wants…and some of it works and some of it doesn’t…but either way, it’s a fun ride.

 SEVERE Disappointments:

  • Anthrax – Anthems
    AKA – Anthrax Cash-Grab 2013! Five cover songs that sound exactly like the songs they are and don’t bring anything new to the table, so why did I buy it? “Worship Music” is a really good album, and I’m looking forward to the next (original) album they release…but this? Ugh…
  • Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
    I was immediately underwhelmed by the packaging that is a single, poorly printed tray card that doesn’t even give proper credit to the hordes of guest musicians they had on this thing…and then when I popped in the CD, I was even LESS impressed. I’ve read review after review that says this one grows on you over time and you need to give it several listens before you like it. Back in my day, we just called that a shitty record. I wanted to like it. I really, really did…but I’m done. I’ve tried and tried and haven’t liked ANYTHING since “Songs for the Deaf.” Fool me once, and all that… Bye, bye QOTSA.
  • Arcade Fire – Reflektor
    What…? What? What the fuck is this disco shit that just keep going and sounds like it’s all one song? Why is this awful? What happened? I like the first three records…but…what is this? Seriously…can anyone tell me what the fuck this is supposed to be???
  • Newsted – Heavy Metal Music
    It’s not bad. It’s not. It’s just not as good as I’d hoped. Needs a few more hooks thrown in, and I hate to say it, but Jason needs to hire a different singer. There’s just not any BALLS to the sound. Maybe a re-mix/re-master would change my mind on it…but I was hoping this would be an epic metal record…and it’s just okay.
  • Son Volt – Honky Tonk
    I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t Son Volt. I like Jay Farrar’s solo stuff and I love the old Son Volt stuff, and I love Uncle Tupelo…and this just isn’t ANY of that. I haven’t liked anything he’s done under the “Son Volt” name since he relaunched it (without the original members–very Axl Rose), and I wish he’d just called it “Jay Farrar vaguely country thing #8” or something. I’m not sure if I’d like it any better…but at least I wouldn’t feel like he’s pissing on the ashes of something I loved.

And that’s it! That was 2013. If you’re still reading after all that, you must like me way more than I do. It took me three damn sittings to write this post. Good for you!

Next time: Something!

Christmas Eve Again

Those who are long-time readers of the blog first of all should go outside more often…but second of all will recall that every Christmas Eve, I bum everybody out by writing about a friend of mine who died of Hodgkin’s Disease on a Christmas Eve several years ago. At some point today, I will listen to his college band, Potter’s House, and think about when we were friends. How he’d always let me play his bass at his gigs. How he’d talk to me endlessly about music. How he gave me his phone number the last time I saw him, and how–like an idiot–I never called, and therefore didn’t hear he was sick until he was gone. Sometimes a mistake begins a tradition…and that one started this… So…

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Paul,
It has been another year. I don’t remember how many years it has been anymore…and that feels like TOO many. I still think of you pretty much every time I plug in a bass. I also often think of you when I don’t too, which is good since I didn’t do as much playing this year. I’ve kept in touch with your sister through Facebook–which I’m now realizing didn’t exist before you left this place. I guess it’s been at least THAT long, huh? I don’t know if you knew at the time just how much it all meant to me. I was this weird, shy, let’s-face-it-geeky kid that you took the time to be kind to. And as long as I have the capacity to remember things, I will remember that. Thanks for being who you were. It helped to make me who I am–at least the GOOD parts of me, anyway. And I miss you.

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Thanks everybody for once again indulging me in this little tradition. It probably doesn’t mean near as much to y’all as it means to me…but it’s still very nice of you to read it every year.

Now…onward to Christmas!

This isn’t something I intended to post, but it’s something I finally got around to…

This looks like any other briefcase.

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But it’s my Grandpa Brink’s briefcase.  And it contains all of his music stuff from his latter-years when he was mostly a church musician, but still regularly played banjo with The Golden Aires, too.

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He kept busy.  There’s a little bit of everything in here.  Secular music.  Church music.  A whole bunch of Christmas music.  Even a couple of teaching books.  (He would sometimes teach guitar lessons, though not much by the time I came along.)  It contains a ton of his most-used pages of music…

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And even a few of his hand-written chord-sheets.  Here’s a seasonal selection…

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He even kept song-lists of the sets he would play with different groups.  Here’s a secular-based set of “extras,” presumably played when the blue-hairs went WILD and demanded an encore!

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…and this one, I just like.

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Hey, yourself!

Grandpa died in 1999 and I only stumbled across this briefcase this past year.  In the last years of his life, his Parkinson’s Disease has progressed to a point where he didn’t play very much (if at all, from what I understand).  That must have been a terrible realization.

I’ve been a musician for 20 years, and looking through this case meant a lot.  I’m slightly irritated to find that, based on some of the notes in here and some of the theory-work that’s displayed, Grandpa was apparently a much better musician than I am even now.  One of the great regrets of my life is that it never occurred to me to play any songs with him while he was alive.

This last shot sums up the theme of this photo-set the best for me.

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Indeed.

Top Ten List Revisited: 2012

NOTE: Posted the 2011 revision earlier today. Now I’m posting the 2012 one so I can post the 2013 list before Christmas. Hurray!

I made my 2012 list less than a year ago. Published it on January 3, 2013. How much could possibly change in less than a year? This list probably stands exactly as it was at the time, right? WRONG AGAIN, JACKASS! …sorry. I’m sure you’re great.

There are only minor changes. So let’s get to them.

What I listed at the time:

  1. Metric – Synthetica
  2. Bob Mould – Silver Age
  3. Foxy Shazam – The Church of Rock and Roll
  4. Aimee Mann – Charmer
  5. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
  6. Rush – Clockwork Angels
  7. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Lost Songs
  8. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
  9. Jay Gonzalez – Mess of Happiness
  10. Billy Talent – Dead Silence

REVISED Top Ten Records of 2009:

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1. Metric – Synthetica

I don’t think I’ve listened to this as much this year as I’d imagined I would…but I still remember exactly how I felt the first time I heard it, and it still kind of blows me away how much I like it. So it stays at the top of the heap.

Favorite Tracks: “Artificial Nocturne,” “Breathing Underwater,” and “The Wanderlust”

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2. Bob Mould – Silver Age

Still love this one too. Although in hindsight, I could’ve used a slightly louder vocal track for most of the record…but that’s a minor criticism on a record that delivers so well from track to track.

Favorite Tracks: “Star Machine,” “The Descent,” and “Angels Rearranging”

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3. Stone Sour – House of Gold and Bones Part 1

Didn’t hear this one until this year…and holy SHIT was I missing out! Full-on metal with Corey Taylor more than occasionally slipping into full Slipknot-voice, but also containing sparse, introspective, beautifully arranged songs as well. Part one of a part-two concept piece (and if these lists prove nothing else, it’s that I love concept albums), the story is as good as the music. If you’re a metal fan, you kind of owe yourself this record.

Favorite Tracks: “Gone Sovereign,” “Absolute Zero,” and “Last of the Real”

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4. Foxy Shazam – The Church of Rock and Roll

I haven’t listened to this very much since devouring it last year…but I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t think about it. This is a brilliant, brilliant, ridiculous, brilliant, balls-out, brilliant record. Think about what might happen if Queen went absolutely fucking insane and recorded it anyway. That’s about right.

Favorite Tracks: “I Like It” and “Holy Touch”

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5. Aimee Mann – Charmer

Really gorgeous record from one of my favorite musicians. The songs stand up against anything else from her career and the arrangements are some of the best crafted Aimee’s ever done. Even if it’s not the first one I reach for on the shelf, it HAS remained on my iPhone all year, and I listen to it close to weekly. Not a lot of records I can say that about.

Favorite Tracks: “Labrador,” “Crazy Town,” and “Red Flag Diver”

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6. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

This record is such a gift. No one ever would have thought that Leonard Cohen would still be making new records at this stage in his life and career…or if they did, they probably didn’t imagine they’d be any damn good…but this is a beautiful, atmospheric, and elegant recording.

Favorite Tracks: “Going Home” “Show Me the Place,” and “Darkness”

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7. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

This record was some of the most fun I had last year and I still find myself coming back to it semi-regularly. Soulful and sublime, I’m glad the Shakes have been getting good attention from all the right people. Proud to have gotten on the bandwagon early.

Favorite Tracks: “Hold On,” “You Ain’t Alone,” and “Heartbreaker”

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8. Rush – Clockwork Angels

Still an excellent record (though it did move down my list). The concept is loose at best (hence Neil’s–yikes–novelization of the piece), but the music is strong and the songs are catchy while still maintaining that classic Rush complexity. This one’s a BIG win from a band no critic thought would still be around at this point.

Favorite Tracks: “Caravan,” “BU2B,” and “The Wreckers”

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9. Billy Talent – Dead Silence

Really, really fucking good. Punky, but not overly so. The shrieking vocals of their early releases have subsided, but in that transition the vocal melodies have become more refined. The musicianship seemed to take a MAJOR step forward on this one and each song seems to have its own, individual charm. No complaints about this one at all, and I’ve been popping it in my player pretty regularly.

Favorite Tracks: “Stand Up and Run,” “Don’t Count on the Wicked,” and “Show Me the Way”

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10. The Shins – Port of Morrow

Somehow missed this one at the time. That’s a shame because it definitely belongs on this list. I think I’ve used the word “infectious” in one or two of these posts (but, fuck you, I’m not re-reading these things), and that’s a perfect word for this record. If you weren’t a Shins fan before, this album will make you one. That’s how it happened to me.

Favorite Tracks: “Simple Song” and “For a Fool”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jay Gonzalez – Mess of Happiness (It’s still great, but I was too over-excited about it last year. It’s an honorable mention, not a top ten.)
  • …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Lost Songs (Again, great record that I was just a little too excited about at the time, and actually belongs here.)
  • Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus really fucked up that title for him, didn’t she?)
  • Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game (Really good, but just not in the top 10.)
  • Mumford & Sons – Babel (Still really like it. But still really like the ones I listed better.)
  • OFF! – OFF! (Excellent, but so fast and in-your-face that it’s draining. Which maybe should’ve gotten it ON the list instead of keeping it OFF, now that I’m thinking of it…)
  • Corrosion of Conformity – Self-titled (GREAT sludgy release from a great metal band. Very old school and very, very good.)
  • Patterson Hood – Heat Lightening Rumbles in the Distance (Way better than the last DBT record.)
  • Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral (I still play this one regularly)
  • Heartless Bastards – Arrow (It’s good, but it’s sleepy. Could’ve used a few more rockers on there.)
  • Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made the Radio (Great, but Mike Love’s such a bastard I refuse to list it.)
  • Shooter Jennings – Family Man (A little too white-trash for my taste, but what works on it works REALLY well. Shooter’s a great voice, but I just don’t see eye-to-eye with some of what he said on this one.)
  • Circa Survive – Violent Waves (Really great release. Almost put it at #10, which would put it appropriately right next to Billy Talent…but just barely didn’t make the cut.)
  • Coheed & Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension (Excellent, but I like the follow-up from this year better so that kept this one in the honorable mentions.)
  • The Henry Clay People – Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives (Really great. They blaze through a bunch of songs as fast as they can and leave you wanting more.)

Get ready folks… 2013 was a BIG one.

Top Ten List Revisited: 2011

NOTE: I’m posting two lists today because I have stuff I want to post going into Christmas, so we’re getting these things DONE. Read ’em both. Or only one. Or read a damn book. It doesn’t really matter what you do. I’m still writing them.

2011 was a really, really good year and I’m really happy with the list I wrote at the time. It’s only changing because I’ve since bumped into a couple of records that were list-worthy that I missed…but I have no major regrets about the list as it stood then.

What I listed at the time:

(I unofficially listed 15, so I’ll list them all here.)

  1.  Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
  2. Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness
  3. The Black Keys – El Camino
  4. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
  5. Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu
  6. Cake – Showroom of Compassion
  7. Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding
  8. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO
  9. Imelda May – Mayhem
  10. Deer Tick – Divine Providence
  11. Centro-matic – Candidate Waltz
  12. Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose
  13. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
  14. Wilco – The Whole Love
  15. Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Vol. 2

REVISED Top Ten Records of 2009:

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1. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

I absolutely stand by this being the best album of that year. It was so good I also wanted to list it as the best record of LAST year, and it’s still regularly hitting my player today. The accompanying documentary Grohl and the boys put out showing the history of the band leading into this record is definitely worth watching, as it provides a solid backing to support that this record was apparently as fun to make as it is to listen to. It’s solid from start to end without ever feeling like “just another Foos record.” This is the BEST Foos record. If you’ve always meant to get into the band but just never knew where to start–START HERE. It’s great.

Favorite Tracks: “Bridge Burning,” “Rope,” “Dear Rosemary,” “These Days,” And “Walk” (“Walk” is one of the best rock songs that has been written in decades. You NEED a copy of that song.)

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2. Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness

Really excellent record. Shows that Flogging Molly is more than just “one of those Irish punk bands…no not Dropkick Murphys…the OTHER one.” A true rock record, and you’d miss the Irishness of it if you weren’t specifically listening for it. (Well…except in the vocal track. You just can’t hide that accent!) A truly great listen that actually grows on you WHILE you’re listening to it the first time, and on multiple listens was a true contender for the record of the year. It ended up being second on my list…but just know that it’s a VERY CLOSE second.

Favorite Tracks: “Speed of Darkness,” “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down,” “The Power’s Out,” and “Rise Up”

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3. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

“Whiskey over razor blades.” That’s the best way of describing Tom’s voice. And that’s part of why we love him. His words are more important than the delivery, but he found a delivery that’s wholly unique and he’s been honing it for decades…it was finally honed to the perfection, so he finally delivered a perfect album. A record that sounds like a New Orleans funeral march and a New York deli all at once. A growl worthy of death metal meets music that might’ve fallen right out of your favorite (Chicago) blues-bar, if a band that didn’t quite belong there was playing that night. It is, plainly, brilliant.

Favorite Tracks: “Chicago,” “Bad As Me,” and “Hell Broke Luce”

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4. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

Frank Turner is kind of the British answer to Flogging Molly. Acoustic folk-punk. Sweary, atheistic, charming, angry, loud, and witty. And these songs will be stuck in your head for the rest of your life. Discovered this one in 2012 after Turner performed on Conan one night and immediately kicked myself for not finding it earlier. Knew by the end of his performance on the show that this one belonged on my 2011 list.

Favorite Tracks: “Peggy Sang the Blues,” “I Still Believe,” “I Am Disappeared,” and “Redemption”

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5. Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu

I was championing this then and I’m championing it now. This SHOULD be regarded as the boldest move either of its creators has ever made. It is instead dismissed almost en-mass. When Lou Reed died this year, Lars Ulrich defended the project saying that he thought it would find its audience over time and that in 20 years everyone would be lying saying they loved it all along. Well, Lars…I actually HAVE.

Favorite Tracks: “The View,” “Iced Honey,” Frustration,” and “Junior Dad” (“Junior Dad” is one of the best songs Lou ever wrote, by the way.)

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6. Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare

It took me a while to come around and appreciate this one. It took a long time for me to get past the “Really, Alice? Back to the well?” factor. And that’s legitimate…but structurally, I maintain this record is probably actually BETTER than the original “Nightmare.” Blasphemy, I know. I guess I cam to appreciate it fully in the week leading up to seeing Alice and Iron Maiden in Chicago in 2012. Listened to it on the way there. And then a few more times. And then a few MORE times. And I don’t know why I didn’t have it on this list all along. Fun, funny, and with a story that actually makes some goddamn SENSE this time, this record is a must for all Alice fans.

Favorite Tracks: “Caffeine,” “Last Man on Earth,” “The Congregation,” “When Hell Comes Home,” and “I Gotta Get Outta Here”

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7. CAKE – Showroom of Compassion

I wasn’t the biggest CAKE fan when they first roamed the earth, but I’m glad I fully got on board with this one. (Again, largely thanks to a Conan episode!) This one’s easily as good as what they were doing in the early part of their career. Immediately catchy and infectious. If you don’t have this record, I actually kind of feel bad for you. It might not be my number one record of that year, but it’s a damn fine listen. “Sick of You” belongs on everybody’s Springtime playlist forever.

Favorite Tracks: “Long Time,” “Mustache Man,” and “Sick of You”

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8. Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding

Really great Brit-rock release. From the ashes of Oasis rose Beady Eye, and who knew I’d like it, since I kind of hate Oasis? Knocked my socks off. It’s not necessarily breaking new ground in the field of rock and roll, but it is breaking new ground for Liam. It’s a rock record that actually rocks. Good for him! (And, by the way, I’m extremely irritated that I haven’t been able to FIND the record they put out this year. If anybody sees it, pick it up for me and I’ll reimburse you.)

Favorite Tracks: “Four Letter Word,” “Beatles and Stones,” and “Three Ring Circus”

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9. Black Keys – El Camino

Sunk significantly on my list, but it’s still a really good record…it’s just that when I think of it, I often can’t remember if it’s this record or their previous one. I like it, but it doesn’t stand out as unique for their band…it sounds like they made “Brothers” again. And that’s okay. “Brothers” is a damn fine record, and if I had the kind of success they had with that one, I’d try to recreate it too. They did a good job doing that…but maybe TOO good a job since I now can’t separate them in my mind anymore. Nevertheless, still Top Ten worthy.

Favorite Tracks: “Lonely Boy,” “Gold on the Ceiling,” and “Little Black Submarines”

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10. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO

Hayes is a GREAT voice in country music. Trace Adkins, take note…THIS is how you don’t suck. (You suck, Trace. That’s what I’m saying.) Hayes provides a smart sense of humor with a gritty realism that produces some really outstanding lyrics against a backdrop of fun and at times soulful and even heart-rending country music. A real gem, just waiting to be discovered by mainstream country music. Unfortunately, country music has a lot of people pissing in the mainstream, so Hayes isn’t likely to be a household name…but he goddamn SHOULD be.

Favorite Tracks: “Stomp and Holler,” “Hard Out Here,” “KMAG YOYO,” and “Bottle in My Hand”

 Honorable Mentions:

  • Imelda May – Mayhem (Still love it. Just have to be in the mood for it.)
  • Deer Tick – Divine Providence (Kind of broke my heart to move this one off the list.)
  • Centro-matic – Candidate Waltz (Listened to it recently, and it’s still fantastic)
  • Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose (Grows on me more every time I hear it.)
  • …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead (Still good, but not the one I reach for when I want to hear the band.)
  • Wilco – The Whole Love (Good…but to be honest, I don’t really need to hear it again.)
  • Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Vol. 2
  • Drive-By Truckers – Go Go Boots (Worst album they’ve ever made, but still better than most of the shit out there. A couple great songs, but a lot of misses.)
  • Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events (Fine. Not great.)
  • Steve Martin – Rare Bird Alert (GREAT bluegrass record)
  • Anthrax – Worship Music (GREAT return to form)
  • Chickenfoot III (Perfectly good, silly-assed rock and roll.)
  • Dropkick Murphys – Going Out in Style (Good, but repetitive)

2012 coming later tonight.  Or like a year ago.  Or something.  Shut up.

Top Ten List Revisited: 2010

NOTE: I posted the revised 2009 list earlier today as well. I have some stuff I want to post leading into Christmas, so I’m posting two today and two tomorrow. If you don’t like it, get your own damn blog. Like you probably already did in 2006.

As we’re getting closer to the present, my main “top tens” are changing less and less. That’s partly because it’s so recent, but also I’ve become a more dedicated listener. I literally start my top ten lists in January every year now. I make a list at the start of the year of stuff I KNOW is coming out and leave room for growth through the year. I’m on top of it, so I’m missing less…though a few still slip by me, and I end up rethinking my order, if nothing else. And that’s pretty much what happened in 2010. Read the original post here, if you want…

 What I listed at the time:

  1. Shooter Jennings & Hierophant – Black Ribbons
  2. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
  3. Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu
  4. The Black Keys – Brothers
  5. Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do
  6. John Mellencamp – No Better Than This
  7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat the Devil’s Tattoo
  8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  9. Punch Brothers – Punch
  10. The Henry Clay People – Somewhere on the Golden Coast / Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Volume One

 REVISED Top Ten Records of 2009:

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1. Shooter Jennings & Hierophant – Black Ribbons

No change here. Recently listened to it and still think it’s just as good. Still unbelievably smart with a good story and great music. Shooter presents a world not too far in the future that could probably easily happen. It’s fun and frightening all at once. And Stephen King does a recurring voiceover on it. If you haven’t heard it, you should’ve listened to me when I told you to pick it up in 2010…so pick it up now!

Favorite Tracks: “Wake Up!,” “Everything Else is Illusion,” and “All of this Could Have Been Yours”

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2. Rufus Wainwright – All Days are Nights (Songs for Lulu)

This will probably stand as Rufus’ bravest project, if nothing else. It’s just him and his piano. No other instruments. He lays his songs bare to the world and puts his soul out there in every note. And I get lost in it. I forget that there aren’t other instruments there and the songs completely consume me. It’s a brilliant piece of work and if you’ve got a free hour and a Spotify account, it’s worth your time. (Then worth your money to buy a copy.)  Moved up to #2 in the revision.

Favorite Tracks: “Sad with What I Have,” “Give Me What I Want and Give it to Me Now!,” and “What Would I Ever Do with a Rose?”

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3. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever

This should stand as one of the better true rock records of its time. Soulful and slightly Southern fried, but still straight-up rock and roll. A truly great record from start to finish.

Favorite Tracks: “The Weekenders,” “We Can Get Together,” and “Barely Breathing”

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4. Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do

I was unfair in my initial review of this record. I was still unfair by writing about it in the way I did when it hit my top ten list in 2010. Consistently referring to it as “not the best they’ve done” implies that it’s not worth buying even if it’s still good, since there’s better DBT records out there. In truth, this record is a perfectly good jumping-on point for the uninitiated, and has plenty to keep the long-time fans happy. It makes ME happy. And it’s moved up the list, over time.

Favorite Tracks: “The Fourth Night of My Drinking,” “Drag the Lake Charlie,” “Get Downtown,” and “After the Scene Dies”

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5. The Black Keys – Brothers

I’m starting to sour on The Black Keys here in the year 2013…just because, yeah I liked this one and the one after it…but what else have you got for me besides the one note? But… That one note is a HELL of a good note. “Brothers” took the world by storm, and rightly so. It’s a great rock record that has plenty of throw-back while still moving forward. It’s a great listen and deserves every bit of acclaim it receives.

Favorite Tracks: “Next Girl,” “The Only One,” “Sinister Kid,” and “Unknown Brother”

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6. Elvis Costello – National Ransom

There’s Elvis again. National Ransom is the rock and roll answer to its acousticy predecessor. More in the vein of “The Delivery Man,” which is the first Costello record I fell in love with on its own. (I’d had greatest hits compilations leading up to that…but “The Delivery Man” made me a real fan.) This is one of the stronger albums Costello has made in the current decade, and it’s a welcome add to any fan of the bespectacled, dark genius.

Favorite Tracks: “National Ransom,” “A Slow Drag with Josephine,” “That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving”

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7. John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

Recorded in classic locations with classic equipment, this record sounds like it fell out of another time. And I welcome that… It sounds like it came from when rock and roll was simpler and grounded in the dirt. Mellencamp delivered something special on this one.

Favorite Tracks: “Save Some Time to Dream,” “No One Cares About Me,” and “Don’t Forget About Me”

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8. Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Volume One

Move up to being an entry all its own. I don’t think I’d listened to it enough when I originally made the list, because I found myself thinking, “How is that TIED for #10??” Definitely always belonged higher up the list. So now it is.

Favorite Tracks: “Every Night is Friday Night (Without You),” “The Magician,” “Champaign, Illinois,” and “Please Hold on While the Train is Moving”

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9. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat the Devil’s Tattoo

I have no idea what the album title or song from whence it sprang is about…but this is a good, gritty, greasy rock record. Plenty to grab on to, and all from a three-piece. Great guitar work mixes with bass fluidity you might miss if you’re not a bass player. I bought in on the first listen and I still play it pretty regularly.

Favorite Tracks: “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo,” and “Shadow’s Keeper”

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10. The Henry Clay People – Somewhere on the Golden Coast

I love the slightly-punky jangle these guys make. A fun record that seems to zoom right by every time. Combines energy, angst, and fun in a way that you don’t hear out of a lot of bands these days. Always a great listen.

Favorite Tracks: “Nobody Taught Us To Quit,” “Working Part Time,” and “This Ain’t a Scene”

 Honorable Mentions:

  • Johnny Cash – American VI
  • Coheed & Cambria – Year of the Black Rainbow
  • Circa Survive – Blue Sky Noise
  • Antony and the Johnsons – Swanlights (came SO close to making the list!)
  • Punch Brothers – Antifogmatic
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Which I was torn about removing. Still a really, really great record, and if I go this again in a few years, I may move it back up.)
  • Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier
  • …and the stuff that was in the original post, if any of it’s missing…

Look for 2011 and 2012 tomorrow! We’re so close to the present, you can almost HEAR the Tardis powering down!