Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Top Ten List

1) This is Happening, LCD Soundsystem
Summer officially started 3:06 into “Dance Yourself Clean” when the volume surges and handclapping gives way to a monster bass line. Finally, I can see the appeal of driving a boom car where the bass rattles all the windows in the neighborhood.

2) The Suburbs, Arcade Fire
This album could have been a load of pretentious crap, filled with clichés about the sterility and open-aired claustrophobia of suburban life. Thankfully, The Suburbs (for the most part) avoids those pitfalls and delivers a meditation on the emotional pull of a place you once called home. And the importance and inevitability of leaving that place.

3) Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter
The album is shot through with lyrics that twist in upon themselves, contradicting lines of optimism, then providing grace notes to the bleakest lines. One of the more poignant tracks, “Helicoptor,” imagines the last moments of Dima, a Russian male escort, before he is thrown off a helicopter. That strange unidentifiable percussive sound is the blade of the helicopter, heard through a drug-addled haze.

4) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
In an album filled with diverse musical styles, samples from all over, guest stars and a wide-ranging inventiveness, West still manages to find space to wedge in all of his ego and all of his doubts.

5) Together, The New Pornographers
Not as propulsive as Twin Cinema or as hauntingly lovely as Challengers, Together is still sublime pop.

6) The Lady Killer, Cee Lo Green
This album is much more than the ubiquitous kiss-off single with the Motown bounce. Cee Lo obviously loves the soul stylings of the sixties and seventies and does an inspired take on them.

7) The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monáe
A remarkable debut album, switching between music genres with more dexterity and poise than most veterans could manage. She also seemed to be everywhere at once as a guest artist—appearing on albums by B.o.B., Big Boi and Of Montreal. And she brings it live. Even hampered with a muddy sound mix at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre, she put on a jaw-dropping performance.

8) High Violet, The National
Not the high water mark of Boxer or Alligator, perhaps because what they are writing about is more elusive. Instead of the bipolar extremes of male extended adolescence, with its dizzying self-regard (“All the Wine”) or its groveling lows (“Slow Show”), High Violet is trying to capture something else, that imperceptible slide into adulthood.

9) The Fool, Warpaint
The first full-length album by this LA all-female quartet is hypnotic. Lots of space in these songs to get lost in.

10) Crazy for You, Best Coast
Sunny pop songs about AWOL boyfriends who disappear with the weed.

Lots of Happy Listenings:

The Five Ghosts, Stars

False Priest, Of Montreal

Forgiveness Rock Record, Broken Social Scene

Broken Bells, Broken Bells

Broken Dreams Club, Girls

Astro Coast, Surfer Blood

You Are Not Alone, Mavis Staples

New Amerykah Part Two, Erykah Badu

Their fifteen minutes are over: Sleigh Bells

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Lollapalooza

Arcade Fire
The high point of my summer:

Set list: Ready to Start (opener), Neighborhod #2 Laika, No Cars Go, Haiti, Empty Room Rococo, The Suburbs, Intervention, Crown Of Love, Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), We Used to Wait, Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), Rebellion (Lies), Keep the Car Running. Wake Up (encore)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Lollapalooza 2010

One of the first highlights. Mavis Staples performs The Band's "The Weight." An amazing version that had the whole crowd singing along. Catch it here.

Later Ms. Staples brought out Jeff Tweedy, who produced her upcoming album, out for a guest turn. Mr. Tweedy doesn't sing, just plays a little acoustic guitar.

After Staples finishes, the Drive-by Truckers start at the stage on the other side of the field. Guitarist Patterson Hood asks the crowd to give a hand for Mavis. Seems like a gracious gesture, but it's even better. Later I read that his father, David Hood, played bass on a number of Staple Singers session at Muscle Shoals in the 1970s. Very cool.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pitchfork 2010


The most anticipated act paid off big time. LCD Soundsystem, Saturday night's headliner, grabbed the crowd from the first song (a fiery "Us V Them")and held it throughout its hour plus set. The peak of the set (and the whole weekend) came with an amazing "All My Friends." The percussive piano chord keeps repeating and repeating, building the tension released only when the last line comes around, which the whole crowd happily sings along.

The set had some huge omissions: "North American Scum," "Dance Yourself Clean" (which I think would sound amazing live), and "Home." If this is the last tour for this group, they are leaving at the top of their game.

Partial set list: "Drunk Girls," "I Can Change," "Pow Pow," "Someone Great," "Yeah Yeah," "Tribuations," "Losing My Edge," "Daft Punk," and a very curious choice for a closer, "New York, I Love You."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Luck of the Irish

I remember envying the Irish when I was growing up. They had a great holiday that everyone loved and celebrated; a big jolly party. You wore your green sweater, colored shamrocks and hung them all over the classroom.
We Polish-Americans weren’t so lucky; the only public acknowledgement of our heritage was Polack jokes.
Where’s the best place to hide money from a Polack?
Under a bar of soap.
And on and on. Polacks were dumb and dirty. The point was reiterated endlessly. The jokes were too moronic to wound but were frequent enough to blunt any incipient interest in Polish culture I might have, which I’m sure was not much. I was not interested in all that old stuff. And I wasn’t Polish, I was American.
These days, I’m thinking that maybe the Polish-Americans got the better deal. Chicago kids get off on Pulaski Day, but the day is not cause for wild celebrations of non-Polish people.
But the Irish are forced to see their culture, the culture of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, reduced to green draft beer and “Kiss me I’m Irish” T-shirts.
Of course, this cultural reductionism doesn’t afflict only the Irish but they are unfortunate enough to have a wildly popular holiday that becomes a day-long spectacle of these reductions.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Coyote Sighting

I had just finished parking my car behind the Civic Center, when I see what I think is a stray dog on the other side of the street. Then I realize it is a coyote, smallish, a bit scruffy-looking, but trotting down the sidewalk like he belongs and has an appointment to keep. My camera is in my backpack, which is in the backseat. But before I can move, the coyote takes a sharp right and disappears into the backyards. I try to follow, but he's gone. Nothing left but these prints, which don't look any different than a dog's. I'm staring at the tracks, when an older guy walks by. Did you see that? I ask him. He doesn't stop, but says, That was no dog.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best of 2009

Best of 2009

2009 was a better years for songs than albums. I had no trouble my year-end mix tape of stellar songs released this year. Coming up with a list of ten albums that held together as albums was a lot tougher. But here’s what I enjoyed in 2009.

1) Middle Cyclone by Neko Case
Neko’s most popular album is also one of her best. Her voice is as divine as ever, She allows herself to write some choruses, and her lyrics have less of the obtuseness of Fox Confessor. It helps that I first heard the best of these songs on a gorgeous September night at the Hideout Block Party in 2008; hearing them again brings back that late summer magic.

2) Face Control by Handsome Furs
Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and his wife, Alexei Perry, make an album of lean muscular rock that is more vital and urgent than 90% of the stuff out there.

3) Fortress ‘round My Heart by Ida Maria
Brash, funny pop with a punk edge.

4) Hospice by The Antlers
A gorgeous suite of songs evoking the grief, guilt, helplessness and fear resulting from watching a loved one die. The music whispers then surges into powerful choruses.

5) Welcome to Mali by Amadou & Mariam (2009 US Release)
Maybe the most joyous album of the year comes from the Mali couple of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia. The lead track, “Sabali,” continues to beguile.

6) Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective
The same multilayered sonic landscapes you’d expect from Animal Collective, but crafted into more structured songs. “My Girls “ is a sunny, giddy delight.

7) Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear
A big step forward from their 2006 release, Yellow House. Still too many formless swaths of pretty sounds, but the strong songs (“Cheerleader,” “Two Weeks,” “While You Wait for the Others”) are some of the best of the year.

8) Wilco by Wilco
I miss the edge of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but this comfy cardigan of an album is ingratiating.

9) It’s Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Great dance rock.

10) Change of Heart by Tim Fite
Mr. Fite’s Valentine’s Day present to music fans is a free download of songs about a break up. Fite’s goofy wit is reined in a little (but, happily, not extinguished) and the songs cut deeper.

Many Happy Listens

Dark Was the Night by Various Artists
This double album compilation is a microcosm of the 2009 indie music universe: talented people recording some terrific songs, but why are so many so introspective and slow.

The XX by The XX
This debut album by a London band features spare arrangements with whispery vocals and carefully parsed guitar lines.

Yonder is the Clock by The Felice Brothers
Great songs. If only this album had the energy of the their live shows.

Art Brut vs. Satan by Art Brut
More droll rockers from this band from the UK. Are they pulling a Mekons and setting up shop in Chicago? They must have played here at least ten times this year, including a five-night stint at Schubas.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart by The Pains of Being Pure of Heart

PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys (EP) by Paul Westerberg

Blood Bank (EP) by Bon Iver

Manners by Passion Pit