Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The End of the Year Music Review / Holiday Shopping Recommendations Extravaganza

I know that some of you have been seeing all the year-end best of lists that are piling up out there and saying sure I can see Paste’s list or NPR’s or Spin’s, but when, when will we get a list from cpsland? (Actually some of you are probably just wondering if there was ever going to be a post that is about anything other than why I never seem to get around to posting anymore.)

Others are probably thinking that I am cutting it pretty close as you wait for the list so you can do your Christmas music shopping for your loved ones—you are waiting on me, right?

Others are thinking—I guess I could wade back though his blog and find each music review and decide what to buy (after all given how infrequently he posts it shouldn’t take that long), but damn, it would be nice if someone would just remind me of which ones he liked all in one place.

Others are wondering if there aren’t some discs out there that perhaps I have been secretly listening to, but not blogging about (surely this must be the case given his blogging rate as of late).

Others probably just Googled “extravaganza” and randomly ended up here. Welcome.

Okay, so here we go—my short list of albums I would recommend. Some I discussed early this year. Some I have not found time to write about. And there is even a hangover from last year that I never got around to. Bottom line, these are all “albums” that hold together all the way through.

  • First up, because I don’t think you will see this one on any of the big name lists and I really just love these guys, is Frontier Ruckus with Deadmalls and Nightfalls. I like this album even more now than when I first reviewed it. This is a great gift for most because it is one of those bands that is just getting discovered by more and more folks so you can look like you are on the edge (well, sort of).

  • Leaving Michigan and heading over to Brooklyn we find two other albums that ate up huge amounts of my listening time this year: The National’s High Violet and The Walkmen’s Lisbon. Both got my attention and admiration earlier this year—here and here--along with everyone else in the universe. But don’t let the success of these albums scare you away, they are both solid from start to finish and will surely be pointed to when people look back and talk about the Brooklyn sound from the early 2000s.

  • Now in a similar vein as these slacker-esque-indie-singer-song-writer-rock bands (that is a compliment), comes the new album by Deerhunter which I have yet to write about. As you can tell from the reviews over at the big board, Halcyon Digest is a solid album that delivers on its name. As Pitchfork notes, this “is a record about the joy of music discovery, the thrill of listening for the first time to a potential future favorite, and that sense of boundless possibility when you're still innocent of indie-mainstream politics and your personal canon is far from set.”

  • Speaking of critically acclaimed albums that I have yet to write about, let us not skip over the new Arcade Fire album, Suburbs. I almost didn’t put this on the list, because even though this is clearly their best album to date . . . and in many ways it eliminates some of my ambivalence about this talented group . . . and the angst over everything the suburbs stands for is more in line with my own angst . . . I somehow still feel something holding me back. Perhaps all the praise and first place finishes this album is receiving? Not sure. But the bottom line is that one way or another, this album is worth a listen and no one should be disappointed to find it in their stocking.

  • Shifting gears to the alt-country side of the world, Justin Townes Earle’s new album, Harlem River Blues, is wonderful. I am not convinced it is good as Midnight at the Movies which I loved, but the focus on New York and really the first three songs are just about as good an opening as you could ask for. As PopMatters not so subtly puts it:

It takes balls of steel to write country blues about the Harlem River, living in Brooklyn, and working on the Manhattan subway line as if one were singing about rural life in the Appalachian hollows. Justin Townes Earle confidently writes and performs these 10+ songs as if he’s singing about life back in Tennessee instead of the Big Apple, and does this so damn convincingly that you believe him. It’s a neat trick, and a tribute to Earle’s artistry that he does this so well.

So for you honky-tonkers out there, this is a definite pick-up.

  • Now at this point, I feel like I am writing an awful lot about albums I love, but haven’t bothered to write about—isn’t that helpful. So let’s jump back to a summer favorite that I have also been recently revisiting and still really enjoy (and isn’t it time for a woman lead in this list any way?). I am speaking, of course, about The Mynabirds, otherwise known as Laura Burhenn and her band. As I noted this summer, this is a wonderful country-gospel-blues Stax-like album with Burhenn imitating just about every female vocalist out there while still holding her own identity. Neat trick—you should check it out.

  • And really, this can’t be a full list without some jazz, right? So, for absolute sure, anyone who has not picked up Ten by Jason Moran and his trio should. Right now. It may not be as hard in its boppin as Black Stars or as mixed media as Artist in Residence. It may not be as thoughtful or as stride as Modernistic. And it isn’t live. But it is all of those things in a wondrous mix of modern jazz set in a long tradition of jazz that celebrates the bands 10 years of work together.

    And speaking of the traditions of jazz, I never wrote about Vijay Iyer’s critically acclaimed album Historicity last year—despite the fact that it topped many a list for the year and is well worth it. This is a complicated and dense album—you will be amazed at the sound a trio can produce, but the point is, you will be amazed. So for any jazz lovers who happened to miss these two great albums—take care of that lack right now.

Okay, so that is definitely enough—I mean really, the staff here is pretty small. There are a bunch of albums I have listened to this year that didn’t make the list—but really it isn’t very holiday-like to write about things not to buy, right? I mean, artists need to earn their keep too.

Here is hoping you all have a great holiday season—even are already having one given how late I am here. Let me know which albums I should have checked out that I didn't--I already have a list going, but would love to hear your thoughts. I will save my resolving to blog more for the new year!

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