Monday, January 3, 2011

Year End Awards


The beginning of a new decade, and the beginning of a new life for me (sort of). Although I don't think this year's been the most eventful for me, I did have some great times and have met amazing people. I moved to Minnesota to pursue more touring with The Scurvies, but although we haven't toured as much as I'd hoped, we've come a good ways and gotten closer as friends, and have emerged with some fresh ideas.

We got to meet some awesome people on our mini Midwest tour and at Cornerstone (like always), and met lots of new people on the West Coast on the Warped Tour and beyond. At the close of the year, I've resolved to start a record label, which is a dream I've had for a long time, but didn't think would happen until my mid-thirties or so, so I have no idea what I'm getting myself into but I'm excited.

Here are my year-end lists. The winners and honorable mentions, and some extras. Enjoy. Happy 2011.

Best movies:

I don't feel like there have been that many good ones this year, but here's my stab at it.

1. True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen)
2. The Social Network (David Fincher)
3. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Edgar Wright)
4. Inception (Christopher Nolan)
5. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)
6. Harry Brown (Daniel Barber)
7. The Crazies (Breck Eisner)
8. Kick Ass (Matthew Vaughn)
9. Shutter Island (Martin Scorcese)
10. The Wolfman (Joe Johnston)

Toy Story 3 is the closest I've ever come to crying in a movie.
Shutter Island might have gone up higher on this list, but I was really sleepy and don't remember it well.
Black Swan will probably make the top 5 on this list once I see it. I reserve the right to change this list.

Honorable mentions: Tron Legacy, Splice, Harry Potter 7 pt. 1


This one's extremely hard, because unlike the movie landscape, there was an epic flood of good albums this year. I decided to do the top ten, and then assign special awards for certain albums.

1. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo” (Abstract Dragon/Vagrant)
2. The Gaslight Anthem “American Slang” (SideOne Dummy)
3. The Black Keys “Brothers” (Nonesuch)
4. Johnny Cash “American VI: Ain’t No Grave” (American)
5. AM Taxi “We Don’t Stand A Chance” (Virgin)
6. Titus Andronicus “The Moniter” (XL)
7. The Arcade Fire “The Suburbs” (Merge)
8. The Dead Weather “Sea of Cowards” (Third Man/Warner Bros.)
9. Brandon Flowers “Flamingo” (Island)
10. Against Me! "White Crosses" (Sire)

Now the specialized awards:

1. Most Valient Effort
My Chemical Romance “Danger Days: True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” (Reprise)

After going into the studio to record the follow up to 2006’s goth opera masterpiece “The Black Parade”, MCR was ready to remove the eyeliner for once and make the no-frills rock record they’d been pining for since the end of the Black Parade tour. However, they weren’t happy with the result, so they started from scratch and ended up recording a post-apocalyptic 80’s soaked tour–de-force of punk, balladry, and familiar Freddie Mercury-esque arena epics. Although it’s a pretty fun ride, it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor.

2. Best Unlikely Duo
Mavis Staples “You Are Not Alone” (Anti)

Gospel and soul legend and rock 'n' roll hall-of-famer Mavis Staples, of the generation-spanning gospel group Staples Singers, teams up with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy for a new classic album in Staples’ quiver. Though most Tweedy efforts are sonic, modern outputs, this album trades Tweedy's new school for Staples' old school, and plays to Staples’ strengths, which are her musical heritage, faith, and of course, her booming, soulful voice. Tweedy pens two of the songs, and there are also covers of Randy Newman, John Forgerty, Pops Staples, and a few traditionals. This is one unprecedented collaboration that hits the spot just right.

3. The One That Got Away
Sufjan Stevens “The Age of Adz” (Asthmatic Kitty)

When Everyone and their boyfriend was going bizonkers over the sprawling “Illinois” back in 2005, something rubbed me the wrong way, and I just couldn’t get into it. Fast-forward 5 years, and my friend had tickets to see him on this most recent tour. A laser light show accompanied his 11 piece band, which manned a diverse assortment of instruments, from synthesizers to trombones, all brought together by his two drummers. I was sold. With this album, Sufjan drops the geographic theme shtick and weaves a more electronic web of Daft Punk-ish synth and effects (even auto tuned vocals – gasp!) to blanket his otherwise organic, simple melodies. It comes across as Sufjan exploring his darker side, talking about sex, death, outsider art, and having as much fun as he can in the process.

4. Best Latebloomer
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals “Cardinals III/IV” (Pax AM)

Like the previously mentioned Johnny Cash album (in part one), this album was released several years after it was recorded, but sounds like a fresh outing from the Cardinals, who take a sharp turn from their previous slow, haunting, crooned alt-country in a rollicking, near-punk rock direction that would make "Is This It"-era Strokes fans jealous. As puzzling as it is, this was recorded during the same sessions as 2006’s Easy Tiger, but stylistically stands out as though Adams and Co. recorded it during a week-long sugar high and forgot to release it. Knowing that Adams writes songs as often as most people breath air, it’s still unnerving that his previous label hindered him from putting out “too much” music at any time. However, this double album was released on his own label, so maybe it was tied up in contracts and was finally able to be released. In any case, hungry Ryan Adams fans ought to be grateful.

5. Best Underground Jam
Flatfoot 56 “Black Thorn” (Old Shoe)

These southside Chicago road warriors’ 4th album shows a lot of maturity from previous records, featuring full on hardcore songs, folk ballads, and plenty of catchy sing-alongs. One thing that seems to stand out with the Flatfoot crew is that compared to other well-known celtic punk bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, these guys take a more natural approach to their influences, which range from straight-edge hardcore and oi to American folk traditionals and rock ‘n’ roll. You’ll notice a nice plethora of mandolin here, bagpipes there, but no oversaturation of either, and it blends well with the melodic guitar work of frontman Tobin Bawinkel and gang vocals by his brothers.

Other honorable mentions: Interpol “Interpol” (Matador), She and Him “Volume Two” (Merge), The New Pornographers “Together” (Matador), Kings of Leon “Come Around Sundown” (RCA)

Best Live Shows I saw in 2010:

1. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Consequently, the band that drops the best album of the year also puts on an amazing show. At the middle of their set when I saw them in March, bassist Robert Been dropped down to sit cross-legged about a foot and a half in front of me and sang Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna”. The 40-somethings to my right enjoyed it just as much as the 16-year old to my left. We all left the show satisfied, sweaty, and with sore feet from all the stomping.

2. Andrew WK

This dude took a break from his “motivational speech” career to play a 2-month stint on the Vans Warped Tour, and I couldn’t have been happier. He announced from the stage with a huge smile on his face “There will never be another August 13, 2010, so you better live it up and not waste any time with negativity! Let’s have some fun!” He then prompted everyone who wasn’t already crowdsurfing to get on someone’s shoulders, and everyone played along. The security guards were having a hell of a time trying to control the two-tiered crowd, but everyone else was pleased as punch to get kicked in the head. You only live once!

3. The Gaslight Anthem

These Jersey Boys do their homeboy Bruce Springsteen proud on their new album, “American Slang”, but they can also put on a mean live show. Seamlessly weaving through their 3 albums, they pleased the fans both new and old, and treated us to a flawless recreation of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” by request, and a hearty duet with tour opener Tim Barry.

4. The Dead Weather

Though I’m a fan of each of the members of TDW's other respective bands (The Kills, The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and Queens of the Stone Age), I hadn’t really “gotten” this band until seeing them live. I figured out that the songs they write are meant to be heard live, and the band blasted through each song with reckless abandon like they'd just written it and wanted to play it loud as can be, like their life depended on it. Detroit native Dean Fertita (who moonlights as QOTSA's keyboardist) was my favorite part of the show, as his proves to be just as effective of a lead guitarist as Jack White is in his two other bands. Allison Mosshart ruled the stage like a prowling lioness, scary but sexy. I know now why this band works, and doesn't shy away from the raw, explosive side of their musical talent.

5. AM Taxi

This band was my favorite find of 2010. I stumbled upon them at Warped Tour, and I’m so glad I did. The story goes like this: Lucky Boys Confusion was a Chicago pop-punk band that was well-known for their tight performances and catchy songs. After the band’s demise, guitarist Adam Krier and bassist Jason Schultejann formed a new band called AM Taxi that combined LBC’s pop-punk sound with Americana, 60’s and 70’s rock ‘n’ roll influences to round out the sound. The result is a beautiful blend of well-crafted pop, rock, and punk that has just enough of a rugged edge that makes for an exciting live show. The band is unbelievably tight on stage and keeps things fresh with a fender Rhodes and organ in the mix with the usual crisp guitars and melodic vocals. Check them out if you get the chance!

Honorable mentions: AC/DC (Yes. I did drive 200 miles to see them, sat 200 feet away from the stage, endured the worst opening band in history, and no, I did not regret a bit of it), Larry and His Flask, Riverboat Gamblers, Social Distortion, Titus Andronicus, The New Pornographers

Top 5 albums that came out in 2009, that I discovered too late to include in my last year’s list:

1. Band of Skulls “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey” (Shangri-La)

These guys were the supporting act for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club when I saw them recently, and didn't quite know what to expect. Live, they effortlessly switched between swampier garage-stomp blues, and beautiful, harmony driven haunts. Same goes with their debut album, and each song is a pleasant surprise that will invade your ears and won't come quietly. Lead vocals are shared by Russell Marsden, guitar, and Emma Richardson, bass, but they also share songwriting duties with drummer Matt Hayward, and they compliment each other well, like a set of siblings each taking turns to showcase their talents. I expect them to be on the up and up in the British rock 'n' roll scene in no time.

2. Cobra Skulls “American Rubicon” (Red Scare)

Rock-solid politically charged punk rock from Reno, Nevada. It's hard to classify Cobra Skulls' style, as it's as much influenced by 90's punk as it is by rockabilly and honky-tonk, but you won't get any tear-in-my-beer moments from these dudes. The album starts with a twangy intro, but quickly kicks things in to high gear and they waste no time making their point. The wit in their songwriting and lyrics are matched by their chops and the songs get stuck in your head like southern cooking in your gut. The content of the lyrics covers a lot of ground, but focuses on important issues like overpopulation, war, and the importance of keeping it DIY.

American Rubicon plays like thinking man's "American Idiot", with its message and catchiness, but the songs stand tall and go down smooth. If you like the idea of Against Me! covering Hank Williams, this is the album for you. Fat Mike's signed the band recently and will be producing their next EP, which you should also keep your eye out for. Standout tracks include "Rebel Fate", "Thicker Than Water" and "Back To The Youth".

3. Riverboat Gamblers “Underneath The Owl” (Volcom)

Denton, Texas natives whip up another bunch of rowdy, fist-in-your-face songs that would have even the casual fan wanting to get in on the moshpit. In a strange turn of events, RG recruited veteran nu-metal producer Mudrock (Godsmack, Powerman 5000, Avenged Sevenfold) to helm their newest offering, which some would think is a strange choice. Fortunately for us punk rockers, the album is slick, glossy and melodic, without losing much of the punch of earlier classics like “Something To Crow About”.

4. Julian Casablancas “Phrazes For the Young” (RCA)

In a streak of Strokesless years (minus a Lollapolooza appearance), Casablancas does us proud on this set of quirky, catchy, buzzsaw pop songs. Here’s to hoping that he, Albert Hammond Jr. and the boys will get their act together and bring us a new album soon.

5. Lucero "1372 Overton Park" (Universal Republic)

Though they're known for their raw recordings that embody the lifestyle of boozing, all-night drives, and hard luck, "1372 Overton Park" is a sizable step up in production and arrangement. Producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Bouncing Souls, Flogging Molly) brings a gleaming presence that gives each track a gritty-yet-warm shine that pulls you in and makes you forget what year it is, as all good music should.

The album, whose title is a reference to the famous Memphis park where Elvis Presley played his first paid gig, rightfully brings to mind a sense of American tradition that Lucero not only pays tribute to, but owns. The full horn section, organ, piano and pedal steel arrangements echo the maturity of Lucero's near 10-year existence and puts "1372 Overton Park" in the upper echelon of modern rock and roll classics, alongside The Gaslight Anthem's "The '59 Sound" and River City Rebels' "Keepsake Of Luck."

Well, that about wraps things up. I won't say I'm sorry I didn't include Mumford and Sons, Kanye, The National, Justin Beiber, or whatever else is ruling the charts these days. I yam what I yam and like what I like. Feel free to comment share your thoughts and hate/love mail.

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