You can find part one here if you haven’t read it yet. I said I would try to have part two posted by New Year’s, but I fear I have betrayed your trust. What is this world coming to if you can’t even count on a nonsense blogger to keep his promises (that weren’t really promises to start with)? This world is coming to part two of my musical year in review, that’s what!

11. “Riot Rhythm” by Sleigh Bells

So this is probably the funnest album of the year. Well, ArchAndroid is more danceable and features zombies, so maybe second funnest.

This song makes me want to stomp the yard! What does that even mean? Does anyone know what that means? I don’t really care; I want to do it when I hear this thing. “You gotta march!” Who has a yard I can stomp?

I read somewhere that the lead singer for Sleigh Bells was a school teacher before becoming an indie rock darling or whatever, and I would believe that after listening to this album. The first song, “Tell ‘Em” asks “Did You Do Your Best Today?,” and it doesn’t get much more schoolteacher than that. Classic schoolteacher way to be.

12. “Zebra” by Beach House

Okay, this won’t make any sense, but not much I say does, so . . . here goes. When I was a kid, my parents had these paperback short story collections by Alfred Hitchcock. I don’t know if they were adapted from his film and television work or if they were unrelated original works or what, but they had these crazy covers that featured Hitchcock in various morbidly fantastical scenes. For example, in one he is sitting behind an anchorman’s desk and his co-anchor is the grim reaper, and on the television screen behind him it says something ridiculous like, “The Evening Noose.”

Anyway, I remember one of the covers had what looked like a photo of Hitchcock riding in some sort of nightmare merry-go-round. I can’t remember if death was riding one of the other horses or if the horses were skeleton horses or maybe both, but, you get the idea.

I bring that up because I couldn’t stop thinking about that book cover when I first listened to Beach House’s album Teen Dream. I’m not sure what it is. I know part of it is that I thought an album named flipping Teen Dream by a band named flipping Beach House would be fun and sunny and summery like, you know, the beach or something. Instead, it’s really eerie and unsettling, like you’ve been transported to Satan’s beach house and his teen dream was to ride on a carousel with Alfred Hitchcock.

“I am afraid you must ride my zebra-go-round or else.”
Albums I Didn’t Get in 2010

I don’t mean albums I didn’t purchase, but albums that were critically well received, but that didn’t really resonate with me for whatever reason. You may want to check them out; maybe you can explain to me what the big deal is.

  1. Teen Dream by Beach House – I’m sure you saw that one coming. Albums that give me nightmares usually aren’t my favorites.
  2. Crazy for You by Best Coast – I kind of love this album and kind of hate it at the same time. Great voice, great sound, but the lyrics are like excerpts from a junior high girl’s diary, which is supposed to be okay because they are delivered ironically. Ugh.
  3. Broken Bells by Broken Bells – I like the Shins, I like Danger Mouse, but this collaboration didn’t work for me.
  4. Band of Joy by Robert Plant – Meh.
  5. The Monitor by Titus Andronicus – This is probably the biggest one. It was near the top of a lot of lists from critics I respect, but, to me, the rage overwhelmed whatever the virtues the album had to offer.
  6. Oh yeah

  7. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West – This is the BIG one. It’s a common choice for album of the year, but I couldn’t get past the cover art.
13. “I Walked” by Sufjan Stevens

You can find my views on this album here.

14. “The Curse” by Josh Ritter

Here you can find Josh Ritter discussing his songwriting process. It’s one of the best discussions of the creative process I’ve ever read. You should read it!

Ritter describes his “muse” as a monster. I think this is excellent. That’s it, right? It seems a lot more credible to me that the spirit that drives and inspires an artist is a snarling, fire-breathing monster rather than a gentle spritely “muse.” It’s something that you can’t control or understand. Something that works on its own schedule and doesn’t really care if it’s inconvenient for you.

Another thing that strikes me as true is Ritter’s discussion of “feeding” the monster. Being an artist doesn’t mean you just do whatever you want and wait around for inspiration to strike. You have to cultivate your gift. Just because you can’t control the monster doesn’t mean you can’t starve it to death.

Whether it’s a muse or a monster, Ritter does about as good a job taking care of it as anyone.

15. “Architects and Engineers” by Guster

Good old Guster. Always enjoyable.

Random Sad Music Story of 2011

So, I read this interview with Phil Collins, and I found it kind of depressing. He says that he’s aware that he’s become a caricature and that only a few people will be disappointed that he’s stopped releasing new songs. That just seems sad to me. Look, I’m not a big Phil Collins fan by any means, but he’s written some really good songs – “Against All Odds” is terrific, and there’s always “In the Air Tonight” – and he should be able to enjoy his legacy. I mean, he’s sold 100 million albums! That is so many albums! Almost all of them, I think. He’s better at his job than 99% of the population. It just seems like he should be able to take pride in his career instead of thinking his legacy is garbage. That’s all.

16. “Laredo” by Band of Horses

Have you ever met someone that was generally good, or at least tolerable, but they had one feature that just drove you crazy and pretty much ruined them for you? Could be halitosis or a mole or a horse laugh or being a nevernude or something.

The song “Factory” from Band of Horses’ Infinite Arms was the horrible body odor that just ruined the entire album for me. First, there’s the syrupy string part that opens the song. Then there’s this stanza:

“Now then later, I was thinking it over
By the snack machine
I thought about you and a candy bar
The now and laters, now that I’ve got
Stuck between my teeth
I fell asleep to the greatest movie of the year.”

Um, seriously? I mean, granted, profound, or even clever, lyrics have never been Ben Bridwell’s strength, but this is egregious. It just sounds like he wrote down the first garbage that came to mind. And the oh-so-clever wordplay with the now and laters? Oof. What is that? Who even eats now and laters any more? What, did he run out of atomic fireballs and sour patch kids? And are we really supposed to believe that there’s a snack machine on the planet earth in 2010 that sells now and laters??!! I’m getting furious just thinking about this.

But that’s not the worst part! The worst part is that they already wrote this song! It was called “LRC,” and it was on their last album, and it was also about random observations in a hotel! And, you know what? It’s about a hundred trillion times better than this lazy garbage! The lazy garbage that you chose to open your album with!

It’s too bad because the rest of the album is pretty enjoyable (though the lyrics are subpar throughout), but I just can’t ignore the horrible B.O. that is “Factory.”

“Anybody got a jolly rancher?”
Most Disappointing Albums of 2011

Basically all of these are albums by people who made good albums in the past but made a not-so-good album in 2010.

  1. Infinite Arms by Band of Horses
  2. Heart of My Own by Basia Bulat
  3. Heaven Is Whenever by The Hold Steady
  4. Maya by M.I.A.
  5. Volume Two by She and Him
  6. Interpol by Interpol — Most disappointing album of 2010.
17. “Harlem River Blues” by Justin Townes Earle

A song about drowning yourself has no business being so rocking! Let’s all go drown ourselves, guys! Just kidding. That’s not funny, guys. Please don’t drown yourself. It’s not cool.

Justin is Steve Earle’s son, and he’s named after Townes Van Zandt, but this track makes me think of Johnny Cash more than anyone. The chug-chug beat; the dark subject matter; and the undeniably great storytelling.

18. “American Slang” by Gaslight Anthem

The album American Slang is kind of a companion piece to The Monitor by Titus Andronicus. Two bands from Jersey heavily indebted to Springsteen wrestling with the American dream in 2010. The Monitor is more experimental – a true concept album, and it has enjoyed the better critical reception. But I think American Slang is the greater album by far. Sometimes simple and straightforward packs the most powerful punch.

19. “Ambling Alp” by Yeasayer

Is Max Schmelling the most random historical figure to appear in a notable song in 2010? Yeasayer deserves more to be said about them, but I’m running out of steam.

Water Commits Musical Heresy

So, have you ever read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe? You’ve read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. You know the whole thing about Edmund (Edward? I think it’s Edmund) finding the Turkish delight and he can’t stop eating it because it’s so good and also because sin? I remember reading that and thinking, “boy, that Turkish delight’s got to be some good stuff.” So, some years later, I tried Turkish delight, and it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I remember it tasting like a combination of earwax and those terrible sugared orange slices that sadistic people like to pass off as candy. It’s like licking Satan’s ashtray. If I had been in the book, it would have been real brief:

White Witch: Try some of this Turkish delight, little boy.
Me: This tastes like a fart! You must be evil!
White Witch: Whuuuut?
Me: Get her, Aslan.
THE END.

The point, as always, is that English food is disgusting.

Anyway, all that to say, I’ve always heard about The Clash’s London Calling and how it’s a landmark album and just the best and whatever. And, well, I imagine you can see where this is going. So, I finally got around to listening to London Calling and . . . um . . . it’s kind of terrible. I mean, the song “London Calling” is an all-time classic, no doubt, and “Train In Vain” is good, of course, but those are just two tasty slices of bread surrounding a turd sandwich of an album. I don’t know; it sounds like they just got drunk, went into the studio and recorded whatever came out. I thought Joe Strummer was supposed to be some sort of prophet or something, but is this what’s so great?:

Revolution rock, it is a brand new rock
A bad, bad rock, this here revolution rock
Careful how you move Mac, you dig me in me back and I’m so pilled up that I rattle
I have got the sharpest knife, so I cut the biggest slice, I’ve got no time to do battle
Everybody smash up your seats and rock to this brand new beat
This here music mash up the nation
This here music cause a sensation.

Riveting. Look, some groundbreaking stuff just doesn’t age well. Maybe that’s the issue. I can imagine this sounded pretty exciting in the context of disco and Bread and whatnot. And there’s no denying the Clash’s influence, but, as far as I can tell, London Calling is not a great album.

“You must listen to this Clash album, little boy.”
20. “Write About Love” by Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian was my musical discovery of 2010. They’ve been around forever, of course, but I had missed out on them. You guys should have told me!

Their 2010 release, Write About Love is pretty great, but their previous album The Life Pursuit is just the best — one of the great albums of the last five years.

It Really Is a Wonderful Life

Every Christmas I’ll be talking with people and they’ll suggest that some movie other than It’s A Wonderful Life is the best Christmas movie. This is silly. Usually they’ll back A Christmas Story or maybe Christmas Vacation, and, while those are fine movies, they are clearly not in the same class as It’s A Wonderful Life, which is not just a great Christmas movie, but also a true work of art.

Why do I think It’s A Wondeful Life is such a great movie? I think it’s because it grows more profound as I get older. It rings more and more true to me.

Two things really stood out to me this year as never before. First, the scene where Uncle Billy loses the $8,000.00 and everything that follows it really resonated with me. Now that I’m older and have a wife and a house and a professional career, I could really identify with George’s panic and despair and sense of failure. Four kids and facing going to jail? Can you imagine?

The second one is a really little thing, but there’s a scene where George sells a house to Mr. Martini, and he and Mary are there to welcome them into their new home, and George’s old friend Sam Wainwright comes by. Now, you have to know that Mary was Sam’s girl before she married George, and Sam went off and got rich while George was stuck in Bedford Falls. Sam is there with his trophy wife (or girlfriend, who knows?) while George is married to the girl of his dreams. George and Mary walk up to Sam, who looks to his girl and tells her that he tried to let George in on the ground floor of plastics, but George turned him down, and George says, “you don’t have to rub it in,” because that’s exactly what Sam’s doing. All George has ever wanted is to get out of Bedford Falls and do great things like Sam, and all Sam ever wanted was to be with Mary and (we can imagine) be as beloved and honorable as George, and all of that envy and disappointment and frustration plays out incredibly in this little five minute throwaway scene.

And that’s why It’s A Wonderful Life will always be the greatest Christmas movie ever.

21. “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae

Okay. Almost there.

Have you heard Janelle Monae? You need to hear Janelle Monae! I think she was created in a laboratory by James Brown, Prince, and Michael Jackson. Just ridiculously talented and funky. Her album, The ArchAndroid is just an epic concept album about aliens and androids and zombies that also makes you want to dance all day long. You know, normal stuff.

Do I have a song of the year yet? No. Done. “Tightrope” is my song of the year.

Enjoy and have a blessed 2011.