Sunday, July 04, 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Old Neighborhood

Hey there everybody.
I have a new mix ready to download, so check it out:

The Old Neighborhood

1. Joel Plaskett Emergency - Drunk Teenagers
2. The Low Anthem - Champion Angel
3. The Thermals - I Called Out Your Name
4. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Counting Down the Hours
5. Shout Out Louds - 1999
6. The Canon Logic - The System
7. Nothington - A Mistake
8. Bueno - The History Song
9. Mos Def - Life In Marvelous Times
10. Pretty Bird. Smash. - Waxing Up The Wreckage
11. The Tallest Man on Earth - Burden of Tomorrow
12. Old Crow Medicine Show - Wagon Wheel
13. John Stewart - July, You're A Woman
14. Emmylou Harris - Wrecking Ball
15. Dr. Dog - Shadow People
16. Fanfarlo - The Walls Are Coming Down
17. Frightened Rabbit - Swim Until You Can't See Land
18. Tracy Shedd - How Your Eyes Affect Me
19. Delta Spirit - Lover's Waltz
20. Folk Uke - Motherfucker Got Fucked Up

Unzip the folder, add it to iTunes. Then to add the playlist: Go to File --> Library --> Import Playlist. Select the .xml file that's in this folder and the playlist will be automatically added to your iTunes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday's songs

It's Joel Plaskett day here at Catfish Vegas presents...

I was introduced to Plaskett a few years ago by my brother, and just had one of those Eureka! moments last night when a conversation thrusts you back into the realm of a once-favorite musician. I wonder if this singer-songwriter from Halifax has any idea that he has such big fans out here in the Arizona desert...

Friday, April 30, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday's song

Man, I'm on a definite folk kick right now...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday's songs

First up is this gem from Old Crow Medicine Show. I haven't been able to get it out of my head at all in the past month, and it's been glorious:

As far as the next one... hey, look who's coming to town next week: The Avett Brothers! Here's a clip from when the boys rolled through town last year:

And by the way, why don't you join me in running across the street after the Avetts to check out Shearwater:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SwedeFest 2010 is booked!

Oh shit, it's SwedeFest time again!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday's songs

I think we'll have to go with two today:

And next, to welcome the Guthrie Family to Tucson, where they'll play Centennial Hall later tonight, with me sitting in the audience, surely swept up in joy:

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Review: Harlem - Hippies

Published in the Tucson Weekly:
Garage rock done right aches for the sort of unbridled enthusiasm at the core of Hippies, the first Matador record from Austin-via-Tucson trio Harlem.

The band's bouncy, melodic garage rock is colored with flecks of soul and surf rock, but it's the fantastic songs that hold Hippies aloft. The record is an absolute powerhouse that opens with nine consecutive tracks that rate great to excellent. It's only once the band lets off the throttle ever so slightly that Hippies takes a small dip.

The band—Michael Coomers, Curtis O'Mara and Jose Boyer—plays with a loose and straightforward combination of guitar, bass and drums. The formula is hardly unique, but it's executed to near perfection.

Hippies is full of love songs and breakup songs, but it's the band's spin on the great tradition of American rock, pop and soul that gives the record its magnetism.

Between opener "Someday Soon" and "Be Your Baby," the band's lyrics swing from flippant mischief to youthful sincerity; Harlem deftly handles both: "Someday soon you'll be on fire / and you'll ask me for a glass of water / I'll say no, you can just let that shit burn / and you'll say please, please, please put me out;" and "I just wanna be your baby / I don't mean maybe."

With a hefty 16 songs in a quick 40 minutes, Hippies could've lost a couple of less-memorable tunes. Small flaws aside, it's an absolute stunner of an album, brimming with confidence and songs that draw you in again and again.

Harlem - Friendly Ghost

Review: Miles Kurosky - The Desert of Shallow Effects

Published in the East Bay Express:

Occupying the idiosyncratic end of the pop-genius spectrum, Miles Kurosky led Beulah through four albums of catchy indie rock. Kurosky returns with a solo debut six years after Beulah's swan song, sounding more like he never took a hiatus than someone who labored endlessly chasing a sound just out of reach.

A wide variety of instruments weave in and out of Kurosky's ever-shifting songs (more than two dozen musicians are credited, most playing multiple instruments), but he orchestrates The Desert of Shallow Effects according to the same principles he followed with Beulah: pop on top, and whimsy below. Whether it's with a perfectly catchy melody or some subversive twist, Kurosky laces the songs with enticing moments, lying like snare traps in wait for a listener only half paying attention. Kurosky is a tricky lyricist, capable of excellent turns of phrase, but tough to follow the wordier he gets.

The Desert of Shallow Effects sounds intentionally unfocused, but for all the moments when the songs seem overloaded, on the brink of falling into chaos, Kurosky has an answer, in the form of yet another blossoming flash of pop perfection. The album's strongest moments are those that sound most familiar to Beulah fans. "She Was My Dresden" weaves acoustic and electric guitars into a somber and meditative tale of tragedy. With its horns and organ, album closer "West Memphis Skyline" sounds like a circus wrapping up business for the day, under the long shadows of a fading sun.

The Desert of Shallow Effects is an exciting and complex record, but it's worth remembering that for all the melodic hooks he can bring, Kurosky remains an oddball and an acquired taste. Those not drawn to Beulah in the first place could easily find themselves lost somewhere between confused and disinterested. (Majoromo Records/Shout! Factory)

Miles Kurosky - Dog in the Burning Building

Review: Beach House - Teen Dream

Published in the East Bay Express:

The comfort zone for Beach House is indeed comfortable, an ornate and delicate soundscape in which songs stay afloat with an airy serenity. Teen Dream takes a small step away from the band's dreamier aspects, but the basic elements are the same — shimmering, melodic pop built from piano, organ, and guitar, and hazy vocals that drape across the songs like lace accents.

The Baltimore duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand sought out a converted church in upstate New York to record their third album, with producer Chris Coady. The church setting lends a heightened grandeur to the album, meshing well with the chiming chords and nearly omnipresent reverb. With its pleasantly drowsy pace, Teen Dream is music for watching clouds slowly drift by, lost in the tender sway of Legrand's voice.

The sound masks some darker moments lyrically, like on "Used to Be," when Legrand sings Does each day feel like another lie? on her way to a chorus that carefully dances around an expected heartbreak: Don't forget the nights when it all felt right/Are you not the same as you used to be?

The album's strongest moments are when the band adds something extra in terms of the instrumentation. "Norway" uses a slide guitar to match the breathy longing in Legrand's vocals, while "Take Care" uses a harpsichord to brush on a glossier sheen before fading slowly away, like the falling sparkles of fireworks.

Teen Dream has a graceful tranquility, and having achieved that sort of balance, Beach House sounds careful not to disrupt the band's core essence. (Sub Pop)

Beach House - Norway

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Friday, April 02, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists @ Congress on Sunday!

Touring in support of his excellent new album, the uncompromising Ted Leo will make his way to Tucson this Sunday for a gig at Club Congress. It's been about two and a half years since Leo last played in town, but that show stands out as one of the best of 2007 and few performers can bring such a combination of flat-out energy and professionalism.

Check out my review of The Brutalist Bricks, Leo's latest effort, in the Tucson Weekly:

Whichever fountain Ted Leo draws his energy from has an endless and remarkably consistent stream, rich in the sort of intensity that passes easily from singer to audience.

The Brutalist Bricks is more of his signature brand of surging, thinking-man's punk rock, with soaring melodies to counterbalance the cranked amps and pummeling drums.

Opening track "The Mighty Sparrow" starts with a buzzing guitar and Leo shouting, "When the café doors exploded, I reacted too, reacted to you." Leo instantly has the listener in his grasp.

"Mourning in America" is among the best of Leo's politically oriented songs, turning Reagan's famous campaign slogan on its head as scalding criticism of the country's "long manipulated and the willfully dumb."

But Leo offers up more encouragement than criticism: "I'm so sick of cynics, and I want something to trust in" ("Ativan Eyes"), "A little goodwill goes a mighty long way" ("Bottled in Cork"), and, "I know I've been missing, but I feel the change we've been waiting on" (on "Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees").

Except for a couple of detours—the dubby "One Polaroid a Day" and the dreamy "Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop"—Leo sticks to his strengths, with unwavering passion. This is a rush of an album, brisk, forceful and righteously energetic.

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - Even Heroes Have To Die
Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - The Mighty Sparrow

Fri 26 Pomona, CA The Glass House
Sat 27 West Hollywood, CA Troubadour
Sun 28 Tucson, AZ Club Congress
Tue 30 Dallas, TX House of Blues
Wed 31 Austin, TX The Parish Room
Fri 02 New Orleans, LA One Eyed Jacks
Sat 03 Tallahassee, FL Club Downunder
Sun 04 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade
Mon 05 Carrboro, NC Cat's Cradle
Wed 07 Philadelphia, PA First Unitarian Church
Thu 08 Washington 930 Club
Thu 08 Washington 9:30 Club
Fri 09 New York, NY Irving Plaza
Sat 10 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Pornographers coming to Rialto

Great shows in the dead of Tucson's dreadful summer heat are about the most welcome thing I can think of for those long, sweaty days. And some Canadian folks who've shown some love to Tucson in the past are headed this way.

The New Pornographers, with a fresh new album, will play the Rialto Theatre on July 21, with The Dodos and Imaad Wasif.

So, check out the first single, then join me in pre-ordering Together, and then join me at the show (spiritually, of course, if you're at some other show on what is a lengthy tour):

New Pornographers - Your Hands (Together)

Here's the U.S. dates, from Pitchfork:
06-11 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue ^#
06-12 Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater ^#
06-13 Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall ^#
06-15 Toronto, Ontario – The Sound Academy ^#
06-17 Montreal, Quebec – Le National ^#
06-18 Boston, MA – House of Blues ^#
06-19 New York, NY – Terminal 5 ^#
06-21 Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero Theatre ^#
06-22 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club ^#
06-23 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club ^#
06-25 Chapel Hill, NC – Memorial Hall at UNC ^#
06-26 Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse ^#
06-27 Nashville, TN – Cannery Ballroom ^#
06-28 St Louis, MO – The Pageant ^
07-15 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Vogue Theatre ^%
07-16 Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom ^%
07-18 Oakland, CA – Fox Theater ^%
07-19 Los Angeles, CA – Henry Fonda Theater ^%
07-20 Los Angeles, CA – Henry Fonda Theater ^%
07-21 Tucson, AZ – Rialto Theatre ^%
07-23 Austin, TX – Stubb's BBQ ^%
07-24 Dallas, TX – The Showroom at Palladium ^%
07-25 Tulsa, OK – Cain's Ballroom ^%
07-26 Lawrence, KS – Liberty Hall ^%
07-28 Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre ^%
07-30 Boise, ID – Egyptian Theatre ^%
08-04 Madison, WI – Orpheum Theatre ^

! with Here We Go Magic
* with the Mountain Goats
^ with the Dodos
# with the Dutchess & The Duke
% with Imaad Wasif

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Midlake playing Plush on Monday

Denton, TX folk-rockers Midlake are hitting Tucson on Monday for a highly anticipated show at Plush. I have an interview with the band in today's Tucson Weekly:

From Ancient Days

Perhaps it's easier to imagine the members of Midlake as cloaked druids performing secretive rituals than as a group of former jazz students from Texas.

It's certainly by design that the band's new record weaves its spell from ancient days, conjuring that same sense of elemental, shrouded powers at play that drives fantasy art. Midlake worked to craft The Courage of Others into an escape, the type of music that suggests it might literally cast some magic on the listener.

"If you think about humanity and where we are in 2010, and where we were in the last couple thousand years, fundamentally, we're the same beings, but there are things that have been lost," says bassist Paul Alexander. "That's one thing about the music—(we're) trying to make people think further back than their lifetime or the last 50 years ... like classical music will get you to do."

With mostly acoustic guitars and plenty of flute, The Courage of Others draws more on the British folk music of Nick Drake and Fairport Convention than on the 1970s Californian folk-rock sound of the band's breakthrough record, 2006's The Trials of Van Occupanther.

Midlake—Alexander, singer-guitarist Tim Smith, guitarists Eric Pulido and Eric Nichelson and drummer McKenzie Smith—toured solidly in support of Van Occupanther, an album well-received for its darkly organic sound, balanced by sunny harmonies. The single "Roscoe," which married off-kilter lyrics (again, rooted in a sense of timelessness) with a retro Fleetwood Mac vibe, was named the 90th-best song of the decade by Rolling Stone.

The band approached the new record with a willingness to take risks and a fervent desire to progress musically.

"One of the main things we were trying to achieve was just to make a better album. We were proud of Van Occupanther; we knew when we made it that we made the best album we could, but we weren't entirely satisfied," Alexander says. "Most of it initially was just trying to go beyond that.

"We had been touring Van Occupanther for about a year and a half, so we still had that in our heads. It wasn't like we just flipped a switch and had all the ideas for the next album. We had to play a bunch of different things and throw away a lot of them before figuring out which way we wanted to go. We had to experiment. It just takes time."

Midlake records and produces in the band's own studio in Denton, Texas, an invaluable factor in allowing for experimentation and growth. The title track, in fact, was the first song Midlake completed—and then they re-recorded the entire song from scratch at the end of the process.

"If you want to deliberate a little bit over your arrangements, and have the ability to listen back and make new decisions on the same song, that's a luxury. You'd spend a fortune in a regular studio to do that," Alexander says. "Recording is an aid in being creative. We own our own studio, so we can keep trying."

Smith has an imaginative reach lyrically, dealing in images of deep and ancient forests with an almost worshipful reverence for nature.

The first song, "Acts of Man," is an apt tone-setter for The Courage of Others: "When all newness of gold travels far from where it had once been / born like the Earth over years / And when the acts of man cause the ground to break open / Oh, let me inside, let me inside, not to wait."

"Core of Nature" runs in a similar vein, finding a reverent beauty in sadness, approaching the end of life almost like one would a sunset: "I will let the sound of these woods that I've known sink into blood and to bone / I'll remain no more than is required of me, until the spirit is gone."

"We have a vision of what we're trying to achieve," Alexander says. "This pre-Baroque Western world is what we were imagining, trying to make some music that lulls you into that mindset."

The record's cover is another element in achieving the band's goal. Taking inspiration from the 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky film about Andrei Rublev, a 15th-century Russian monk and painter, band members pose in robes amid lush vines. The image is mirrored about the middle, creating a still and eerie symmetry.

"Tarkovsky made a film that really brought the feeling, at least for me when I watch it, of being transported to another time," Alexander says. "I don't know that we're going after trying to mimic it, but we liked what he did in making the viewer feel this other time period."

Midlake began about a decade ago, formed by Smith, a trained saxophonist, and friends in the University of North Texas music program. The band members' jazz roots faded quickly, though, as Alexander explains: "We realized that there was nothing we could do for jazz. Jazz had its peak by people who were far greater than we would ever be. It would be dumb to keep trying it."

Coming to rock and folk music at a relatively late age, and with well-formed musical chops, the band began by chasing an unorthodox muse. The first Midlake recording, the 2001 EP Milkmaid Grand Army, and 2004's debut LP, Bamnan and Slivercork, were keyboard-heavy, mildly electronic albums that earned the band comparisons (though not always favorable) to Radiohead, the Flaming Lips and Grandaddy.

The band's evolution has continued, driven by a quest to make music that's distinctly Midlake.

"In 2010, there's been a whole lot of stuff that's been recorded now, and there are a lot of terrific bands. So when you pick up your instrument and play something, there's a chance it's going to sound derivative or closely associated with something else," Alexander says. "It's really hard in this saturated period, in this culture and in art to really be distinctive.

"We want to develop as musicians (and) do some different things with our playing that we hadn't before. And we're always trying to make the best album we can. If at the end of the day, we record something, and we like the song—we like how it sounds, and it's something we would listen to as musicians—that's the way it's going to be."

Midlake - Acts of Man
Midlake - Live KEXP (2007 - 19 minutes, 26 MB)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Garboski CD release Friday @ Plush

I've been waiting for this for weeks now - Garboski is set to release the band's first full-length album, with a hell of a good line-up (with the Gentlemen of Monster Island and Dead Western Plains) Friday night at Plush. Check it all out in the new Tucson Weekly:

The veteran musicians of Garboski get set to release their first full album

Homesick after a move to the Northwest didn't work out, Beau Bowen and Garth Bryson decided to move back to Tucson and start a new band—and they started brainstorming about a new drummer before they even left.

Lo and behold, they got their man in Josh Skibar, whose band Is to Feel had just fallen apart.

"We listened to Is to Feel on MySpace, thinking it was such a long shot that he'd even be in the band," Bryson says.

Catching up with old friends after his return in late 2007, Bryson ran into Skibar, and the talk immediately turned to music.

"Lucky enough, Garth came over to my house, and I asked what he was doing band-wise, and he and Beau were just noodling around together, and they happened to be looking for a drummer," Skibar says. "I was totally up for not playing metal. My big challenge at first was to play in 3/4, because I hadn't had much experience in that, and Beau mostly writes in 3/4. But the first song came together so quickly. It just clicked."

All veterans of numerous local bands (Bowen: Maintenance, Lloyd Dobler; Bryson: Ladies and Gentlemen, Maintenance; Skibar: Is to Feel, Fun With Dirt), they fit together naturally, creating bombastic rock music, full of starts and stops and tempo changes, soaring melodies and rapturous, frenzied instrumental passages. With heavy drumming, melodic basslines and unorthodox chord changes, Garboski sometimes recalls the Seattle explosion of the 1990s, but leans more post-rock than punk.

"One of the natural things we do, more often than not, is give the songs these huge instrumental, super-busy, crazy finales," Skibar says.

That's part of the band's essence, using each instrument to its fullest, working in balance and letting each player stand out.

"Beau and I wanted to be a three-piece. I knew I wanted to be heard bass-wise, to play bass more like a guitar," Bryson says. "I was afraid it was going to be empty at first, and we worried about having to fill out the sound. But it works. This is probably the easiest band I've been in—friend-wise and compatibility-wise."

Garboski's songs start with Bowen, a self-taught guitarist, described by Skibar and Bryson as unorthodox and original.

"A lot of people who take guitar lessons seem like they're stuck playing what they're taught," Bowen says. "I always try to write something I haven't already (written)."

Bowen and Bryson work with the rough idea, solidifying the guitar and bass parts before bringing it to Skibar. "It's Beau's at first, but it's a small step ladder," Bryson says.

Says Skibar: "They give me free rein to do what I want, so I have to write my equal part in a piece of music. It challenges the shit out of me, because I can't get away with playing just a simple drum beat. It's balanced. It's like three primary colors. Everyone has his color and is equally heard. When Beau shows me a riff, I don't have a beat in my head. I have to think completely differently. I had to learn to be my own color in this band."

Bowen and Bryson had played together for years in the prog- and math-rock-leaning Maintenance, which they tried transplanting to Portland in 2006, while Skibar had mainly drummed in metal bands. When they booked the band's first show in spring 2008, Garboski had only three songs, so they rushed to finish another handful.

But there was still the matter of a name for the band.

"We were tossing around band names for the first couple of months, and we couldn't come up with anything," Skibar says.

The winning suggestion came from Ian Philabaum, who was practicing with Chango Malo next door and jokingly combined the names—Garth-Beau-Skibar: Garboski. (Or gär'b'sk, the phonetic guide Bryson devised for the band's MySpace page after encountering frequent mispronunciation.)

"It wasn't our last resort. It's just that through all the names, it's the one that kept growing on us. It's our family name, our married name," Skibar says.

Garboski released a self-titled EP in January 2009 and spent the late part of the year recording, with friend Tom Beach again as producer. The new album, Take a Pull, is essentially a double-EP, with six new originals, a cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End," and new mixes of four songs from Garboski.

Gathered outside their practice space for an interview, the band members ran down the songs, describing them with a characteristic irreverence, reaching for the core of what the songs feel like instead of what they're about:

• "Enjoy Dick" is a drunken fistfight.

• "Painted Plastic" is a pity party, but beautiful.

• "Black Coffee" is an anxiety attack.

• "No Hand Hold" is a birthday party.

• "Missed a Lot" is a romantic comedy.

• "Old News" is a morning seduction.

• "Lost Friends, Gained Pets" is homesickness.

• "Roommates and Sitcoms" is going to the dog park.

• "Punch Jesus" is trying not to laugh in church.

• "Post Sober Night" is a brutal hangover.

"I just like that we basically have a full album now. You can only know so much about a band when there's only five songs," Bowen says.

Garboski has been sharing Skibar with local metal kings The Bled for the past year, with assurances that the new project didn't mean he was walking away.

"It does suck that it's become a part-time thing for me. But I just couldn't pass up playing for The Bled," Skibar says.

All past or nearing 30, the band members say that Garboski is the band that's given the most contentment of any project over the years.

"I'll do whatever for fun, but I'm the most comfortable in this band. It just works too well," Bryson says. "The music is there; the songwriting is there; the friendship is there. We just have so much fun."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I'm really kicking myself now for having missed out on the Fanfarlo show at Club Congress back in November. The band was excellent the other night on Letterman and is out on tour again, but skipping passed Tucson this time. I did, however, get to interview singer-songwriter Simon Balthazar for a feature story that appears in this week's East Bay Express:

Finding pop in the darkness

Fanfarlo's Simon Balthazar discusses his childhood, penchant for trumpets, and intellectual inspiration.

Growing up in Sweden, Simon Balthazar had a house full of instruments, but no real musicians in his family to guide him in any one direction.

That childhood introduction to music — inventive, unrestrained, and enchanting — carried through to Fanfarlo, the band Balthazar formed when he moved from Gothenburg to London in 2006.

Relying on mostly acoustic instruments, Fanfarlo nevertheless plays and records with a distinct sense of grandeur, building a rich and orchestral sound that relies on trumpet, mandolin, cello, violin, ukulele, clarinet, and melodica far more than the standard rock backbone of guitar, bass, and drums.

"I grew up in a house with not many records but a lot of instruments," said Balthazar during a tour stop in Copenhagen. "No one in my family is a musician, but the instruments were just kind of around. It was a mix of things people had taken lessons on and abandoned. I would learn to play a few chords here and there, a few notes here and there — mandolin, ukulele, piano, glockenspiel. That kind of stuff was always around, so it feels natural for me to write for those instruments."

Drawing attention in both Europe and the United States, Fanfarlo's 2009 album, Reservoir, is a forceful debut, a lush and ornate record that's earned the band accolades (NPR's "All Songs Considered" named it best new band of 2009) and comparisons to Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Belle and Sebastian.

Fanfarlo began as simply a recording project for Balthazar, who says he moved to London with no specific intentions of forming a band. But the combination of his homemade demos and new friends interested in playing music together gradually led to the full band.

"When I moved I got to know a lot of people who were doing music, and these songs quite quickly became something that we could start playing live even though it was quite different from what we're doing now," he said. "People who were coming to those early shows are now in the band. We put out a few seven-inches even before there was really a band. The first few were just from bedroom recordings."

According to Balthazar, he had the big, orchestral sound in mind from the beginning and knew that the band had to have a trumpet player above all else. "When I first started listening to music I fell in love with the trumpet, bands like Belle and Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel that have taken that trumpet sound, kind of like Sixties pop or even Spanish music," he said. "So I was looking specifically for a trumpet player."

Now a five-piece — Balthazar (vocals, guitar, clarinet), Cathy Lucas (vocals, mandolin, violin, keyboards), Leon Beckenham (keyboards, trumpet), Justin Finch (bass, vocals), and Amos Memon (drums) — the band also included guitarist Mark West until he left in 2008.

Naming his band after a dancer/actress character in Charles Baudelaire's novella, La Fanfarlo, Balthazar is both well-read and a skillful songwriter in his own right. Though he admits that a tongue-in-cheek remark to Spin Magazine — "We're intellectuals" — was taken too seriously, Balthazar says the band members are all drawn to philosophy, literature, and film — any sort of artistic expression that is challenging and compelling.

Though enigmatic, Fanfarlo's lyrics reflect that well of knowledge. Balthazar leans toward storytelling, often using historical characters as jumping-off points, rather than writing lyrics that could be confused for his own diary.

Reading about Harry Houdini, Balthazar came across the character of Father Marcello Pellegrino Ernetti, a Benedictine priest and exorcist who reportedly claimed to have invented a time viewer. On "The Walls Are Coming Down," Balthazar uses that sense of escapism to look at reality itself falling apart as historical eras fade into one another: The preachers and books of your empire will fight here alone/Some day they will be forgotten and die one by one. The song's video even features an escape artist, suspended upside down above the band as they play on stage, shadows dancing on the back wall. Writhing and contorting, the escape artist has freed himself from a straitjacket by the time the song ends.

Balthazar drew inspiration from Howard Hughes for "I'm A Pilot," sketching out those famous eccentricities as a tragic fall from grace: Like a stone, you'll come back when thrown up. But alongside that unraveling madness is a noble persistence, a belief in his inviolable essence as a pilot: If I stay in this room/They'll remember me for my youth.

"Songwriting for us is something that starts as a very introspective and brooding affair," said Balthazar. "It's a quite solitary thing. I'll write songs on my own first, often sitting up at night. Then we put them together and have fun with that material. I work quite a lot around melodies more than anything else. That's why it starts out as introspective and obscure, dark lyrics and comes out as a pop song."

When it came time to record Reservoir, Fanfarlo whittled down a list of producers to Peter Katis (The National, Interpol), their dream choice, and took off for Connecticut for six weeks of recording in October 2008. "It just seemed right," said Balthazar. "We'd never met him, but most importantly we liked the sound of the records he made. It was important to get away from London and record in a small town in America with nothing else to do."

Reservoir is 11 songs that span 43 minutes, and with buzz built from CMJ and SXSW appearances, Fanfarlo self-released the album, originally selling downloads for $1. The official, widespread release was in October 2009 as the first record from Canvasback Music's joint venture with Atlantic Records. Heavy touring in both Europe and the United States has filled the band's time during the past year.

"It's important to realize the recording process and playing live are two very different things," he said. "We don't necessarily try to do everything the same way. Some songs are pretty close, other songs were recorded in a certain way because of the studio we recorded in, with lots of amazing equipment. We did work quite a lot with 10, 20, 30 overdubs of the same thing, a lot of layering of things. We have a fairly complicated live setup as well. We do switch instruments a lot, and everybody sings. To play live is to bring the music to people and to meet them before and after the show, and the room we play in dictates the sound and the mood and what we chose to play."

Balthazar says he finds touring interesting, between the rhythm of the travel and the differences between the United States and European venues. Plus, there's the forced perspective that comes from living so intensely in the present moment.

"You really kind of get to know yourself and the people you're with and become a family," he said. "Mentally, it's a really interesting place to be. You never really know what time of the day it is or what day of the week it is. I think you really learn to take things as they come and learn to adapt. In an odd way, you learn to focus and enjoy the here and now."

Fanfarlo - The Walls Are Coming Down
Also, visit the band's Web site for an exclusive single off the new Live EP

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dylan at the White House

The times, they did a-change:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review - The Album Leaf

I have a review of A Chorus of Storytellers, the new record from The Album Leaf, in the new Tucson Weekly:

With carefully controlled atmospherics and minimal vocals, The Album Leaf deals in calm, impressionistic beauty.

Led by San Diego guitarist Jimmy LaValle, The Album Leaf resides in its own little Venn diagram segment that combines former tourmate and obvious influence Sigur Rós, electronica's softer side and the pop-ambient hybrid of labelmate The Postal Service.

A Chorus of Storytellers marks the first time The Album Leaf has recorded as a full band. "Stand Still" makes the most of the prominent energy of live drums, blending in hypnotic strings to achieve an enjoyable balance of urgency and restraint. But even though LaValle's talents lean toward moodiness and a comforting lull, tension and contrast is too often absent here, leaving the slower and more stately songs to pass with barely a flicker.

"Until the Last" is another standout, with strings washing over a trippy beat and a repeated, exultant keyboard riff. "Blank Pages" is sketched with a discreet uneasiness, sounding like it's made for heavy late-night introspection. This is an easy album to slip into, one that shades its prettiness with a bit of mystery and melancholy.

Still, there's a restraint that runs contrary to the possibilities of recording with a full band. A Chorus of Storytellers sounds just as purposefully and slowly layered as LaValle's solo studio efforts.

The title and the new approach suggest a presentation of The Album Leaf as something of an orchestra, but if it is, it's an orchestra held back by clipped wings.

The Album Leaf - Falling From The Sun

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Today's song

Elvis Perkins in Dearland - Sweet Roseanne (from No Depression)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Austin & Back & Reviews

So I had a whirlwind of excellence times over the past week in Austin. Congratulations to the bride & groom - I hope I did well enough marrying you folks.

Too bad it was too cold to walk around much, but I did hit some really cool places along South Congress - and the Waterloo Records stop yielded some great 7 inches. I can guarantee that my first visit won't be my last. It's just too bad there weren't any shows that fit into the schedule while I was there.

Now that I'm back, I have some reviews for everybody to check out.

First up is the Dave Rawlings Machine, in this week's East Bay Express:

Hardly a background player during his excellent career as a producer, cowriter, lead guitarist and harmony singer, Dave Rawlings has nevertheless been content to hand over the reins. On the first album recorded under his name, Rawlings reveals a more well-rounded talent than he shows as a sideman. His clear tenor and distinctive acoustic guitar work become the cornerstone, rather than merely providing accents. Across nine songs, Rawlings is a master at subtle stylistic shifts in his bluegrass-tinged folk and boisterous old-timey music.

His band — The Machine — is a collection of friends and past collaborators: Gillian Welch, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Benmont Tench (The Heartbreakers). It's hardly a surprise that they mesh so well. As a songwriter, Rawlings shows both cleverness and tenderness, but he's also drawn to playfulness in his cover of Jesse Fuller's "Monkey and The Engineer." With its gentle strings and glorious harmony, opener "Ruby" is a laid-back country-rocker that recalls the early 1970s. "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," cowritten with Ryan Adams, is a hootenanny stomp with a fiddle and mandolin leading the way. The record's centerpiece is "Method Acting/Cortez The Killer," which has Rawlings stitching together a meditative, minor-key reading of Bright Eyes and a breathtaking cover of Neil Young.

It's perhaps deceptive to call A Friend of A Friend a debut, but he is indeed a first-time frontman, and he approaches the role with clear vision, excellent musicianship and a fantastic batch of songs. (Acony)

Dave Rawlings Machine - Bells of Harlem
And check out Dave Rawlings at Daytrotter.

And next up we have Charlotte Gainsbourg, from the Tucson Weekly:

Music about life's pains and sorrows is nothing new, but rarely is it presented so directly.

Largely shunning metaphor and other songwriting veils, Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers an album that unravels the fear, disorientation and panic she felt in suffering and recovering from a brain hemorrhage in 2007. From the album's title—the French term for an MRI machine—to its lyrics and general soundscape, that health scare permeates the entire recording.

On hand to guide the French actress and singer is Beck, who co-wrote the lyrics, wrote the music and produced the recording. It's impossible to know whether Beck and Gainsbourg are close musical kindred spirits, or whether Beck simply placed his creative energy at the core of the project, but in all but the vocals—which exchange his slacker drawl for Gainsbourg's breathy and subdued singing—this is a Beck album.

The haunting electric hum of the MRI machine itself is woven into the music on the title song, while the lyrics lean toward medical terms: "Leave my head demagnetized / Tell me where the trouble lies."

While there is an openness and piercing honesty to baring her experiences so directly, Gainsbourg's sincerity sometimes ends up yielding some clunkier lines, like, "Drill my brain all full of holes / and patch it up before it leaks," from "Master's Hands."

But when the album peaks—like on the album's first single, "Heaven Can Wait," and "Time of the Assassins"—it's certainly a trip, down another twisting side path of Beck Lane.

Make sure to check out the excellently weird video for "Heaven Can Wait":

And stream a KEXP performance here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"This should give you a dim view of human potential..."

Having just recently watched a documentary about Werner Herzog and marveled at (and joked about) his particular way of speaking, I had to laugh quite a bit at this parody:

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Decade in Music, Part 3: Best Albums

1. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002, Nonesuch)

Disregard the David vs. Goliath record-biz mythology, disregard the band’s internal conflicts, disregard the phenomenal making-of documentary and what you still have is an absolute masterpiece – a perfect record for the decade, for any decade. This is timeless rock ‘n’ roll – energetic, ambitious, tuneful and as finely balanced as an album could be.

Lyrically it’s both compelling and mysterious as Jeff Tweedy shrugs off a bit of Summerteeth’s darkness, yet still puts together songs wrought with uncertainty, anxiety and a completely familiar yearning. YHF is one of those albums that simply requires the use of the adverb sonically in any description. Layered with sounds as well as music, so much floats in and out of the songs, but with each listen, there everything is, falling together perfectly, yet again.

Remember that at the time, Wilco was simply another ascendant band, capable of adding pop sheen to rough-and-tumble, one for the rock snobs to keep an eye on (though I’d been a fan dating back to the Uncle Tupelo days), and not a festival headliner. YHF is the difference.

It’s also an album that’s deeply personal – one that took me through the final year of college, thousands of miles on the road the following summer and the one that cemented Wilco as the favorite band of my generation.

2. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004, Epic)

At turns spacey, sharp and stomping, this record found Modest Mouse tighter than ever, with songwriting focus replacing some of the rawness of the band’s earlier albums. To my ears, it’s just what the band needed, and the fact that “Float On” exploded that summer is hardly a surprise.

Second to “Hey Ya” on my list of the decade’s best songs, “Float On” has a dance-punk stomp, guitars that sound like sharpened steel blades, a bouncy lead-guitar melody and impressively optimistic lyrics.

But the record’s strengths don’t end there: “Ocean Breathes Salty,” “The World At Large,” “Blame It On The Tetons,” “Black Cadillacs,” “One Chance” and “The Good Times Are Killing Me” should’ve all been No. 1 singles as well.

On the heels of The Moon And Antarctica, Modest Mouse was king of the indie world, but it’s this endlessly enjoyable album that I’ve been listening to as much as anything else for the last six years.

3. Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues (2000, E-Squared)

Perhaps no other album has better embodies the Gram Parsons’ term “Cosmic American” music than Transcendental Blues, a rich stew of psychedelic rock, bluegrass, folk, Celtic and country. Steve Earle shot for the moon here and hit it, with a forward-looking and magnetically irresistible record that meanders purposefully in and out of atmospheric haziness to deliver many of the strongest songs of his career.

The opening title track is awash in fuzz, a swirling opus type song that stands alone in Earle’s lengthy catalog. The song itself bottles a certain sort of transcendence, like the last fading rays of a bright afternoon’s sun.

There’s heartbreak, hope, loneliness, rambling, love, longing and the final desperate thoughts of a condemned prisoner. And throughout, the album is a meditation on the two sides of feeling the blues – the misery and the release.

4. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America (2006, Vagrant)

The most amazing thing about The Hold Steady is how the band instantly transports you to the Best Saturday Night ever. The magic is in the potential, drawing near to those tipping points when lazy routine gives way to adventure, and that adventure gives way to some unexpected party, or roadtrip, or encounter.

Rock ‘n’ roll is glorious, the band reminds everybody who might have forgotten, even for a moment. Boys and Girls in America encapsulates that attitude as well as anything, with big, shout-along hooks in the driver’s seat. Craig Finn as slacker poet and mumbly singer is the sort of successful everyman I find endlessly inspiring. He stuffs his songs with weirdos that reoccur album to album, a charming way of inviting his audience along for the ride.

The Hold Steady is a rush of a band, embracing and defiantly clinging to the good times, while also finding redemption in the morning after. DOWNLOAD: Chips Ahoy.

5. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (2005, Jagjaguwar)

At times as spooky as the fantastic album artwork that ties together this album and its Appendix, at times an energetic surge of rock n’ roll, this album is a songwriting triumph that never lets up in its examination of the outsider archetype.

Will Sheff runs through plenty of paces in stretching out this “black sheep boy” into a sort of antihero with many faces, pairing harsh imagery with chaotic, crashing sounds to create the feeling of a lost outsider, hurt and strange and longing for solid ground. It’s like the swirling TV static dizziness of a head rush, but with stronger emotions and more dimensions than you know what to do with. The songs build together, each taking little detours into its own little world of abandonment and the identity-questioning of a born outsider.

The most intricately meditative record of the decade, it’s filled with hopelessness, anger, abandonment, listlessness, optimism, confusion, paranoia, love, hate and ultimately an inescapable sense of solitude, for good and bad, out of choice and out of necessity. DOWNLOAD: Black

6. Crooked Fingers - Dignity and Shame (2005, Merge)

This album is such a creeper that I’m sure very few music critics and serious fans stuck with it long enough to recognize just how brilliant Eric Bachmann’s odd, elliptical tale of love and loss, inspired by a real life bullfighter and Spanish actress. At first it may appear like a stylistic mess, careening from Spanish folk to piano ballad to driving indie rock, but it’s more accurately a patterned complexity.

The album unfolds like a film, with Bachmann sketching each song as a scene. “Call To Love” is amazingly catchy, a duet about not letting go, and one of the decade’s best songs. “Twilight Creeps” has Bachmann pondering how toughness and tenderness are employed to build and bridge gaps between people. “Destroyer” follows a slow drumbeat and piano before cracking open with a mournful, distorted guitar lead.

Throughout, Bachmann searches for whatever underlying honesty exists in how people relate to one another. And when he sings on “Sleep All Summer,” with a gruff and weary voice, “I would change for you, but babe that doesn’t mean I’m going to be a better man,” he just might have found the very core of what the album has been searching for.

7. Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator) (2001, Acony)

Spare and haunting, this record doesn’t come within a country mile of a wasted note. Two guitars, sometimes a banjo, and two perfectly intertwining voices make this a deceptively simple album. But the mood and spirit conjured as this album slowly unspools becomes a dominating, hypnotizing presence, gradually stripping away the here and the now until all that’s left is this other world, a slow and dusty one, with a simple cabin and scruffed wood floors, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

This album sounds like the woods where I grew up. More specifically, it somehow sounds like those types of memories formed on dirt roads, with sunny afternoons and chilly dusks, and sitting on rocks or stumps around a backyard campfire.

The opening title song sets the rustic stage with an immediacy to Welch’s plaintive vocals, while the closing “I Dream A Highway” is a 14-minute song that passes as if in a dream. Folk music is nothing new. But Time (The Revelator) is itself a revelation – that brilliance, talent, honesty and ambition together can add up to perfection, and make folk music sound new again.

8. The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead (Sub Pop, 2008)

I’ve been more and more impressed with this album each time I’ve listened to it over nearly two years – which is a rare feat for a band that I’m already been following for a while. Somehow the Helio Sequence went from good to amazing on this record, a dense soundscape that hardly seems like the work of just two musicians.

I even missed seeing the band play on three separate occasions since the album came out. And I still love it – every song. The songs are crisp and carry a bright sheen that instead of indicating overproduction strongly suggest that the band absolutely nailed their vision for the album.

It’s largely an energetic album, filled with pounding rhythms and an urgent bombast. But the delicate moments give an overall balance. Ultimately, it’s a taught and surprisingly melodic 37 minutes, with songs that just haven’t stopped burrowing into my head yet. DOWNLOAD: Can't Say No

9. Calexico - Feast of Wire (Quarterstick, 2003)

Calexico’s fourth album is the band’s most varied, and, no surprise, most compelling work. Opener “Sunken Waltz” is the Calexico calling card – insistent and distinctive drumming, acoustic guitar and accordion, all wrapped together in an evocative indictment of desert sprawl.

Feast of Wire has Calexico exploring all the sounds in the band’s arsenal – folk, country, mariachi, jazz and their signature combination of it all. And rather than sticking to formula, Calexico transcends it here, making the elements exist in a harmonic balance that the band hadn’t quite achieved before, or since.

All excellent songs on their own, “Black Heart,” “Across the Wire” and “Not Even Stevie Nicks” remain live favorites, but it’s the pacing and careful sequencing of Feast of Wire that makes them work best.

10. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar, 2008)

Muted and hushed, this record breathes with an often aching solitude. Justin Vernon’s vocals, that high and borderline spooky howl, that his music with such a tremendous feeling of isolation.

Almost as mythologized as Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, For Emma’s story is so compelling because it’s so hard to separate from the music. Recuperating from breakups of both his band and relationship, Vernon hid out in a Wisconsin hunting cabin and when he left, he had this amazing record.

The songs – “Re: Stacks” and “Skinny Love” in particular – get under your skin and stick to your bones. They bleed with raw emotion. And what’s more, the now-four-piece band sets them on fire live, with a show as intense as a gathering storm. DOWNLOAD: Skinny Love

11. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Warner Bros., 2002)

Uncompromisingly weird, even by the Flaming Lips’ standards, Yoshimi is the sort of listening puzzle that few bands can ever pull off. The imaginative sci-fi distopia of the album’s central story is treated with utmost seriousness, a combination that could only come from this band.

With a sound equally driven by electronic dissonance and steadily strummed acoustic guitars, Yoshimi manages to both collapse into pools of psychedelic noise as well as come together like a beautifully balanced orchestra.

12. Elvis Perkins in Dearland – Elvis Perkins in Dearland (XL, 2009)

On his second album, this extraordinarily talented songwriter assembled a full-time band to perfect a ramshackle folk sound — full of horns, organ and unorthodox percussion — that updates The Band by way of Neutral Milk Hotel. “Doomsday” is the song of 2009, with an exultant horn intro becoming a stomping celebration of life, defiant even against doomsday.

Elsewhere, Perkins’ careful and concise songwriting paints incredibly vivid mental pictures, touching on dreams, loneliness and evocative images of nature. Lines as rich as “I’ll be arriving ‘til the day I die, when the golden chair comes down from the sky” are everywhere.

If Elvis Perkins’ first album indicated tremendous songwriting potential, this one shows he’s already capitalized on every bit of his skill. DOWNLOAD: Shampoo

13. The Pernice Brothers – Yours, Mine & Ours (Ashmont, 2003)

Few bands fit the music writer cliché of “shimmering” quite so well as the Pernice Brothers, and this album finds the band at its peak. With a sharp sense of how to build memorable hooks into a dense sound, Joe Pernice has crafted one compelling song after another.

The album touches heavily on the twin themes of nostalgia and longing – meditating on how we fall short of being the people we want to be. It’s a dreamy and gorgeously melodic trip through wants and desires, all strung together in hopes of brighter days to come.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Decade in Music, Part 2: Favorite Tucson Albums

I want to stress that this list is one of favorites rather than anything I’m claiming to be the best. I’m good friends with too many on this list to claim any sort of broad objectivity, so it’s hardly definitive. And while it’d be easy to find more expertise on Tucson music, I’ve been an active fan of local music all decade, and started writing about it with the inception of this blog in 2004. I promise every one of these records is amazing.

1. Calexico – Feast of Wire (2003)
A masterpiece from Tucson’s best band.

2. Fourkiller Flats – Fourkiller Flats (2001)
Hard-charging rock ‘n’ roll that’s rough, twangy and loud, and full of raise-your-drink-and-sing-along hooks, the Flats debut barely edges out their 2009 follow-up, mainly because I’ve gotten to soak up these songs for nearly the whole decade.

3. The New Drakes – Staircase Wit (2005)
The return of the Drakes – older and wise, of course – is a mellower, more thoughtful record, but one that shows a versatile band driven by top-quality songs.

4. The Swim – Random Walk (2008)
Indie rock that’s alternately somber and catchy, full of bombast and edgy guitars, Random Walk wins with the anthematic “Margaret With Comets” and the closing eight-minute triumph “Piles on the Floor,” which begins as a wistful slow-build before dissolving into an exultant guitar solo.

5. Giant Sand – proVISIONS (2008)
It’s very tough to pick between the decade’s three excellent Giant Sand albums, but proVISIONS stands out for being the most cohesive package of songs. It combines road music with late night music, pairs the off-kilter with the straight-ahead, and like most of Howe Gelb’s music, turns on a dime from being vaguely unsettling to feeling like you’ve just settled into an easy chair.

6. Greyhound Soul – Alma de Galgo (2001) / Down (2002)
I couldn’t choose between these two albums because I saw Greyhound Soul so much during that period that the songs will always blend together for me. The band ranges between classic rock and what I’ve called peyote blues, and Joey Peña's rough desert drawl holds it all together.

7. Chango Malo – The Whiskey Years (2007)
Loud, heavy and practically vibrating with energy, Chango Malo is known to leave its mark on stage than on record, but here the band comes very close.

8. Golden Boots – Winter of Our Discotheque (2009)
The gypsy country weirdness of the Boots peaked on this year’s Park The Van release.

9. Al Perry – Always A Pleasure (2004)
This is a delicious blend of Congress Street honky-tonk and plenty of Telecaster fireworks from our Great One. I know he didn’t write it, but “We Got Cactus” is pure Al Perry.

10. Tracy Shedd – Cigarettes & Smoke Machines (2008)
Shedd’s dreamy, languorous vocals and buzzing, feedback-prone guitars were in effect well before she moved to Tucson, but her latest record definitely goes down as her best so far.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Decade in Music, Part 1: Honorable Mentions

I have no grand pronouncements for the music of the 2000s. Defining it in terms of its technology downplays the music. Defining it by any singular trend or genre ignores the incredible expansion enabled by the technology. Marketers tried shoveling crap down everybody's throats while the fans revolted. All I can say is I found a tremendous amount to love and above all else, it was a decade of joyous discovery and celebration of great music.

In developing this Decade in Review, I spent a lot of time listening, a lot of time thinking and jotted a lot of notes all the while. What I came up with, at least in terms of format, is a relatively short list of the best albums, another list of my favorite Tucson albums of the decade, and a fun and loose catch-all that covers a good deal of the rest.

So today, enjoy these lists, of close to 100 albums that helped define the shape of the decade, and certainly what I listened to. Best of the decade and Tucson favorites to follow:

Where you been?
Nobody can manage to be on the leading curve of every great album or band, but there are several of the decade’s best that I found myself catching up to, years too late:

Drive-by Truckers – Decoration Day
The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism
The National – Boxer
The Gaslight Anthem – The '59 Sound
The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
Dan Bern – New American Language
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Shake The Sheets

Again & Again
Few bands ever make truly excellent albums – but all of these struck gold multiple times in the decade. Some could do no wrong in the 2000s, some had an excellent string of several albums, and some had consecutive peaks, but all could be counted on time and time again for great music:

The White Stripes – White Blood Cells, Elephant, Get Behind Me Satan
Band of Horses – Everything All The Time, Cease To Begin
OutKast – Stankonia, Speakerboxx/The Love Below
Bob Dylan – Love And Theft, Modern Times, Together Through Life
Neko Case – Blacklisted, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Middle Cyclone
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent, Post-War, Hold Time
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People, Broken Social Scene
Feist – Let It Die, The Remainder
TV On The Radio – Dear Science, Return to Cookie Mountain
The Walkmen – Bows + Arrows, A Thousand Miles Off, You & Me
Giant Sand – Chore of Enchantment, Is All Over The Map
Kathleen Edwards – Failer, Asking For Flowers
New Pornographers – Mass Romantic, Twin Cinema, Electric Version
Spoon – Kill the Moonlight, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
The Decemberists – Her Majesty, Picaresque, The Crane Wife
James McMurtry – Childish Things, Just Us Kids
Clem Snide – The Ghost of Fashion, End of Love
Wilco – A Ghost Is Born, Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (The Album)
Okkervil River – Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See, The Stage Names, The Stand-Ins

Early Decade Favorites
While all of these albums did have some pretty good staying power, each one was the shit for me at various points in time in the decade’s first couple years.

Old 97s – Satellite Rides
Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
Dwight Yoakam –
Lambchop – Nixon
Mike Doughty – Skittish

Out of Touch?
It’s no surprise the mainstream music buying populace and I would find little to agree on. I own just four of the top 40 selling albums of the decade (according to Nielson, which I don't find online, but it's printed in the back of the Rolling Stone decade in review issue), but let's not kid ourselves here, it was a decade of almost entirely shit when it came to radio and MTV. I'm surprised these four even sold as much as they did:

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack (12th)
Green Day – American Idiot (28)
OutKast – Speakerboxx/The Love Below (31)
Dr. Dre – 2001 (39)

Gone Before Their Time
Chronicling all of the musical deaths of the decade would be a whole separate post, but I wanted to mention those musicians who died young, and the posthumous projects that were all the more treasured as memorials:

Morphine – The Night
Elliott Smith – From A Basement on the Hill
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Streetcore
All Autonomy (and my friend, Brian Gianelli) – Nothing New For Trash Like You (reissue)

Old Favs
Since when should making some of the best music ever count against you? Some of my all-time favorites are still rockin' - and if the very latest albums are always their absolute best work, they all too often get overlooked. I say screw that, these albums are better than most people will ever make:

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising, Magic, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
Tom Petty – Highway Companion (and though The Last DJ wasn’t excellent, “Have Love Will Travel” is my favorite Petty song of the decade)
Social Distortion – Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Loved & Lost (Track Of)
Prolific artists can be the easiest to lose track of, and no matter how great these albums are, or how much I hear about the newer ones, sometimes I find it hard to want to wade into album after album after album. But I'll always love these ones:

Beck – Sea Change
Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker, Gold

San Francisco Bay Area Bands
Since I began writing for the East Bay Express, I’ve paid much more attention to music from the Bay Area, and got to vote in the newspapers Best of the Decade poll. Here are my top three albums:

Green Day – American Idiot
Rogue Wave – Descended Like Vultures
Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway

Best Comebacks
Whether cult favorites from ages past or Hall of Famers already, some unexpectedly make stunning return albums, typically with a young buck producer on hand to guide the way:

Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me
Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer
Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
The Flatlanders – Now Again

Stellar Debut Albums:
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank The Cradle
Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour of Bewilderbeast
Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
The Strokes – Is This It?
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The Format – EP

The New Dylans
Troubadours & folkies will never die. Here's to the emerging generation, some of whom are stunningly accomplished already, and all of whom are making timeless American music (even the dude from Sweden):

Elvis Perkins
Josh Ritter
Ezra Furman & The Harpoons
Mason Jennings
The Felice Brothers
The Tallest Man On Earth

Tip of the Iceberg
Highly creative and musically imaginative bands with deep catalogs are some of the most daunting things to me, and they’re the ones that invariably yield side projects that are just as well regarded. My listening has barely started:

Will Oldham
Animal Collective
And more, yet undiscovered...

Kid A Can Suck It
Probably the most often cited No. 1 album of the decade, Radiohead’s 2000 effort didn’t do it for me. Not remotely. Not even after going back to it, years later, after finally seeing them live. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the band. But why Radiohead would abandon guitars – and frankly, songs – in favor of making a middling techo record was always a mystery to me. So was the universal praise that followed as a response. And so were the next two albums.

So when the band made In Rainbows, an album as textured and esoteric as any of their techo albums, but which marked a return to what I loved about the band, I couldn’t help but listen and listen and listen and listen.

Favorite Record Label
Several of the stalwart indie labels had outstanding decades - Merge and Matador both broke excellent new bands and continued their support of those who'd been making great music for years and years. Jagjaguwar released some fantastic albums, especially in the last few years.

But for me, Sub Pop takes the honor, for its complete redefinition, moving beyond grunge to woodsier, folkier bands. Make fun of the beards if you want, but try arguing with the excellent albums from Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Iron & Wine, Postal Service, The Fruit Bats, Wolf Parade, Blitzen Trapper and a great many more.

And finally, here's a short mix of the Best Songs of the Decade