Friday, February 5, 2010

BS Awards - Album of the Year

Now that the Grammy's have finally come and gone, I can release the real awards for album of the year. No, there is no Beyonce, Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga on this list. In fact, in this "Year of the Woman" in the world of music, there is nary a lady-lead act on the whole list. This is not to say I dislike women singers. I have a nice itunes mix of British Birds that has is heavily weighted on Kate Nash and Lily Allen. When it came to bringing the pleasure to my ears, soul and heart in 2009, I relied on the fellas to get it done.

There are many, many songs throughout the year that moved me. But what makes an album special in not just the number of hits on the album, but the entire flow and feeling that listening the album in its entirity brings. Here's my top 10:

1. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day - There was much pressure on the boys from Green Day to follow up one of the best albums of all time. While this album can't knock American Idiot off the top shelf, this is still an excellent album. Similar to American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown really moved me from song to song even when I couldn't understand when Billie Joe was saying. It is full of anger and joy and frustration and release. I loved it. Any question to whether this would be on top was removed after seeing the excellent musical, American Idiot on stage in Berkeley (which featured several songs from 21st Century Breakdown) and seeing the best concert in the history of Arco Arena. Green Day puts on a monsterous live show!

2. Raditude - Weezer - I've previously mentioned that I'm a geek for the geek rock of Weezer. Rivers Cuomo sings to me from a place that a sometimes reside. There was a quite a number of songs from Raditude that I loved and even liked the remake of I Want You To that turned the song into a duet. What launched Raditude so high on the list was the nifty marketing of the album through itunes. I signed up for the Raditude Pass. The pass would send me a few songs or videos every week for the 4 or 5 weeks prior to the release of the album. Included were all sort of excellent covers and live videos. Adding live covers of Green Day, MGMT, Lady Gaga and The Clash to an already excellent album was almost enough to land this album in the top spot.

3. Backspacer - Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam has aged so well, right along with the Big Sexy! They come out and rock with songs as rocking as anything they have put out, including the BS Song of the Year. But at the same time, they bring it down in order to cool me out. There were a couple songs that would fit on the Into The Wild soundtrack. Sprinkled in were some good mid-tempo rockers. I'm glad the boys from PJ still have it. The only knock on the album was the odd mix. It never flowed as well as I would like an album to flow. Excellent album by a band I have loved for a long, long time.

4. Only By The Night - Kings of Leon - I just was turned onto KOL this year, by my brother in rock, Ted. I really liked this album. It has a very cool vibe. There is a tension just under the surface of many of the songs. Whichever Followill that sings, sounds like he has so much passion just about to burst out of his body. I love the feeling his singing evokes and driving rock music the rest of the Followill family brings to the album. I wish their live performance and/or videos would show the same passion and emotion that there songs evoke. This album is a bit more polished than their previous efforts. In some ways, that's good, but it seems a little more controlled overall and that is a bad thing. I worry about future albums never being as good as this or their previous albums. Great work though.

5. Art Brut vs. Satan - Art Brut - I've been a big fan of Art Brut for a few years know. Eddie Argos has very funny and clever lyrics that are laid over a rocking beat. Overall, this is their best album. It was produced by Frank Black and you can tell it is a little more professionally done. The music is really better and a little more complex. However, I think Eddie has written better (and funnier) lyrical content. There are certainly some great stories in there, but nothing as revolutionary as some of their earlier songs. I did finally get to check them out live and had a great time. He's the first singer of a band I have really liked that I have had a chance to hang out with with a bit.

6. The Hazards of Love - The Decemberists - This is the epitemy of what I am talking about regarding an album being a whole. The Hazards of Love is basically musical theater in an album. The album is very literate. It tells a crazy story that is basically girl meets a deer, girl gets pregnant, the deer's tree-mother forbids their union and hires someone named the Rake to kill her. Ghosts of dead children and a river team up to save them, but the river ultimately takes their lives. Hey, it's one of love's many hazards. If that isn't crazy enough. The lyrics are old school. Real old school, like 12th century. I honestly had to look up a website the translated the lyrics to what the heck was going on. But once I did, I was enthralled by this story. The music and the story are actually very emotionally moving and ends with my favorite Cool Out song of the year, Hazards of Love 4 in which the man-deer and the woman get married as they sink into their watery grave. The whole is so much greater than the sum of this album's parts.

7. Funny Electronic Dance Music

7a. Party Rock - LMFAO - These albums will share this number as they all had a similar theme of being funny, but included some pretty good music as well. Party Rock is just that. Well, maybe not that much rock. I can see a concert from these guys as being just one big x-rated party. These guys bring the funk. The lyrical content varies from girls/drinking/clubs to sex/Voka n Red Boo/dancing to "D's"/shots/bouncing. If there is anything these guys want to do that does not involve getting drunk and having sex in clubs, it is written elsewhere. I would love to dig out a glow stick and party with these guys.

7b. Incredibad - The Lonely Island - Yup, the guys behind the digital shorts on SNL brought it on a whole album. There were old classics like Lazy Sunday and Dick in a Box to new classics like I'm on a Boat. The songs were not only funny but were really good songs as well. I loved most of this album. When they miss, it's kinda ugly, but that's why the ipod has a skip button.

7c. I Told You I Was Freaky - Flight of the Conchords - This album corresponds to Season 2 of this excellent HBO show. They went a little more electronic this time than the first, but still had some kickin and funny songs. Like the show, season 2 was not as good as season 1, but it was still very good.

8. Kill - Electric Six - Electric Six never puts together a full album of great songs. They are more of a nugget band for me. Every album there are several songs that I love. The previous album, Flashy, may have been their most dissapointing. There were a couple good songs, but the album had me quite worried about one of my fave bands. E6 came back and killed it this year with Kill. There are a bunch of up-beat, liberal, party songs that restored my faith in Dick Valentine and the boys.

9. Them Crooked Vultures - This may end up higher when I look at this list at the end of 2010. I'm digging this album from Big Sexy Entertainer of the Decade #3, Josh Homme and BS EoD #1 Dave Grohl, along with some old guy from some 70's band. It sounds a lot like a Queens of the Stone album with a kickass drummer to me. As with a QOTSA album, there are a few throwaway songs. But overall, this album makes with want to rock some shades and be a bad ass.

10. Now I Can See - The Thermals - I liked this album, although a lot of the songs start to sound alike after a while. The Thermals are a poppy rock band from the Northwest. They seem very happy and make me smile listening to them. I'm pretty sure the lyrics aren't quite as happy as the music makes me feel.

During a typical year, I am usually turned onto bands that I didn't really know exist or at least they had not clicked as much with me. This year seemed to be exceptional in that regard. Here are my top 5 most influencial albums that I really hadn't listened to prior to this year.

1. Radiohead - Kid A & OK Computer - I heart Radiohead! I used to not like them at all and I now feel they are absolute genius. These albums are true albums from start to finish. There is something about them that just moves me. I almost never know what Radiohead songs are about, I just know how they make me feel. They are able to touch me sonically. Radiohead albums are nearly spiritual to me.

2. Lifter Puller - Soft Rock - Before there was The Hold Steady, Craig Finn created Lifter Puller along with future THS axeman, Tab Kubler. Lifter Puller is a lot like a Hold Steady. Craig spits out crazy awesome lyrics over music inspired more by The Clash than classic rock. His weird, spoken word delivery has to grow on you, but once it does, you'll love and appreciate it.

3. The National - Alligator & Boxer - I absolutely fell in love with this band. The fact that they are only number 3 on this list just goes to the strength of the list. In the vein of The Hold Steady, The National gets to me with their smart and clever lyrics that match perfectly with the mood that the music is conveying. They are a band that can dominate a whole hour of cool out music and a whole hour of workout music.

4. Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak & Young and Young Manhood - KOL rocked when they started their crazy musical journey. I loved their Grammy nominated album this year, as you can see from it's number 4 spot on the BS album of the year. They are nearly a different band in these first two albums. Much more jangly rock. You can sense the much higher production of Only By the Night. There is something more organic about these two albums that allows you to feel a little closer to the band. Caleb's voice sounds a little less polished, but still like he's been drinking at the studio or the garage or wherever they are kicking out the jams.

5. The Pixies - Wave of Mutulation - This band has been around forever. The only song I could name from them was Here Comes My Man, and I disliked that song quite a bit. Guitar Hero opened my ears to them. I purchased their greatest hits album and dug most of it. The Pixies are another group that grows on you. Almost all of the music was new to me this year and it would not have sounded out of place it 2009 if it had been released this year even though most of the songs are over 20 years old. That is the sign of a band that was ahead of their time.

There it is! The albums that were most influential to my world in 2009. I can't wait to see what 2010 has to offer. I'm already looking forward to new albums from some of my favorite bands: Cake, The Hold Steady, OK Go and maybe even Radiohead. But the real fun is being exposed to bands I've never heard of that I can't stop listening to. Already this year, I am very much digging the spacey vibe of The XX. Very cool.

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