December 31, 2010
Michael Piantigini's Top 10s of 2010 | We Have Assumed Control
[Chart toppers Superchunk live at Royale, Boston, MA. 9/21/2010. Photo by Michael Piantigini. More here.]
Here it is, New Year's Eve, and I'm finally turning in my year-end list. TO MYSELF! As you may have read, El Jefe Jay Breitling will be on hiatus for a few months tending to undercover work for his secret, non-blogging identity and I'll be attempting keep up with the entire universe of music (or at least some subset thereof) for the duration. I appreciate Jay's trust that I won't turn this into some weirdo NFL coach-spouse fetish site (I won't).
Anywhos, my top 10 (Jay's is here). This has been a hell of a year for those of us who came of musical age in the 90's. My list is dominated by some great new albums by 90's heavyweights, many of whom happen to be on the Merge label. And it was hard not to be nostalgic when you find yourself standing up against the stage hanging on every "NOOOOOOO!" of "Slack Motherfucker" once again.
So here's my TOP 10 ALBUMS:
1. Superchunk - Majesty Shredding (Merge)
This album was an incredible gift. They never actually broke up, but the longer that gap between albums was, the more we got frighteningly used to a world without Superchunk. So, yeah, it's mere existence made it a contender. That it contained songs like the opening pair, "Digging For Something," and "My Gap Feels Weird," that would become instant Superchunk classics brought tears to the eyes and a spring in one's step.
2. Bettie Serveert - Pharmacy of Love (Second Motion)
As I said back in March, Pharmacy of Love rivals the Betties' 1992 debut Palomine for best of catalog honors. Driven by some especially energetic drumming, it's focused, direct, and rocking - and doesn't wander off on some of the tangents of their recent work.
3. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Brutalist Bricks (Matador)
Speaking of energetic - speaking of focused - speaking of rocking... The Brutalist Bricks IS Ted Leo and the Pharmacists finest front-to-back album yet. And let's all watch the great Tom Scharpling-directed video for "Bottled In Cork" again, shall we?
4. Versus - On The Ones And Threes (Merge)
In the near decade since Versus guitarist/vocalist Richard Baluyut disbanded the band and left New York for the San Francisco he only produced a single album (on Blackball in 2006, with his band Whysall Lane), as did bassist/vocalist Fontaine Toups (in 2004 on Teenbeat). Both have their moments, for sure, but On The Ones and Threes makes clear that the sum is greater than the parts (and near-original lineup drummer Ed Baluyut returns for good measure as well). And it's all here: the Richard/Fontaine harmonies, the the proto-indie chiming jangle, and distortion for miles. Soul-nourishing distortion.
5. Ty Segall - Melted (Goner)
I know nothing of how this San Fran garage-rocker makes records, but they certainly feel like they must just fall together. They're casual and comfortable, like slipping into your loafers or something (can we please make this a new hipster trend? OK, fine: let's say it's like throwing on your favorite hoodie). Melted is poppy 60's garage pop with one foot squarely on the distortion pedal that's as good at first listen as it is after 100.
6. Teenage Fanclub - Shadows (Merge)
It is all too easy to pine for the distortion (there's that word again) saturation of Bandwagonesque, but that was the grunge era, and hey, we've all grown in the 18 years since, right? Shadows has more than a couple of tracks that that future compilers will need to make room for on the next best-of, at least one of which ("When I Still Have Thee") is one of those inspirational Teenage Fanclub songs (like, say, "Ain't That Enough") that should have been a #1 hit on some fictional chart that mattered. These Scotsmen are multi-continental now (Norman Blake married and moved to Canada), so the recently long stretches between albums seem likely to slow even further, so treasure them while we can.
7. Bobby Bare, Jr. - A Storm - A Tree - My Mother's Head (Thirty Tigers)
Country scion Bobby Bare, Jr. has professed as much love for (and has covered) the Pixies and The Smiths as for any of the country music that underpins his style. His roots give him more heft than much of the alt-country pigeonhole he gets lumped in with - he pulls off riffing guitar orgies like "Swollen But Not The Same" equally as well as he does the old-fashioned murder ballad "One Of Us Has Got To Go." The latter co-written with his father and begins with a regretful sigh and ends with a mouthed gunshot that tips Bare's sense of humor. His last album, 2006's The Longest Meow, was recorded live in the studio (as his website puts it, "1 day 11 songs 11 people 11 hours"), but A Storm... feels a bit more studio crafted - many of the songs incorporating more synths, including for the bass parts (as in recent tours), but it seems to work more naturally for Bare than it did, say, for that last Steve Earle album.
8. The Parting Gifts - Strychnine Dandelions (In The Red)
The announcement for this collaboration with the The Ettes' Coco Hames (with Raconteur Patrick Keeler on drums) came as we were still anticipating Greg Cartwright's visit to Cambridge with his Reigning Sound, now we're hoping for a visit by the Parting Gifts too. This doesn't stray very far from either band's wheelhouse, but it's yet more great songwriting from Cartwright with performances by people who love music. Simple as that, really.
9. New Pornographers - Together (Merge)
There's a certain tightness to New Pornographer's songs that feels a little stiff to me when it isn't hitting right, but Together doesn't seem to have this problem. It still has the meticulous arrangements, of course, but also there's also a warmth and inspired vibe emanating from this one. (And it's soon to have its own Scharpling-directed video too).
10. Robert Plant - Band of Joy (Rounder)
Now here's an album that addresses something I've been complaining about. Why do yesteryear's mega-rock bands insist on having to have everything they do be so huge? Every Stones tour, for example, has to be a massive stadium production extravaganza or they just won't bother, ditto Roger Waters and/or Pink Floyd, etc., etc. The music isn't nearly as satisfying as the paycheck or the ego stroking that apparently comes with it. (I'm going to grant Paul McCartney an exemption to this complaint). The pressure was on Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant to jump into a massive tour after their successful 2007 one-off reunion, but he declined. Instead of trying to sing like he did 35 years ago, he's singing songs he's more interested in now (TWO Low covers?) like he sings now. It's more musically satisfying and a modest acceptance of the limitations and the judicious use of his voice.
TOP 10 SHOWS:
1. Superchunk with Versus, 9/21/10, at Royale, Boston, MA
See above. The audience couldn't have been more ready for this show. We NEEDED it. In an interview somewhere earlier this year, one of the band said that it seemed like people were really rooting for them on this tour. It really felt that way, and they responded in kind. (My earlier coverage).
2. Yo La Tengo with Mission of Burma, 12/5/10, at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ
My New Year's resolution: try to spend every Hanukkah with Yo La Tengo in their home base. (My earlier coverage).
3. John Roderick, 8/20/10, at Montague Books, Montague, MA
Such a cool night in a cool setting in the middle of nowhere. With artisanal pencil sharpening. (My earlier coverage).
4. Bettie Serveert, 11/2/10, at TT the Bear's Place, Cambridge, MA
Finally, after an immigration delay, Bettie Serveert blew the roof off of TT's. (My earlier coverage).
5. Grant Hart, 1/11/10, at the Middle East, Cambridge, MA
Grant Hart returned to Cambridge in the beginning of the year with an excellent new album and an upbeat show! (My earlier coverage).
6. Come, 9/26/10 at TT the Bear's Place, Cambridge, MA
Original lineup tune up for the Matador 21 Vegas fest sounded like they never left. Mesmerizing. (My earlier coverage).
7. Reigning Sound, 6/18/10 at TT the Bear's Place, Cambridge, MA
Classic 50's and 60's rock and roll/soul/R&B songcraft without an ounce of bullshit: a Gretsch, plugged straight in, some great melodies, and one of those great rock voices. Three minute gems delivered with punk rock efficiency.
8. Feelies 3/19/10, at the Middle East, Cambridge, MA
Epic two-set night from the Feelies, who previewed tons of great stuff from their upcoming album.
9. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists with Obits and Screaming Females, 4/10/10 at the Paradise, Boston, MA
Ted Leo and the always explosive Pharmacists brought the punk rock spirit back to the Paradise. Can't not leave his shows with an adrenaline high. (My earlier coverage).
10. Wrens, 1/16/10, at the Middle East, Cambridge, MA
Still managing to ride the wave of of a seven year-old album. Their chaotic live shows have been good enough to carry them for this long, but it might be about time to get moving on that new record fellas. (My earlier coverage).
Happy New Year! See you in '11.