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Friday, November 26, 2010

Post-Turkey, Pre-Xmas Music Thoughts

I'll do my annual music review after the new year. In anticipation, let me just say that 2010 has been a pretty good year for the perennially dying "rock & roll." For several months, I thought it was going to be tough to top the killer spring trio of records from the Black Keys (Brothers), Arcade Fire (The Suburbs), and Band of Horses (Infinite Arms). They're an exceptionally good and stylistically diverse batch: raucous Ohio blues punks, epic Montreal stadium romantics, and twangy S. Carolina power-popsters.

Comparing them to each other, my head says Arcade Fire made the best, a visceral and literate concept album that turned moody Cure meets Bowie atmospherics into a Springsteen-style street party. They answered the question of whether they'd ever be able to match the melancholic perfection of their debut CD, Funeral. But like all of their music, I find it hard to handle in large doses. It's just too emotionally taxing--arty folk rock goes Wagnerian opera. Easier to admire than to fully enjoy. Good thing the Black Keys just go out and kick ass. Not a lot to think about on Brothers. Just blast it out of the car. This is probably their best overall record, at least since Rubber Factory. Nice to see it sold a lot of copies, even if "Tighten Up" never quite became the hit it should have been. And then there's Band of Horses with, the sleeper. Infinite Arms really merits repeat listens--while unlikely to top the others in year-end lists, it's the one I suspect I'll still be listening to a few years from now. "Laredo," in particular, is a simple but achingly beautiful song that reminds of Big Star. The whole thing is worth a listen.

To my surprise then, an even better mainstream rock record showed up a few weeks ago. From Kings of Leon, no less. I've discussed Nashville's KoL in previous posts. Despite the facts that they can't write coherent lyrics and their (early, at least) live shows were mediocre, their first two records are fantastic bursts of cow punk joy. The next two were frustrating messes, even if Only By The Night (2008) was a monster seller. Meh. Two big hits and a lot of filler. They've clearly been struggling to transform from indie rock guilty pleasure to stadium rock juggernaut, and those first attempts at becoming TN-U2 just couldn't measure up. So I was cautious about Come Around Sundown, which, following Only By, could have been lazy cashing-in. Thankfully, no. Instead, it may be their best record and likely my favorite of this year. The whole damn thing is exceptional--not a weak song. And the highs are really high. I don't know if "Pyro," "Mary," and "Birthday" will come close to "Use Somebody" as pop radio songs, but they are all light years better as rock music. Caleb Followill may be the best young belter in the rock cosmos. Who cares if he has a bland stage demeanor and looks like J. Crew's catalog imitation of a lead singer? OK, I do. That bugs me a little. But Come Around is still great, and I'm not too hip to admit it.

And yet, for all that, Patti Griffin's gospel-leaning Downtown Church, recorded in Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian, may be better than the lot. Go figure. Have you guys heard anything good? This seems like a year where the top keeps getting topped.


At 8:48 AM, Blogger fronesis said...

Downtown Church is pretty much the only new album I bought this year. That's sort of pathetic. I'll have to check out the others on your list.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

If you only bought one record this year, Patti's DtC is a damn good pick. One of her warmest and most consistent records.

It really has been a surprisingly good year for mainstream rock, much better than 2009. I didn't even mention good efforts from Tom Petty and the Drive By Truckers, though I don't think either of those records is quite on par with the others I mentioned above. I also hear the new Robert Plant is good (with help from Patti G.), but I've only heard a song or two.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Scott said...

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at Patty G's album.


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