Tag Archives: stars

The Year in Music, So Far: Best Albums of 2010

With July half over, it’s time to look back over what has already been an incredible year in terms of new releases. I foresee a hard task ahead for myself in December…

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim   – Here Lies Love

I was drawn to this album by the amazing and diverse list of contributors (Florence Welch, Steve Earle, Cyndi Lauper, Kate Pierson, Sharon Jones and Allison Moorer, to name a few) and was held rapt by the stories they told about the life of Imelda Marcos and the disco-infused beats and melodies that swirled around them. A fascinating project and an incredible collection of music, this is currently my favorite album of the year.

Yeasayer – Odd Blood

I liked their debut, but this album really catapulted Yeasayer onto a new level. A delightful blizzard of beeps and blips swirls around a strong crop of songs. And I won’t lie and say that “Ambling Alp” didn’t guide me through a few personally frustrating moments: “Now, the world can be an unfair place at times / But your lows will have their complement of highs … You must stick up for yourself, son / Never mind what anybody else done.”

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

From the moment I first heard the driving tour de force that is “Little Lion Man” on WERS, I was sold. The edgy amalgam of Americana-meets-UK folk rock is a galloping, emotional headrush. Their songs pulse with life and urgency and won’t be denied. This album feels essential, in part because the members of the band play and sing as if their lives depended on it.

The National – High Violet

Is it boring to say that The National have created yet another masterpiece, and that there is little one can offer in the way of critique for their fifth full-length album? Matt Berninger continues to confound and mesmerize, and he and his bandmates continue to expertly weave their layers of lush and compelling songcraft. No, something this captivating can’t be boring.

New Pornographers – Together

This album took a while to grow on me, as I wrote about previously, since I was blinded by my love for “Challengers.” But, like I said, this may be the fullest realization of the band to date. Neko Case really steps out and shines (not that we didn’t already know she was a gem), Dan Bejar is at his most accessible and A.C. Newman continues to steer his pop ship in enlightening directions.

Stars – The Five Ghosts

I first heard this album performed live in its entirety at a concert, so I may be biased, but this is a strong addition to the Stars discography. “We Don’t Want Your Body” is a fun, dance-y track, and I find that there is a lot on this record to groove to. At the same time, appropriate to the title, there are some more grief-stricken moments, as well. That range, of course, is par for the course with Stars.

Hot Chip – One Life Stand

LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (tie)

I’m glad I have another few months to chew on this one for the proper year-end roundup. Both of these albums are dance parties in a box, with solid stand-out tracks like Hot Chip’s “I Feel Better” and LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean.” I have a feeling Hot Chip will win out in the end, but right now, I’m too busy dancing to pick one or the other.

Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

This is a bit fuzzier than I normally go for, but the riffs are tight, the melodies are catchy and as summer winds on, I find myself turning to this album more and more. Must be something about the easy shimmer and faint throwback vibe these guys convey. Roll your windows down for this one.

The Kissaway Trail – Sleep Mountain

One of my favorite albums last year was Wild Light’s “Adult Nights,” and I categorize this band in a similar vein. This is just a fun, varied listen, swooping from broad, epic brushstrokes to muted pockets of falsetto from one moment to the next. Echoes of Grandaddy and the Arcade Fire pop up throughout this lush work. It’s an engrossing listen.

Tracey Thorn – Love and its Opposite

My friend Tim was raving about this album by the lead woman from Everything But the Girl, so I had to check it out. After listening through once streaming online, I had to buy it at the next available opportunity. Her voice is captivating, and these powerful songs are full of elegance and verve. This is a dark horse entry into the top 10 of 2010 so far.

Other high-ranking releases: Magnetic Fields, “Realism”; Ted Leo & Pharmacists, “The Brutalist Bricks”; Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, “Up From Below”; Local Native, “Gorilla Manor”; Laura Veirs, “July Flame”

Disappointments: Bird and the Bee, “Interpreting the Masters, vol. 1”; Broken Bells, “Broken Bells”; Rogue Wave, “Permalight”; Midlake, “The Courage of Others”; The Hold Steady, “Heaven is Whenever”

Surprises so far: Peter Wolf, “Midnight Souvenirs”; John Hiatt, “The Open Road”; Magic Man, “Real Life Color”

What am I missing? I am sure I missed a few of your favorites.

Come back next week to see my favorite songs of the year so far!

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Take Five

Live Music

I was lucky enough to win tickets to Tuesday’s sold out Stars show at the Paradise from Clicky Clicky. I still remember how I first discovered Stars — I pulled their album “Heart” out of a giveaway box at a radio station my friend worked at. I liked the simplicity of the names of both the band and the album. Who knew that album would grab me and never let me go?

I had never seen Stars live before, and they didn’t disappoint. The first half of the show featured their new album, “The Five Ghosts,” played in its entirety. It’s a fun, danceable, synthy affair that I can’t wait to crank up this summer. Then, after a short break, they played a string of hits which they said were selected by the fans, including “Ageless Beauty,” “Elevator Love Letter” and “Your Ex-Lover is Dead.” The crowd was great and supportive, the band was excited and energetic, and the show was simply a joy. Throughout the evening, the band tossed white roses into the crowd, as if we were the ones being feted.

Frank Yang at Chromewaves gives some background about Stars’ decision to extensively tour on the album before it was even released — not to mention playing the whole thing in a block with no one having heard it before. They’ve also opened up one of the tracks from the album for remixing, and will feature what they declare to be the best one.

Sure, Stars have gone about things a bit unconventionally, but you know what? No one in the sold-out Paradise Rock Club seemed to mind.

Here is the first single from the new album, “Fixed.”

Live Music, Part Two

On Sunday, May 30, I attended the Boston Rock BBQ, a gathering of local musicians, bloggers, publicists and others invested in the local music scene. It was held at the Bridge, a recording studio in North Cambridge.

The event was a fun, chill time with great food, ample beverages, and nonstop music. The open jam was a real treat, as various musicians took the stage to form impromptu Led Zeppelin cover bands, cover songs by the Pixies or perform their original fare.

I finally got to meet Ryan of Ryan’s Smashing Life fame, see a few friendly faces and a encounter a few new ones. I saw Tab the Band and learned about Zumix, a nonprofit dedicated to helping youth build community through music and the arts (the raffle at the event, featuring donations from bands, blogs and local businesses for prizes, benefited Zumix).

Thanks so much to the organizers for bringing us all together on a beautiful day. There was a great sense of community on display — one of the things I like the most about the local music scene.

Finds of the Week

  • Levi’s has organized the Pioneer Sessions, recruiting artists ranging from Nas to She & Him to the Dirty Projectors to  to “re-craft the classic songs that inspired their sound.” You might end up on the Levi’s mailing list, but the covers released to date have proven more than worth the price of admission.
  • Trent Reznor is back and the debut EP by his new project, How to Destroy Angels, is available for free download.
  • At the Boston Rock BBQ, I met Bernie Conneely, who runs the local music scene website Melody Matters. He also regularly records video at concerts, which he posts on the Melody Matters YouTube channel.

In the News

  • A locally-developed platform called Riotvine, which finds and aggregates local events and tells you which of your friends have plans to attend, has teamed up with Foursquare to tie in a location-based marketing component. Now, for instance, a band could see who is at a show and reach out to those fans with real-time rewards, such as free tracks. BostInnovation has the details on the partnership, as well as earlier coverage of Riotvine.
  • One thousand dollars can buy you a custom-made Juliana Hatfield song.
  • Miss Lala already? Grooveshark wants to give you a shoulder to cry on with free access to its premium service.
  • Gorilla vs. Bear is among the half dozen music sites joining the BuzzMedia collective.
  • The Grinding Tapes mix CD exchange deadline has been extended to July 2. Bad news for me who really wants to hear everyone else’s mixes, but good news for you if you want to participate in a cool project!

Second Thoughts

I still remember how I felt after writing my first Take Five post after a long hiatus from music writing. The only way I can describe it is that it felt like coming home.

Since then, I have committed myself to posting a Take Five post every Friday, and with the sole exception of the week I was in England, I’ve adhered to that plan.

But I think I’m ready for the next step. I’m thinking of new dimensions not just for Take Five, but for this blog. And I would love for music writing to play a larger role.

No decisions yet, but I just wanted to let you know that my brain gears are turning.

Take Five

Live Music

  • This past weekend, I had the delightful occasion to go to central New York with some awesome people to celebrate a friend’s birthday and graduation. Among the hostess’ friends in attendance was one Benjamin Costello, an Ithaca-based singer/songwriter. I had seen his name linked and touted in various outlets, but hadn’t yet pursued his music. I now know that the ideal way to get exposed to a new artist is on a back deck with a good drink and an intimate audience not exceeding a dozen. He’s a soulful singer and a talented musician, and a fun guy to boot.

Here’s an original I had the good fortune to see him perform live, “The Little Left Behind”:

And here’s a cover of the Weepies’ “World Spins Madly On”:

He often does live streaming video concerts, which I think is a pretty great way to spread your fan base. I look forward to the next one. Follow him on Facebook to learn more.

  • I am going to see Stars at the Paradise this Tuesday, thanks to Jay Breitling at Clicky Clicky. I won one of his Twitter contests. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter for great content, and contests. Thanks again!

Second Thoughts

Last week, Jennifer blogged about memory and song, and she specifically referenced R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People.” When she described that “bright yellow tape,” I was immediately propelled back into 1992. I was in full-on angsty teen mode then, and I remember sitting in the green armchair in the corner of the living room, scowling and scrawling horrible poetry into a spiral-bound notebook, listening to that album practically nonstop, flipping the yellow cassette over and over as if the next time I did so, I would discover the answer to some burning adolescent query.

The other day, “Find the River” came on my iPod, and I was instantly transported back to that green armchair — but not in a bad way. Rather, I saw where I had been when that album meant the world to me, and I saw where I am now, where the album still means a whole lot but my life does not seem to hinge on the integrity of the plastic-encased tape reels. And I felt pretty good about who I am, even who I was, and how a song like “Find the River” really epitomizes the journey between there and here.

Hey now, little speedyhead,
The read on the speedmeter says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve.
Don’t be shy. Your just deserve
Is only just light years to go.

It was a nice moment.

New Releases

  • I was excited to learn via a free song offered by Amie Street that We Are Scientists are releasing a new album, “Barbara,” on June 15. I am a tremendous fan of their pop-perfect rock, and that free song in question, “Rules Don’t Stop,” is quite promising.
  • I’m not really jazzed about the movie “Get Him to the Greek,” but Mike Viola always excites me, and he wrote a bunch of songs for the soundtrack, which is available via Amazon MP3 on Tuesday. Also, Mike is doing some limited touring this summer, so check him out if you can.
  • I am really enjoying the new LCD Soundsystem. It’s a party in a box.

Finds of the Week

  • Via Andrew Careaga, Filter’s 8th Coachella sampler, featuring free downloads of new tracks by Broken Social Scene (who may finally be growing on me), Tokyo Police Club, Hot Hot Heat and more.
  • Speaking of summer festivals, SPIN compiled a mixtape for Bonnaroo, which you can download for free. Great songs by The National, Blitzen Trapper, Dawes, Mumford and Sons and more.

Around the Web

  • Normally, I wouldn’t hype a newborn blog. But I’d really like to see my friend Annie keep this one up, because I think she would have some fun observations about music. And I thought that maybe blogging about it would apply a little pressure. So, here’s my plug for Music Moves my Feet, which begins with Annie describing a contest win that feeds her love of New Zealand (Zealander?) music. The second post is about knitting, but what can you do? Go, Annie, go!
  • One year ago, Jay Bennett died. Soon, the Jay Bennett Foundation will launch in his memory, supporting music and education. On July 10, a posthumous album, “Kicking at the Perfumed Air,” will be released as a free download and a CD for purchase. In the meantime, Paste links to a free download from the Bennett Foundation’s compilation, “Twice a Year.