Or, What Has Adam Been Listening To?
Thanks mostly to the opening of Spoonful Records here in Columbus I've bought a lot of records this year. You should, too. Or at least check out this stuff on GrooveShark.com, which is probably more likely. Also, trust my opinion, because despite not being able to write a proper review, I have a website and am therefore a taste-maker.
10. Loudon Wainwright III – s/t (1970)
He's Rufus and Martha's dad. I'm not sure that either of them like him.
I do though.
This was his first album and I picked it up from that record store I mentioned up there. It'ssimplistic, as most folk was at the time, but the lyrics are infectious and wry. With a start this strong, it's not surprising that Mr. Wainwright is still chugging along. It is, however, surprising that he's not so well known, especially today.
9. Wir Sind Helden – Soundso (2007)
My cousin Philip asked me to DJ and MC his wedding in May and I decided not to take the easy way out; that is, making an iTunes playlist. Instead I actually jockeyed some discs, which entailed expanding my collection by a bit. I remembered the first time I thumbed through Phil's music collection he only had a handful of bands I'd actually listened to before, but Wir Sind Helden was inexplicably on that list. I thought it would be a treat if I found Soundso to play at the reception. I ended up having to order it from Germany, the band's homeland. It's a perfect pop record through and through.
8. She & Him – Volume Two
Phil and his bride to be requested a few artist in particular that I decided to pick up just for the event. She & Him was on the requests list, but Phil was lucky that I'd bought their second album the day before. There's not a lot I can say about it that hasn't been said. It may not be that strong of an album compared to what else came out this year, but I enjoy it. I'll never get tired of Zooey Deschanel's voice.
7. The Rutles – Meet The Rutles (1978)
So I felt dumb when I learned about All You Need Is Cash, a mockumentary starring Eric Idle and co-produced by Lorne Michaels about The Rutles, a delightful parody of The Beatles. It was the first movie I got off of Netflix. The movie is hilarious, but better than that, the songs – written by co-star and Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band head Neil Innes – are pitch perfect pastiches of the real band's music. (So perfect, that Innes ended up in court with the Beatles' catalog's owners, according to wikipedia, and one that's in the film but not on the record was cut because Paul McCartney said it sounded too close.)
6. Listener – Wooden Heart
This is the only album on this list that I don't own on vinyl. That's right, I listen to almost all my music on a 1970's Magnavox turntable. I'm that awesome.
But some music is worth stepping into the 21st century, or at least the late 20th, and Listener won me over with his “talk-singing” on Wooden Heart, a collection of songs inspired by people he knows and also characters from The Neverending Story. It's replaced mewithoutyou's Brother, Sister as the album I listen to when being quietly self-reflexive. I'm quietly self-reflexive a lot.
5. Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues
I tried to see Earle on the tour that would have supported this album, but the day before my local show he went into rehab. A pity, as I've seen him many times before and it's always a joy. Harlem River Blues continues his trend of critically acclaimed albums that explore roots music through a slow walk across the musical map of the southern US. This one marks two changes, though. One, the songs are mostly much more gospel inspired. Two, they're all centered around the northernest of cities, New York. But I'll tell you what, “Workin' for the MTA” is as good a railroad song as was ever written.
4. The National – High Violet
There exist a number of bands that friends and acquaintances insist that I will love. I give them a trepidatious listen. I hate it. Then one day I'll pick up their latest release on a whim and everything clicks together. The National is one such band, and High Violet is that album. So I apologize to all my friends who have told me to listen to the band for years. I still don't like Animal Collective.
3. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt
Ok, so he's Swedish and he sounds like Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie, but in a way that actually suggests influence instead of the outright ripping-off of most modern male American artists. The music is written as beautifully and poetically as the lyrics themselves which show a flair for imagery in the English language that a non-native speaker has absolutely no right to possess.
2. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
Over Christmas I read a full page review of The Age of Adz in a conservative news magazine my grandfather subscribes to. It started off by questioning whether or not Mr. Stevens is a Christian. It implied he was a sellout. It outright called him a misogynist. It spent the last third questioning whether or not Mr. Stevens is a homosexual. As proof to the affirmative they ended up citing the last stanza of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” from his 2005 release Illinois, a song about the eponymous serial killer:
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid.
The author of the review, which barely touched on the actual album being reviewed, seems to have wanted those lines to be an admission that Mr. Stevens enjoys raping and killing young boys. Personally, I'd always assumed it was the much more Christian message that all people are sinful, and in that regard no one is better than anyone else. But everything's open to interpretation, I suppose.
Anyway, lest I digress as much as that man did, I should actually say something about The Age of Adz. A lot of people complained that it was too different from his previous more folksy songs. The songs here aren't so differently formed. They are still deeply layered and instrumentaled. Those instruments are just synthesizers and auto-tuners instead of banjos and guitars. I admit that the refrain of “I Want to Be Well” threw me at first, but the language works in context, and I respect that. It's a great album, and nearly the best thing I heard this year. It deserves it's place at or near the top of most real critics lists.
1. Breathe Owl Breathe – Magic Central
The very first weekend of October I accompanied Jonathan Hape to his show at a pub in Toledo, Ohio, because he needed someone to keep him awake on the drive and watch the merch table while he was playing. What unfolded was the only positive thing to ever come out of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Toledo, Ohio.
We arrived unreasonably early and met the band that would be playing after Mr. Hape's opening of the show. They were sound checking the various toys and eclectic mix of instruments and equipment that normally signifies an indie band that favors appearing eccentric over actually making listenable music. Of the three members, one was a woman who played cello and barked. Then we all ordered food and they shared some delicious hot sauce from their native northern Michigan. Later they took the stage and the lead singer immediately called Mr. Hape a genius.
They didn't need to compliment my friends or share condiments with me. These folk could make music and work a crowd. It was one of the most enjoyable shows I've been to in years. I bought their latest album as soon as they left the stage. I've listened to it everyday since. Life's been getting better since October. Coincidence? I think not.
Aren't you glad you read that?