Sunday, December 19, 2010

my year in lists - 2010

If I had a dollar for every blog that started with a sentiment something along the lines of "Long Time, No Blog", I'd have $7.63 million (thanks, google), so I'm going to ignore the fact that I haven't posted on this blog in nearly 2 years, and just jump straight into the annual festival of self-indulgence that is the year end list.

One rule - each band is only allowed one entry overall, just to keep this list from becoming a Hold Steady and Arcade Fire love-fest.

Favourite Songs...

5. Younger Us - Japandroids
I can count the number of times I moshed at a show this year on two fingers, and during this song was one of them (for those keeping score, the other time was about four songs later, during Young Hearts Spark Fire). But this three minute nugget of distortion revels in nostalgia for the recent past, in which two 27 year old kids wistfully rock on their porch swing and remember their golden youth, the high point of which seems to be "that time you were already in bed and said "fuck it" and got up to drink with me instead". If I wrote the song, I'm sure I'd remember something a little more lofty, like "do you remember that time we were on the snuggie pub crawl of silicon valley and we got kicked off the caltrain for being a suicide risk". But I guess it doesn't roll of the tongue the same way.

4. Write About Love - Belle and Sebastian
I'm a sucker for Belle and Sebastian. I believe my entire year-end list of 2004 was merely an essay about how Belle and Sebastian were awesome because liking them made girls like me. I'm apparently much older, and wiser, now, but album and poster imagery featuring beautiful, pale-faced scottish girls gazing wistfully into the middle distance, and a song featuring a couple of lines extolling the virtues of being intellectual, some boy-girl call and response, and a Stevie Jackson surf guitar solo. and they're romping right back into 2010's year end list. (In other news, I saw them live for the first time in San Francisco, and they were charmingly awesome, and got cute girls (and Surfer Blood) up on stage to dance with them.)

3. Lingering Still - She and Him

Sure, the second She and Him record sounds a lot like the first She and Him record, but they're still fantastic, and M. Ward still has the shiniest guitar known to man. You can see that thing from space. This sugary pop-nugget wedges its way into my subconscious for months at a time, becoming the soundtrack to bus rides, showers, and marathon Angry-Birds playing sessions.

2. We Used To Wait - The Arcade Fire
Apparently its the year 2010 right now, so it is somewhat appropriate that at least one song on this list is based on a web experience - namely this amazing film here: (best viewed in Chrome) wherein a young man in a hoodie runs through deepest, darkest, Bucklands Beach, New Zealand, before arriving at my parent's house, only to be presented with a postcard from his older self, telling him that in the Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis is actually a ghost.

But in all seriousness, it was a good year for me and the Arcade Fire - "Suburbs" is a fantastic record, their Vancouver show this year was so epic I had a 50-year old asian man crowdsurf over me, and every time I hear Rebellion (Lies), I think its the olympics again, and I start to cry.

1. Tightrope - Janelle Monae
Again, another web-sourced piece of genius, but I'm glad I found it. Janelle Monae's performance on Letterman should a blueprint for how to perform on television. I see this song has made its way to a car commercial already, but if there's any justice, it should be propping up dancefloors the world over for the next 40 years. Doo Wop Motown Pop recast with an art-school aesthetic, and catchy as all hell. Plus, its from a record that seems to be about Robots.

Favourite Albums...

5. This is Happening - LCD Soundsystem
I think I've bought every LCD Soundsystem record to this point, and I can't honestly say I've ever sat down and listened all the way through any of them. For every fantastic slice of brilliance (daft punk is playing at my house, all my friends) they always seemed to be a couple of tracks that seem to be there solely to act as source material for amateur DJs to mash up. Hands up if you've ever made it all the way through the full 9 minute version of "Yeah" - nobody? I thought as much.

This is Happening seems like more of a pop record than a dance music record, and is filled with bullets, from the opening quiet, quiet, quiet, car-speaker blowing loud of "Dance Yourself Clean", through the best 4-song run of the year - "I can change", "All I Want", "You Wanted a Hit" and "Pow Pow".

If it really is the last LCD record, its a fitting bookend to their particular narrative arc. But if the amount of fun they were having the two times I saw them live this year is any indication, there's a good chance it won't be.

4. Astro Coast - Surfer Blood
These kids look like they're 12, but I suspect they're closer to 21 (and the singer looks like a tubby Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years), but at either age they're still far too young to be this talented. The record is full of big, nuggety riffs drenched in distortion, and hooks thatsounds instantly familiar, and cause me to ask "what is this" every time I get in the car and it's playing.

3. Romance is Boring - Los Campesinos!
Disclaimer: I'm a Los Campesinos! nerd. I may have just signed up for their new zine subscription service, I may have driven to Seattle to see them play this year, and I may also be currently drinking tea out of a Los Campesinos! coffee mug. However, I still listened to this record more than any other this year, and there are redeeming features that should be appreciated by even non-fanboys.

a) Romance is Boring, the band's second proper "record", and third full-length, shows them shelving the all-out wall of sound that characterized the first two, and making use of space and lush instrumentation, best captured in "The Sea is a Good Place to Think of Future", linked below.
b) One song details a plan to move to Malta, get citizenship, and then get picked for the national football team, therefore being able to play England, France, Spain etc in World Cup qualifiers. This is notable, because I had the same plan, and would often discuss it with my co-conspirators, Messrs Dave Pearce and Christopher Burton. This is the part where you appreciate the irony of 3 people, who weren't even on the best team at their suburban football club, in a nation of 4 million people who aren't really very good at football, thinking that they could up sticks and head to Europe and waltz onto a national team.
c) Another song features the line "I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock", a sentiment we should all take to heart.
d) When you see them live, it is perfectly acceptable to shout "Can't we all please just calm the fuck down" over and over again.

2. Chant Master - Lawrence Arabia
The trainspotters reading this will note, quite accurately, that this record came out in 2009. However, I'm using the fact that this soundtracked my 2010, as well as the fact that it didn't get a North American release until this year, and the fact that I make the goddamn rules around here, ok, to sneak it under the bar into this years list.

It's somewhat gratifying to see someone who you've seen play in such luminary venues as the masonic, Edens (which still has the distinction of being the best club I've ever been to that was under a strip club) and that crappy flat party in Kingsland, show up in your transplanted home town playing a grand old theater, opening up for Crowded House. And then join you for a beer at the library square afterwards, where we tried to explain L&P to canadians.

The record is a magnificently listenable, totally unclassifiable, and stunningly unique. And James maintains one of the greatest twitter accounts ever, especially if you like cricket, or current events.

1. The New Pornographers - Together
The best New Pornographers record yet, it has all the elements of power-pop magic, but it sounds like an album of a proper band, instead of a disparate set of songs from a group of separate songwriters. Silver Jenny Dollar, Your Hands (Together) and If You Can't See My Mirrors are fantastic highlights, and showcase the individual talents of the group at large.Their show at the gorge during Sasquatch is the first time I've seen them play live with both Neko Case and Dan Bejar, and everything sounded fantastic, even if I did get myself in trouble in a rather unfortunate popcorn incident.

Best Shows... (Vancouver, unless otherwise specified)

7. Zeus/Jason Collett - The Biltmore
The first time I saw Zeus, in Victoria late last year, I thought they sounded like the Beatles. The second time I saw them, they still sounded like the Beatles, but at this show at the Biltmore they had some assistance, with Jason Collett, of Broken Social Scene affiliation, and Bahamas. Zeus apparently were Jason Collett's backing band for a while, before striking out to create their own pop gems. At this show at the wonderfully cosy, low ceilinged Biltmore nominally had three bands playing, but mostly had the same 10 musicians on stage throughout all three sets. Zeus were a particular highlight - the band constantly change instruments and lead vocals, and even threw in a Genesis cover for good measure.

6. Wilco - The Olympics
I could write any number of posts about the awesomeness that was the olympics. Put aside the corporate sponsorship and non-stop TV coverage that you get from afar, when you're in the host city, your olympic experience becomes a 2 week party, where every non-working hour was spent strolling the streets, pavilions, and licensed establishments of the city, trying to absorb a constant onrush of cultural experience, from watching curling at the Saskatchewan House, to a 2am Cadence Weapon show (at which the curling team was present, I believe) at Alberta House, to high-fiving cops while drinking beer on a streetcorner after the hockey final, it was amazing madness

One particular highlight on day one of the olympics was the city-run livesite, which featured international-caliber bands playing live for free less than a kilometer from my house, and the opening act on the first day was none other than Wilco. It was rainy, and nobody really knew how busy the shows were going to be, so we showed up at 2pm for a 7pm show, and got good and wet through, but within 30 seconds of Wilco stepping on stage, it was instantly worth it. The joy of the Wilco live experience has been extensively catalogued elsewhere in these pages, but their sound is always brilliant, they are incredibly talented musicians, Nels Cline plays guitar like a retard getting electrocuted, and Jeff Tweedy seemed comfortable in the spotlight, cracking jokes, making fun of Canadians, and totally revelling in the fact that playing a show at the olympics is kinda weird.

5. Matt and Kim - The Rickshaw
If you've not had the pleasure of experiencing Matt and Kim live, and they come to your town, and you don't go, you lose.

The played a mid-october show at the Rickshaw, an old movie theater in the downtown eastside with the first half of the seats ripped out, and while the sound isn't too fancy, the beer is cheap and accessible, and it feels like a good earthy place to

Matt and Kim are a boy-girl, drums-keys combo, with unbelievable energy, and within 5 minutes of them coming out on stage the air was filled with balloons, and the kids were going nuts.

The played their feelgood hits, Yea Yeah and Daylight, and I think I sweated out most of my bodily fluid. But that didn't stop Matt coming out after the show to give out hugs to anyone who wanted one. We got ours, and he was still giving them out half an hour later. It took two days to wipe the smile off my face.

4. Phoenix - The Orpheum

This show should have been an early indication of how awesome the Olympics were going to be - it was about a month before they kicked off, and this show was part of the "cultural olympiad", whatever that is. Regardless, it brought Phoenix to a grand old theater downtown, which normally hosts opera, orchestra, and the occasional adult contemporary reunion tour. The show was kicked off by local dance-poppers You Say Party!, who were great despite nobody being there (the joy of a 6pm show).

Phoenix came on stage, looking as stylish and french as possible, and played a solid set that spanned all three of their records, dipped into Air's Playground Love, and all was well, apart from the fact that most of the crowd was still sitting down.

Then they come out for their encore, and one kid jumped up on stage and danced around. He was expecting security to come out and turn him away, but nobody did. It appears they forgot to hire security for the show. Within seconds there were thousands of people on stage -I know for a fact that I stood on some of the guitarists gear, yet after initially looking terrified, the band played on, even playing 1901 while being completely surrounded by crowd. Excuse the sound in the video below, but otherwise its tres awesome.

3. Die Antwoord - Treasure Island Music Festival, San Francisco
I'm not much into Zef-Rap, but Die Antwoords live show is quite something else. It all starts off with them wearing boilersuits detailed with cartoon characters (one of which seems to be a caricature of the male singer holding his dick - which also seems to be tattooed on his arm)

There was much fist pumping, hip thrusting in inappropriate trousers, and ass flashing, but it was a train wreck I couldn't look away from. Couple that with the fact that I could look to the left and see alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco downtown, and it was a pretty satisfying afternoon.

2. The Hold Steady - The Showbox, Seattle
If you know anyone that doesn't believe in the beauty of rock and roll in its purest form, you need to take them to a Hold Steady show to convert them. These are 5 guys who love the simple action of standing in front of a crowd of people, and playing songs to them, and it shows in the grin on the face of the lead singer.

This show was one of those happy accidents - I was away on a work trip, and my plans changed last minute, leaving me in Seattle with nothing to do. A quick scan of the local street paper revealed a Hold Steady show, so within 4 hours of finishing work I had a ticket, and a couple of beers under my belt.

And I'm so glad I did - a Hold Steady show is a wonderfully awesome place to be - Craig Finn says things that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, like "Tonight we're going to have a lot of fun", and through his literate stories of teenage characters ("you're a beautiful girl, and a pretty good waitress" from Hurricane J), and his knack for getting people to chant unlikely things (the word "sequestered" doesn't feature often in rock choruses, but it does here).

Somewhere towards the end he said something along the lines of "all any of us ever need is this room, you people, and a whole lot of good times" and it made a lot of sense. Until I went outside and realized I'd forgotten where I was staying.

1. Pavement - Central Park, New York
I'm a nerd. And I'm proud of that fact. And myself, and a fair number of my peers made their way to Central Park in New York for the centerpiece of Pavement's reunion tour on a sunny September afternoon.

In order to get tickets for these shows, you had to purchase them nearly a year in advance, with only a day's notice between them being announced, and them being sold out. It takes a certain kind of person who is willing to take that sort of leap of faith, and it was evident when looking around the crowd.

I've been a Pavement fan as long as I can remember (i think I stole Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain off my then 12 year old sister), yet I'd never seen them live. I changed that three times this year, but the New York show was the best. The crowd was the nerdiest group of music snobs I've ever seen, but they saw no shame in belting out every lyric to every song Pavement played, whether it be MTV video hit, or unreleased b-side, and it was utterly fantastic.

The other two times I saw them, there was obvious tension on stage, but in New York, I think they could see the end of the road, and were just happy to bathe in the admiration.

For extra points, see if you can figure out how the song linked below is the inspiration for my blog/twitter name.

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