Monday, December 27, 2010

Top Ten of 2010

Well, it is that time again, time to let you a little closer to my heart, time for you to see what has been moving me this year. Unlike last year when I allowed some external influences to shape my views, this year I am only rating CDs that I actually purchased, CDs that I took the time to load into my iPod, CDs that have spent time in the Saaby shuffle, CDs that I genuinely think are the best of 2010.

#10 So Much Closer – Felt Not Seen
I know, big shocker right? I guess the shock is either that I rated it so low or that I had the audacity to list it in the first place, being that it is my band, but bear with me for a moment. This list is about MY Top 10 albums, if Felt Not Seen didn’t make it into the list, I would be concerned. Who invests a serious amount of time and money into creating something that they think is crap. The reality is I really do love this album. It has been played more than any other CD this year, as for months we tweaked it to present a product we were proud of. Lyrically it reflects some of my best work, and sonically, outside of Lost Angel, it is the truest representation of what I hear in my head. I rated it at the very bottom because I thought any higher would be inappropriate. Highlight track, “1-2-3-4,” yes it is a 17 minute mash of two songs, and the media hates anything over 4, but when I listen to Zepplin, Allman Brothers, Hendrix...they all had tracks that expanded beyond what someone more interested in getting paid for commercials than music said was acceptable.

#9 Black Keys – Brothers
I am sure I just incensed the diehard Black Keys fans by ranking this as #9, and while it is obviously a great album, its departure from their core caused it to fall for me. I also believe I was victimized by the hype. I did not purchase this the week it came out or the month for that matter, so I sat through months of listening to people suckle Auerbach’s teat and praise Carney’s development, and while both may be warranted, to me, Brothers was not as good as Magic Potion. For those reasons I rated it at the bottom of the list. Please understand it is a great album, I just think there were albums this year that were better. Highlight track for me, “Sinister Kid,” has a great groove, the additions actually add to the overall composition, and the guitar tone is fierce.

#8 Kings of Lean – Come Around Sundown
Yes, yes, yes I am Kings of Leon Fan Boy, so what. Believe me, after the bird shit incident I was ready to write them off. Although I was actually watching Sara Bareilles that night, and it was hotter than rubber soles melting on a July concrete, I just could not image calling a show at a venue like Riverport regardless of what poop hit me, but a friend of mine took me to the make-up show, and they were amazing. Being good live means so much to me because I know that anyone can be made to sound good in the studio, but to pull it off live takes talent, and KoL has that. Come Around Sundown seems to me an extension of Only by the Night like b-sides that had the same layers and depth but lacked the sonic energy, so they were chopped from their master piece. While “Radioactive” may have been the lead single. The Highlight track for me is “The End.” The solid underbelly groove textured with atmosphere guitar expansions creates a tapestry of sound that allows the listener to sink into it.

#7 Sean Renner – Sekhmet
About 80% of you just went, “Who?” It is no secret that I see a lot of shows and fully support the local music scene in St. Louis. While we are all looking for that break, we rely on each other to continue to develop and grow as musicians and writers. I met Sean a couple of years ago while I was hosting the Open Mic at the St. Charles Coffee House. He immediately blew me away. He was unapologetically sincere. His voice was gifted from God, and I could immediately tell what a thoughtful musician he was. Sekhmet is a true work of art, recorded in the house he was living in in South St. Louis and created entirely using live instrumentation and physical effects. When listening to the CD, you cannot help but be captivated by the lush landscape of sound Sean and company create. I cannot pick a highlight because this CD is needs to be experienced using the gestalt principles. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

#6 Kate Nash – My Best Friend Is You
Kate Nash was one of those Pandora finds, and the song I heard was so moving that I immediately bought everything I could find from her. Little did I know that “Nicest Thing” was really a departure from her median style. Still, what I discovered was something completely intriguing and intoxicating. My Best Friend Is You is full of energy, wit, sass, and danger. Each song provides something instrumentally unexpected, and Kate’s voice is just so damn distinctive, it’s jarring and alluring, refined and rough…it is a complexity that I cannot fully understand, only appreciate. Lyrically she is ridiculous. She is not hiding things in metaphor, she opens her heart and dares your to look inside. Without a doubt “Mansion Song” is the highlight track for me. Completely raw and painful, intense spoken word shouted over a haunting backdrop of sound.

#5 Eminem – Recovery
Eminem is one of the controversial geniuses. You either hate him or love him, and I am part of the love camp. Besides Nas, he is definitely my favorite rapper. Lyrically he is brilliant. His timing is impeccable. His voice is distinct and immediately recognizable, and Recovery is a return to his glory days. It hits hard, is reflective and sincere, yet still features some of the Shady humor we have grown to love and expect. While “Not Afraid” was the perfect lead single, completely intense and intrapersonal, the highlight track for me is “Cinderella Man.” Within 20 seconds of it beginning, I am bobbing to the deep groove. The hook is optimistic, and Eminem’s flow is absolutely inspired.

#4 Samantha Crain – You (Understood)
I can honestly say I would have never imagined this happening, an artist, any artist, back to backing on my Top Ten list. To be able to put out back to back CDs, while touring, is so completely impressive to me. Samantha is a great writer and obviously prolific. Her voice is unique and expressive and immediately recognizable. She just standouts out. All that accounted for, what I love about this album is the instrumentation. In parts she presents a nice raw Alt-Country/Americanaesque vibe, but in other sections, she is really experimenting with tones and textures. Some of the arrangements are very complex and require multiple listens to really appreciate everything that is going on. I bounced through this CD several times trying to decide what stood out the most. They are just all so good. I ended up landing on “Holdin’ That Wheel” because it is a perfect example layers and movements bringing tension and release to a song. Plus it opens with a fantastic line, “You make wonderful patterns with your breathing when you sleep, but it’s so shallow and slight you look like you are dying.”

#3 Beth Bombara – Wish I Were You
This is my third St. Louis artist, and I am concerned that people reading may think I am biased. Of course I am to a point, but this album is good enough to be on any Top Ten list: Local, Regional, National…doesn’t matter, this is a great album. I think for those that only know me from So Much Closer my relative obsession with Alt-Country/Americana may come as a surprise. What you need to understand is it really is the sound of our region, created by Uncle Tupelo out of Belleville and carried forth by countless numbers of bands, including my last band Whiskey Daydream. The album is full of tones that I love, lots of pedal steel (my all time favorite sound, by the way), B3 filling in the perfect spaces, solid country bass and drums, just enough raunchy guitars to please the rocker in me, and Beth’s voice is another one of those that just makes you listen. Now, how/why is a relative unknown ranked so high on my list? “Lately.” In my opinion “Lately” is the best song of 2010. It is the perfect marriage of everything I love about music, tension, movement, texture, layers, all topped with resounding vocals and great lyrics. It is simplistically complex giving each instrument space to breathe, and nothing is more beautiful than breath.
Beth Bombara - Lately

#2 Sara Bareilles – Kaleidoscope Heart
If you are a frequent reader, you may remember a post I did back in July after seeing Sara Bareilles. If not, go get your read on HERE. I think if I have shown anything through this blog, my musical tastes are extremely diverse. I do not pigeonhole myself into certain genres and don’t discount music that, on the surface, is sugary. There are several tracks on Kaleidoscope Heart that seem so sugary sweet you feel like you need a dentist after listening to them, but Sara’s brilliance comes in juxtaposing catchy tunes with thoughtful and well written lyrics. “Gonna Get Over You” is a perfect example, then the next tune “Hold My Heart” will break you down, if you are not ready for it. My listening requirements follow my progression as an artist. I was a singer first, then writer, and finally a musicians, and they is really how I listen to music: Vocals, Words, Instrumentation. And there is no discounting the fact that Sara has an AMAZING voice and is a great lyricist. This disc is genuinely a great listen from beginning to end. You can pop it in, drop the top—if you are fortunate enough to own a convertible—turn ‘er up, and just go. Highlight track, “Breathe Again.”

#1 Spoon – Transference
I do not think I am eloquent enough to describe Spoon, there are not words for what they do, other than brilliant. I found them through Pandora. After the 2nd time hearing “The Beast And Dragon, Adored” I knew I had to buy CDs, little did I know that was from their 5th CD. How had I not heard of them? How did they escape me for 12 years (their first CD was released in 1996. I found them in 2008)? I snagged Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga immediately and waited for their next burst of inspiration. My friend Josh picked Transference up for me on the day it was released. What was interesting was how our initial experience was different. Josh is like my go to for undercover music. He had probably been listening to Spoon since the very beginning, and he was only 5 then. Although he liked it, Josh felt it was a little loose. They are known for being extremely calculated, and Transference gave him the impression that they were less restrained during the recording process. On the other hand, when I put it in, I immediately knew this was going to be the best album of 2010. Transference strikes the perfect chord of simplicity and complexity. The builds are inspired, and the hidden elements make you want to listen with headphones. The bridge in “I Saw the Light” was enough to get the album on the Top Ten list, but every song has something special to it. Highlight track for me is “Who Makes Your Money.” There is just something magnificent about the perfect bass tone accented by a simple keys and drums with flourishes of ear candy throughout.

There you have it. To be honest, I cannot imagine anyone having the same list as me, and frankly that is okay. We all love music in our own way. If you are doing a list this year, please drop a comment with a link to your post so I can check it out.

As always, thanks for reading...Eric

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