Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Favorite Music of 2010

My top 25 albums of 2010:

25. Romany Rye -- Highway 1. Looking Back Carefully. I probably shouldn't include this, as I haven't actually heard it in its entirety. Then again, if I were able to hear all of it, it probably would be much higher up in my list. Daytrotter has a 4-song set you can check out.

24. Laura Marling -- I Speak Because I Can. Young English folk singer with a gorgeous voice. Especially check out "Blackberry Stone."

23. Richard Thompson -- Dream Attic. On first listen I didn't think much of Thompson's latest offering, but that speaks more to his ability to create magnificent albums than any failing of this particular one. Here, Thompson releases a set of new songs recorded in concert, and while no one song stands out, it's nevertheless a strong set.

22. The Head and the Heart -- The Head and the Heart. There are several tunes that stay with you on this debut album, perhaps none more so than "Lost In My Mind."

21. The Sadies -- Darker Circles. I've yet to be disappointed by an album by The Sadies, and while this one isn't the equal of 2007's New Seasons, which was also produced by The Jayhawks' Gary Louris, there's plenty to enjoy. Like "Cut Corners."

20. Jónsi -- Go. Completely outside what i usually listen to -- it's way too happy, electronic, and even somewhat ethereal. Still, I really enjoy it. Here's "Go Do."

19. Broken Bells -- Broken Bells. I'm a sucker for James Mercer's voice, and Danger Mouse did a great job of constructing a sound showcasing it in a way that's distinct from Mercer's work fronting The Shins.

18. Freedy Johnston -- Rain on the City. Freedy Johnston had one semi-hit over a decade ago, "Bad Reputation." He never stopped making music, even though he hasn't entered the public consciousness in the intervening 16 years. And we're the richer for it, because he's come out with a great album well worth one's attention, especially if you appreciate the Marshall Crenshaws of the world.

17. The Acorn -- No Ghost. To me, The Acorn evokes The Talking Heads, even while forging its own identity. Have a listen to "Restoration."

16. Drive-By Truckers -- The Big To-Do. DBT came out with another solid album in 2010. The Big To-Do doesn't make me forget Southern Rock Opera, but it grows on me a little more every time I play it.

15. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -- Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. I could play the title track every day for a year and not grow tired of it.

14. The Hold Steady -- Heaven is Wherever. Yes it's a good album and deserves to be on this list. No it doesn't deserve higher than this, and it doesn't compare with either Boys and Girls in America or Stay Positive.

13. Band of Horses -- Infinite Arms. BoH gets a little more poppy with this album, but once I adjusted my expectations away from another Cease to Begin, I found myself really getting into it. Here's "Laredo."

12. Black Prairie -- Feast of the Hunters' Moon. I confess that I learned about this band from a FaceBook ad, but I'm not sure why it came to that, given that three of their members are also with The Decemberists. All that Gothic/Gypsy/Bluegrass sound without Colin Meloy's voice in the lead. You can listen to some of it at their website.

11. The Gaslight Anthem -- American Slang. No surprise here, as The Gaslight Anthem produced another fine album. Sure there's plenty of Springsteen in their sound, but there's some Clash too.

10. Arcade Fire -- The Suburbs. Speaks for itself (and you already know about it anyhow).

9. Deer Tick -- The Black Dirt Sessions. Incredibly intense album. Wonderful.

8. The Mynabirds -- What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood. It's hard to pick one song to encapsulate this album's Dusty Springfield (and more) elements. Fortunately, there's a Daytrotter Session, so I don't have to.

7. John Jorgenson Quintet -- One Stolen Night. Gypsy jazz has made me happy from the first time I heard a Django Reinhardt song, and John Jorgenson is one of the premiere musicians keeping this style alive and well. Here's "Red on Red."

6. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings -- I Learned the Hard Way. One of my favorite things about Jones's music is that even though I expect each album to sound just like the last one, and that expectation is realized, each album sounds completely fresh. Maybe it's because she's the only artist I'm listening to regularly (apologies to Fitz and the Tantrums) in the Motown genre. Regardless of why, the title track shines.

5. Futurebirds -- Hampton’s Lullaby. The languid opening track, "Johnny Utah," sets the tone for my favorite debut album of the year. The album evokes My Morning Jacket's early work, but the Futurebirds certainly have their own identity.

4. Josh Ritter -- So Runs The World Away. A good album filled with many thoughtful and engaging songs, SRTWA nevertheless lacks anything comparable to Ritter's best works. Still, it does contain my favorite video of the year (admittedly, I don't watch many of them), "The Curse."

3. Delta Spirit -- History From Below. I don't have a favorite song for this album -- I like it all, from the rocking "Bushwick Blues" to the mournful 8-minute closer "Ballad of Vitaly," and have found myself playing it frequently from the moment I got it.

2. The National -- High Violet. Of all the bands whose new albums I was most looking forward to in 2010, The National was the one that best delivered. Their previous album, Boxer, was their most successful album because, rather that differing much from its predecessors, it was a culmination of the band's sound. With High Violet, The National ventured beyond the comfort zone it had established, and succeeded wonderfully in doing so.

1. The Tallest Man on Earth -- The Wild Hunt/Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird. One fantastic album and one fantastic EP, both by the same person in the same calendar year. I've yet to figure out how I can be so mesmerized by his voice and his lone guitar, to the point where I can listen to him for hours. But whatever the cause is, it made it easy to choose the top album(s) for 2010.

Ineligible but Worthy:

Mumford and Sons -- Sigh No More. I didn't discover this album until this year. Had it been released in 2010, it would have been in my Top 10.

Some other great songs (from albums that didn't crack my Top 25):

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hide-and-Seek with a 3-Year Old

"I'm going to play hide-and-seek with the grown-ups. Try and find me."
Emelia runs upstairs, and closes her door. Kathy and I count from 10 backwards as she requests. The giggling commences as Kathy and I walk upstairs. We announce where we're looking as we walk the upstairs rooms.
"I'll look in the front room. No, she's not here."
"I'll look in our bedroom."
The giggling continues unabated.
"She's not in the bathroom."
"She's not in the linen closet."
"She's not in our bathroom."
"She's not in the washing machine."
"There's only one more place to look -- her bedroom."
We open to door to a giggling, quivering mass under a pink blanket on her bed.
"Is she under her bed? Nope."
"I bet she's in her dirty clothes pile -- nope."
"She must be in her dress-up bin. No, darn."
"Maybe she's in her diaper bin."
"That's too stinky -- if she's in there, I'm not looking."
Giggling, giggling.
"Is she in her bed?"
Kathy rips off the blanket. "Aha!"
Laughing, laughing.
"That was fun. Let's play again. I'll be easier to find next time."

Monday, January 25, 2010

And My Mind Begins to Grasp the Notion of Hell...

Yesterday, Kathy, Emelia and I spent the day visiting with our friends Gary, Sharon, and their son Andrew. We spent the day in shifts, rotating which two adults would watch the kids. When we got there, we stayed for a little while, before Kathy and I slipped out for lunch. Upon our return, Kathy and Sharon went out for a movie, and when they got back, Gary and I walked over to my new favorite beer bar, ChurchKey.

There's something wonderful about having a great beer bar in town, particularly when it's only a couple of blocks for where a friend lives (no matter how much I'd enjoy it, that it's not a couple of blocks from my own house is probably a good thing).

It's not like I hadn't been there recently; in fact, it'd just been Tuesday night. And when I woke up the following morning, I had a terrible feeling -- I had undertipped "my" bartender, a guy who always looks out for me whenever he's working. So I walked in with an extra $10 bill to hand him in case he was behind the bar. He was, but he wouldn't accept the money, and swore that we were fine. No problem -- after another afternoon of stellar service, we just added the $10 to the tip on this bill.

Even having been there just five days earlier, there were two beers on draft and one on cask that I hadn't yet tried. And the AFC Championship game was on the TVs. And it wasn't crowded, which is usually the case when I go in the evening (at least the waits to get in on a Tuesday night seem to be a thing of the past). So we were able to get a seat right at the bar.

And because it wasn't busy, we were talking with the staff a little more than usual. We could hear the music that was being piped in, and as I do pretty much every time, I exclaimed at how similar the selections were to my own choices. Not just the likes of the Shins, My Morning Jacket, Belle & Sebastian or even the New Pornographers, but even less familiar stuff like the Jayhawks, Stephen Malkmus, and Band of Horses. So Gary asked the staff that was present if it was a station, and if so, which one. And suddenly, a scowl appeared, on all of their faces. Someone explained that it was the owner's iPod, and that it was the same thousand or so selections on shuffle all the time.

The rest of the evening, my mind stretched to fathom the idea of being subjected to that, where slowly my love for great tunes would turn inside-out, and I would come to loathe the very music I once loved.

Friday, January 01, 2010

My Top New Beers of 2009

Spurred by Eric Gajdzis doing the same, here are my top beers of 2009 (I gave all of these a score of 4.1 or higher) --
1. Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (as delicious as regular Yeti is, this is even better)
2. Birrificio Italiano Tipopils (after hearing great things about it, this Pilsner actually met my expectations!)
3. Free State Owd Macs Imperial Stout (finally got to try it after many years of wondering if I would)
4. Les Vergers Lafrance Bouquet sur Glace (ok, it's an ice cider -- sue me)
5. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Extra! Ale (Lagunitas makes a bunch of beers like this, but they keep showing that isn't a bad thing)
6. Laughing Dog The Dogfather Imperial Stout (I tried this and the Bourbon Barrel Aged version. I like this one quite a bit better)
7. Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge (this is a great Sour beer, and has been available on draft in DC for the past few months)
8. Amager Fru Frederiksen (RateBeer raters don't know what they're talking about -- the smaller beer to Hr. Frederiksen is the better one ;))
9. Peak Organic King Crimson (from Peak? damn that was unexpected!)
10. BFM Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru 2008 (Trousseau Barrel) (BFM is hit and miss -- this is definitely another hit)
11. Otter Creek Imperial India Pale Ale (Otter Creek? What's going on here?!)
12. Mikkeller USAlive! (my highest rated Mikkeller, which is saying something)
13. Lost Abbey Veritas 004 (it may not be Isabelle Proximus, but it's still grea