- St. Vincent – Surgeon - Easy choice for me this year. Check your pulse after you watch the linked performance.
- The National – Exile Vilify – Didn’t expect them to be candidates the year after High Violet, but 2011 ended up seeing more new National material in the form of soundtrack contributions. This track, from the the game Portal 2 (for some reason), ranks among their best ever.
- Kurt Vile – Jesus Fever – Probably my favorite Kurt Vile song to date, a song I can listen to on repeat endlessly.
- Wilco – I Might - The Whole Love is no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it’s still a very good comeback record after the awful Wilco (The Album). This fantastic, organ-driven power pop cut is the highlight.
- Real Estate – It’s Real – Doing jangle pop like the pros. Should have been the song of the summer.
- Atlas Sound – Terra Incognita – Many options on Bradford Cox’s latest. Going with “Terra Incognita” over “Mona Lisa,” but both tracks capture a master at a real creative peak.
- PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder – Brutal highlight from the year’s best album (and PJ Harvey’s masterpiece), Let England Shake.
- Radiohead – Lotus Flower – I’m a fan of The King of Limbs, but I get where the dissenters are coming from. Everyone agrees “Lotus Flower” is brilliant, yes?
- tUnE-yArDs – Bizness – Coolest vocal performance of the year.
- R.E.M. – Überlin – Not giving them a spot as a tribute or anything, this is a legitimate selection and the band’s best song in over a decade.
- Lana Del Rey – Video Games
- Washed Out – Amor Fati
- Cass McCombs – County Line
- James Blake – Love What Happened Here
- The Antlers – I Don’t Want Love
- Beyoncé – Countdown
- Cults – Abducted
- Colin Stetson – Judges
- Destroyer – Chinatown
- The Strokes – Life is Simple in the Moonlight
Archive for the ‘music’ Category
- Beach House – Zebra - I had a pretty good feeling this was my favorite song of the year when I first heard it back in January. Competition actually turned out to be way more intense than expected — 2010 was full of gems, any of my top 5 could have been #1 in recent years — but I’m still gonna go ahead and give it to “Zebra.” I’ve gotten sick of many songs I’ve listened to much less often over the last 12 months. I’m not claiming it’s groundbreaking, but I really don’t think this gorgeous track will be any less captivating to me in 20 years.
- Caribou – Odessa – On the other hand, maybe this should be #1. It’s honestly a close call. Caribou/Manitoba never really clicked with me prior to this year’s Swim, but this little electro-pop-house-Arthur Russell thing just kills me.
- Big Boi – Shutterbugg (ft. Cutty) – The monster hit that was just too good to be a monster hit. But everyone has to love the beat, right?
- Twin Shadow – I Can’t Wait – Easily my top new artist this year. Many standouts on the album, Forget, but this romantic number rises to the top. Fall in love with the moustache.
- Deerhunter – Helicopter – The kind of song on the kind of record that can make a band your favorite band.
- Kanye West – Runaway (ft. Pusha T) – How can a song with that horrible extended vocoder breakdown be a consensus pick for song of the year? I can’t answer that question. This song is amazing, and you know it.
- Avi Buffalo – What’s In It For? – Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg is the anti-Bieber. These children sure can write a pop song. Can’t wait to see what they’re doing when they’re old enough to drive.
- The National – Conversation 16 – This could also be “Afraid of Everyone,” or “England,” or even the second-best “Runaway” of the year. The zombie refrain makes this track the winner (and it doesn’t hurt that it also contains my favorite line from 2010, “we should swim in a fountain / I do not want to disappoint anyone.”)
- Janelle Monáe – Cold War – “Tightrope” draws you in, “Cold War” knocks you out. The Sinéad O’Connor-style video doesn’t hurt. This girl is ridiculous.
- Belle and Sebastian – I Didn’t See It Coming – Every so often a perfect B&S melody comes along that makes me want to wear tight striped shirts and bob around like Stuart Murdoch. But I don’t. As far as you know.
- Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round
- Owen Pallett – Midnight Directives
- Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
- Tame Impala – It Is Not Meant To Be
- The Walkmen – Angela Surf City
- Robyn – Dancing On My Own
- Gorillaz – Rhinestone Eyes
- LCD Soundsystem – I Can Change
- Best Coast – Boyfriend
- Surfer Blood – Floating Vibes
Well, this is my first post of 2010, which means I am continuing to set a terrible example for bloggers everywhere. I have been legitimately busy — I moved to Brooklyn in February and now commute to the Ogilvy office in Manhattan — but that’s still no excuse for no posts at all. How much effort would it have taken to throw up some miniscule political update, or SEO tidbit, or talking dog video? It’s just laziness. I’ve said it before, and it’s always been a lie, but I will do my best to rectify this.
Last September I wrote a post about the year 2000 in music and what it meant for me personally. It was pretty extensive, and at this rate I’m not going to be able to cover the entire ‘00s decade (whatever we’re supposed to call it) until it’s time to start looking back on the ‘10s. But that said, 2001 was a major year for me and it’s probably worth digging into a little bit, even if I never get around to writing about the other eight years. So I’ll give it a shot and we’ll just see how it goes.
It’s difficult to know where to start with 2001. Once, that year had strictly futuristic, sci-fi connotations. Even more than “the year 2000,” a phrase which had been well overused by the time the actual (rather ho-hum) year came around, 2001 sounded like something bold and new. It was a strong and foreign looking number, no less novel than 2000 but somehow more serious, and more unknowable.
Starting the year off with George W. Bush’s inauguration brought 2001 back down to Earth, and fast. Now he is remembered mostly for the absurd amount of damage he caused to the world and to his country during his interminable reign, but prior to September 11th he was just kind of a joke. The image of awkward, bumbling incompetence is one he was never able to shake, but in early 2001 that was his only image. Remember That’s My Bush? He was a sit-com character, a charmingly inept doofus who had the presidency handed to him. John Ashcroft as Attorney General? It was laughable. Not that many didn’t recognize how dangerous the situation was, but it just didn’t seem possible that this administration would have a chance to do too much irreversible damage.
Of course, it did, and the only association with 2001 that matters now in this country could not be further from A Space Odyssey. But this post is supposed to be about the music, and about me. So where was I? Still in high school, getting my driver’s license, spending time with my girlfriend. I was on the upswing from the worst of my experiences with depression. I was engaging with people more, relaxing more, and just generally doing more. Musically, I was more confident than ever — my Bob’s Discount Furniture gig (and I’m not knocking it — that was a great high school job) allowed me to spend more on CDs than I’m sure I should have, and as a result I was starting to explore some of the depths of rock music that I’d never gotten to before. It must have been 2001 when I discovered XTC and bought their entire catalogue, a couple pieces at a time. And I must have bought music by Neil Young, and Television, and The Stone Roses, and Love, and Big Star — still all physical copies, though my pre-iPod MP3 library was beginning to get serious.
My personal memories of 2001 are really very positive. I’m sure I had meltdowns, and panic attacks about my future, and made stupid mistakes. But looking back, the pieces were coming together a little bit, and I think you can see that in the music I was listening to. It wasn’t all just broody and introspective anymore — I was opening up. If you had asked me at the time I wouldn’t have told you I felt dramatically better or different from a year prior, and I really would have meant it. But I didn’t have perspective.
So how to reconcile the 2001 I experienced personally with the 2001 we all wish we could forget ever happened? Let’s take a look at the contemporary music I was listening to at the time, and see if it helps to make any sense of it.
- Animal Collective – What Would I Want? Sky
- Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
- Animal Collective – My Girls (one Avey song, one Panda song, from separate releases — I’m pretending this doesn’t break my one song per artist rule)
- Destroyer – Bay of Pigs (link must be an edit — full track is a wonderful 13 minutes and 39 seconds)
- Phoenix – Lisztomania
- A.C. Newman – All of My Days and All of My Days Off
- St. Vincent – The Party
- Dirty Projectors – Stillness is the Move
- Julian Casablancas – 11th Dimension
- Portishead – Chase the Tear
- Girls – Lust for Life (INSANELY NSFW video)
- Thom Yorke – Hearing Damage
- The Flaming Lips – Watching the Planets (also really NSFW, I swear this is just coincidence)
- Washed Out – Feel It All Around
- Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You
- The xx – Crystalised
- Dinosaur Jr. – Pieces
- Camera Obscura – French Navy
- Wilco – Bull Black Nova
- The Big Pink – Dominos
- Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion It’s always boring to go with the consensus choice, but what can I do? It’s probably one of the top three of the decade. I was not an AC convert prior to this record, and part of me was kind of proud for being a holdout. Turns out I was just being stupid. Still don’t like Feels though.
- St. Vincent – Actor Just so thoroughly great from start to finish. Our generation so badly needed somebody to make Disney songs from hell.
- Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest This was by far my most eagerly anticipated record of the year. And while it might not be the complete, unparalleled classic I’d hoped for, it’s still ridiculously good.
- Girls – Album Simple, catchy guitar pop on the surface, but the album reveals surprising depth with repeat listens.
- Neko Case – Middle Cyclone Best overall release by a New Pornographer in 2009, and that’s actually no small feat when you consider Dan Bejar put out one amazing, epic single and A.C. Newman had a solid solo LP.
- Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca Ends on kind of a weak note, but a really impressive breakthrough for these guys regardless.
- The Flaming Lips – Embryonic Some hate it, and it’s not exactly and easy listen, but it’s so much better (and so much more Flaming Lipsy) than everything they’ve released since Soft Bulletin.
- Washed Out – Life of Leisure EP A very rewarding, appropriately brief collection of intimate bedroom synthpop.
- Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Not every song is a standout, but when these guys are on they’re making some of the best pop music you’ll ever hear.
- Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms Kind of like Washed Out, but a little more angular and goofy. I mean that as a compliment.
2000 was a long time ago, and it feels like it. I was 15, couldn’t drive, no girlfriend, depressed out of my mind. Bill Clinton was president, which is bizarre to think about. And it’s been really difficult trying to remember everything I was listening to at the time. Medum-wise, it was pretty strictly CDs, I can say for sure. Yeah, I was well into the MP3 thing already by then — we’re talking the heyday of Napster, after all — but I just didn’t have the hard disk space to hold a full digital music library on the family computer, and the iPod age hadn’t started yet.
Was I still listening to the radio? I guess I must have been, but certainly not to the degree that I did in the ‘90s. The alternative rock era was pretty much over by 2000, and my once-beloved Radio 104 had devolved into a Creed-and-Staind-dominated bore. Napster really did come at the right time — all of a sudden, I had access to as much obscure indie fare as I could think to look for, things I’d never have heard on commercial radio in Hartford. All I had to do was wait half an hour or so for each song to download via dial-up, adding perhaps another hour or two spent ruining several CD-Rs in a sometimes futile attempt to burn my loot to disc… ah, joys my children will never know. I was definitely reading more than ever before about music, poring through books on indie rock history and keeping up with the daily Pitchfork reviews. Yeah, that’s right, I was reading Pitchfork before it was cool to hate it.
Is that the douchiest hipster sentence ever written? You’re welcome.
It’s fun to reminisce about, I guess because it really is a long time ago now and so much changed about music technology, distribution, and habits over the course of the decade. But it really wasn’t a fun year as I remember it personally, filtered through a Prozac haze and drenched in constant, intense feelings of self-hate and loneliness. By the end of 2000 though, I was through the ugliest phase of my adolescence and things got to be pretty great for a while. Except for, y’know, that whole George W. Bush thing. I’ll try not to dwell on that too much in these entries since the only notable music to come out of the Bush administration was “Let the Eagle Soar,” but it’s tough since Bush did otherwise own the entire fucking decade.
So, 2000. What to talk about? I guess I know where to start. (more…)
I can be pretty insufferable with my musical opinions. My inclinations were validated at too early an age, and too frequently. I knew what I liked before I was aware enough to take any outside factors or opinions into consideration – except for those of my father, an avid consumer of music, novels, films, periodicals, television. Much of our bonding, now as much as when I was a child, has extended from our shared fascination by (and addiction to) the phenomenon of human creative expression. I learned very young the joys of burying myself in art at the expense of learning practical life and social skills. I am certain I was predisposed to be that way, but those genes were undoubtedly only encouraged by a childhood home filled with music and the excitement of regular trips to the record store. (more…)
- TV on the Radio – Dear Science
- Portishead – Third
- Why? – Alopecia
- Hot Chip – Made in the Dark
- Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
- Deerhunter – Microcastle
- Spiritualized – Songs in A&E
- Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali
- Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
- The Walkmen – You & Me
extra credit: Lonely Biped – Prevarication
- Portishead – Machine Gun
- Fleet Foxes – Mykonos
- Department of Eagles – No One Does It Like You
- Cut Copy – Hearts on Fire
- TV on the Radio – Golden Age
- The Dodos – Fools
- Deerhunter – Nothing Ever Happened
- Beck – Modern Guilt
- Tapes ‘n Tapes – Hang Them All
- Neon Neon – I Told Her on Alderaan
- The Magnetic Fields – California Girls
- Hot Chip – One Pure Thought
- The Fireman – Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight
- Santogold – L.E.S. Artistes
- Amadou & Mariam – Sabali
- Why? – These Few Presidents
- Elbow – Grounds for Divorce
- Vampire Weekend – M79
- Gentleman Jesse & His Men – Highland Crawler
- Coldplay – That song they stole from Joe Satriani
The results, in week one: the original song sold just under 13,000 copies, and each of the four stems sold between about 9,200 and 9,800 copies. (If you’re curious: the vocal stem sold best, then guitars, strings/effects, drums; as in life, bass pulls up the rear.) Total sales for all six pieces combined were just shy of 60,000.
Billboard had to make a policy decision for “Nude.” When the original iTunes sales were tallied by SoundScan, the original song plus each stem were logged and charted separately. But for Hot 100 purposes (in keeping with Billboard‘s tendency to treat it as a “songs” chart, not a “tracks” chart) “Nude” is charting in one cumulative position, which makes it look bigger than it is. If the original song, sans stems, were to chart by itself, it would have made No. 96 on the digital sales chart and likely would have missed the Hot 100 entirely.
As a chart fan, there’s one way to look at this that’s a bit cynical, and one that’s more optimistic. You could look at this as chart pollution — since when is a bass loop a legitimate proxy for a hit single? It’s as if Radiohead is propping up a minor hit by finding a loophole through U.S. chart policy, not unlike the 2004 Prince album that was allowed to include free copies handed out at concerts in its Billboard tally, and charted much higher than it should have.
On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious this chart event wasn’t the intention of Radiohead’s multi-mix release strategy. And it’s undeniable that, as usual, they’re coming up with innovative ways to get fans excited about actually paying something for music.
So maybe this isn’t the investigative scoop of the century, but it remains an interesting case study in chart manipulation, intentional or accidental, in the iTunes era. I’m not so willing to concede that “it’s pretty obvious” TBD Records wasn’t shooting for exactly this result from the beginning — it is mighty clever, and it gives the label the ability to go back to Radiohead and say, “Look, we got you back on the US charts, use us again to distribute your next record.”
And really, beyond giving the label some bragging rights, “Nude” being a Top 40 hit is probably meaningless. I don’t imagine anyone racing to buy In Rainbows or tickets to a Radiohead concert because they saw “Nude” hit #37. It’s possible that the single gets some radio exposure out of the deal, but I predict it will still be roundly ignored.
Maybe it’s earned a spot on the next NOW compilation?
Last update about this: After the Idolator story confirmed my original entry with some hard data, Pitchfork made the decision that this was newsworthy. And of course, once it hits the ‘fork, that’s enough to earn an explanation from the folks at Billboard themselves:
Contrary to online reports, the high Hot 100 debut this week by Radiohead’s “Nude” is not due to a “technicality,” nor a new Billboard charts policy decision.
The track opens this week at No. 37 on the Hot 100 after selling 60,000 digital downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That total represents combined sales for the original song and five different “stems,” which the band invited fans to download and use to create their own remixes. Remixes uploaded to Radioheadremix.com are available for fan voting through May 1.
The No. 37 debut was fueled entirely by these downloads, as the song is only being played on 3 of the 1,289 stations monitored by Nielsen BDS. It received just 6 plays during the April 4-April 10 tracking period.
According to Hot 100 director Silvio Pietroluongo, “Billboard abided by its long-standing remix policy in regards to “Nude.” For the purpose of our airplay, Hot 100 and Hot Digital Songs charts, Billboard merges remixes with the original version as long as the music and/or lyrics of the remix remain true to the original.”
So there you go: the stems are “remixes,” or close enough that the Billboard rules treat them that way. And how nuts is it that a song that got played a total of six times on radio stations around the country broke into the Top 40?