Can't believe the year is over. Found some extraordinary culture in all shapes and sizes, both digitally and dimensionally. The list below augments my earlier Summer singles, Fall and Winter picks. A treasure trove of culture; well worth your scrutiny and investigation. Happy New Year, people of Earth!
Biffy Clyro: Only Revolution (Warner)
Scotland's version of Green Day waxes more prog in their punk-rock leanings. This thinking man's trio has honed a musical maturity that comes with 15+ years of touring and CD releases.And their fifth effort spawned five singles in the UK and a coveted Mercury Prize nomination. The simple, yet evocative guitar-hook anthem "Bubbles" even features Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. The standouts for me is the catchy-as-hell acoustic-hued ballad "God & Satan" and the magnificently uplifting elegy that is "Many of Horror (When We Collide)." Quite possibly my favorite single of the year.
The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch)
My fellow Akronites may have recently moved to Nashville, but this blues-rock duo will never forget their roots. Thankfully, they found their songwriting and chops mojo again. This is their best effort since Rubber Factory.
Diddybeats Designer In-Ear Headphones
I normally don't shill for electronic brands, but this was exactly what I was looking for in an iPhone earbud experience. Sound so clean and clear you'd swear you were using expensive studio monitor headphones. Control/Talk features, volume, track up/down, custom fit multiple earbud tips, and shielded flat wire that is tangle free. Kudos to Dr. Dre, Mr. Noel Lee, and his Monster crew for delivering the ultimate iPhone earbud experience.
Susie Essman: What Would Susie Say? (Simon & Schuster)
With middle age, comes wisdom. And in Ms. Essman's case wonderful wit. Or as the book subtitle suggests: "Bullshit wisdom about love, life and comedy." Beyond her crass Susie Greene character on Curb Your Enthusiasm, she is both refreshingly candid and irreverent.
JJ Grey & Mofro: Georgia Warhorse (Alligator Records)
This greasy, funky, garagey, Southern roots-rock stew will fill you with wonder. Been a huge fan since their Blackwater release, and this new 11-song effort doesn't disappoint; maybe their best yet. Joined by reggae icon Toots Hibbert on "The Sweetest Thing" and by fellow Floridian Derek Trucks on "Lullaby."
Hellogoodbye: Would It Kill You? (Rocket Science)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Formed in 2001 in Huntington Beach, Cali, they exhibit some of the best elements of '90s pop-rock; think Jellyfish and The Grays. Catchy little head-bobbing nuggets that keep you coming back for more.
Lykke Li: "Get Some" (Atlantic)
Thaw that winter chill with this last-minute entry for single of the year. Loved the doe-eyed Swede's debut a few years ago. This single from her forthcoming sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes, has got that Bow Wow Wow/Strangeloves "I Want Candy" thump for your rump.
Marah: Life is a Problem (Dalley Farm Songs)
Remember the hype behind these roots-rockin' dudes from Philly a few years ago? Championed by Steve Earle, they even recorded for his label. Certainly enough pre-buzz to kill any career. Thankfully they soldiered on and delivered one of their best records yet.
Jesse McReynolds & Friends: Songs of the Grateful Dead (Woodstock Records)
With age comes wisdom, chops, and style! This loving tribute to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter finds the senior mandolin maestro and 45-year Grand Ole Opry member McReynolds offering so much authenticity it may hurt you. Has plenty of grand-ol'-help from David Nelson and Stu Allen, too. Plus there's a fetching new song, "Day by Day," penned by McReynolds and Robert Hunter.
Micmacs (Sony Pictures)
One of my favorite films of the year from one of my favorite contemporary directors. He doesn't make many movies, but when he does... well, let's just say that Jean-Pierre Jeunet crafts his movies over time so that we may drink them in and savor the flavor. This dark comedy follows a group of ramshackle rogues who expose two weapons manufacturers looking to profit on war -- sound familiar? -- by creating enough mishagoss to topple the entire French government. Yes, war is bad business for everyone; thankfully Juenet's highly-honed Rube Goldberg affair is free of any unnecessary pontificating.
Claude Monet (1840-1926): Galleries Nationales, Grand Palais, Paris
Didn't make it to Paris to see the extraordinary retrospective of the founder of French impressionist painting? No problem. This virtual tour is one of the freshest interactive computer experiences you'll ever encounter. By using both visual and audio cues, the user is virtually led into Monet's sumptuous world of brushwork wonder. Take the tour, twice, you will not be disappointed.
Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More (Glass Note)
The London-based folk-rock equivalent of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young? Well, not quite, more like Gomez or Fleet Foxes to my ears, but still an impressive collection of tunes by -- you guessed it -- another Mercury Prize nominated act. (No, I'm not on the payroll.)
Prince: Welcome 2 America Madison Square Garden, NYC
James Brown and Michael Jackson are sadly departed, but Sir Prince gathered up their torches and burns brightly remaining a cultural music icon second to none. He brings the funk and the noise in concert, every show. His Garden soiree was long on hits and an audience participation. Everyone was dancing, and I mean, everyone. Best live show of the year. Get on the good foot, people, and party like it's...
Frankie Rose & the Outs: self-titled (Slumberland Records)
Brooklyn super indie pop-rock gal Frankie has lent her skills to such notable bands as Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts. On her solo debut she sparks her sassy smarts in one, short (29:32) burst of glorious reverb-drenched vocal and guitar interplay fury.
Sheetah et les Weissmuller: Hola Ye Yeah (Screaming Apple Records)
Oui! Oui! Vite! Vite! I love this retro-garage insanity by Sheetah and the Weissmullers (as in Johnny, former celluloid Tarzan). This French quintet burns it up in vibrant day glo rock and roll. Even a tight cover of Love's "My Little Red Book" keeps fuzzed out bliss blissful.
The Walking Dead, Season 1
AMC has delivered again. If you thought Mad Men was the bomb, wait until you dig into this soap opera. Set in Atlanta, post zombie invasion time, a group of folks try to dodge infected, fellow flesh-eating countrymen and look for other survivors while surviving themselves. Based on the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman. And because you asked for it, here are my Top 20 Albums of the year:
- Avi Buffalo: Avi Buffalo
- Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song
- JJ Grey & Mofro: Georgia Warhorse
- The Black Keys: Brothers
- Grinderman: Grinderman 2
- Biffy Clyro: Only Revolution
- Midlake: The Courage of Others
- John Legend & The Roots: Wake Up!
- Frankie Rose & the Outs: Frankie Rose & The Outs
- Teenage Fanclub: Shadows
- Jónsi: Go
- Aloe Blacc: Good Things
- Marah: Life is a Problem
- Auditorium: Be Brave
- Sheetah et les Weissmuller: Hola Ye Yeah
- Masters of Reality: Pine/Cross Dover
- Audiokonstrukte: City Echoes
- Robert Plant: Band of Joy
- Dead Heart Bloom: Strange Waves
- Endless Boogie: Full House Head
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.