Music Review

Best Rock, Electronic, & Folk Albums of the 2000s, Pt. 3

Death_Cab_Transatlanticism(Steve, you've outdone yourself with this exhaustive, yet informative list. I trust our readers have enjoyed it as much as I.)

51. Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism (Barsuk, 2003)

Ben Gibbard's twee voice delivers some of the most poignant lyrics in indie-rock (though after this album, the band inevitably made the leap to the majors and has been on Atlantic ever since). All of Death Cab's albums are wonderful, but this one's where their production values and songwriting intersected with the zeitgeist for maximum impact.

Vampire Weekend: Contra

Vampire_Weekend_ContraVampire Weekend: Contra (Beggars Group/Rough Trade) On Vampire Weekend's second album, gone is the occasional pseudo-intellectualism of Ezra Koenig's lyrics, replaced with a literary style reminiscent of J.D. Salinger. Musically, the album is a departure from and an expansion of their previous effort. The production values are much better than their self-titled debut, and the risks they take in terms of instrumentation are much greater.

ELVIS: The Lonely Birthday Boy*

elvis-kingSixty-four years ago, January 8, 1946, Gladys Presley gave her beloved only son a guitar for his 11th birthday. The high-spirited boy had wanted a bicycle, but his ever-protective mother had feared he might hurt himself.

A decade later, Elvis rehearsed "Heartbreak Hotel" on his birthday and, two days later, recorded it at RCA Studios in Nashville. The tune became the biggest hit of 1956, turning the former Crown Electric truck driver into the King of Rock and Roll himself.

Thomas Durden, a Nashville steel-guitarist, had composed the historic song after reading a Miami Herald story about a man who had killed himself over a lost love. His suicide note simply read: "I walk a lonely street."

Best Rock, Electronic, & Folk Albums of the 2000s, Pt. 2

Fennesz_Endless_Summer26. Fennesz: Endless Summer (Mego, 2001)

Finally, an album the Futurists would approve of! Arguably the first masterpiece of glitch electronica, which perturbs ambient flow with interjections of what sound like electronic mishaps ("glitches"), Endless Summer is mellow yet disturbing, a milestone in '00s electronica's greater acceptance of more abstract, non-dance-oriented music that's as avant-garde in intent and sound as anything the classical avant-garde has created (though often modern electronica artists are strongly influenced by the old-guard avant-gardists such as Pierre Schaeffer, Bernard Parmegiani, and Tod Dockstader). There's actually a lot of variety on this album, ranging from the manipulated solo keyboard of "Before I Leave" (its vibrato beating quickly) to looped soft rock calling to mind the Beach Boys to looped drones that highlight the glitches' rhythmic pattern in a quiet way. This particular Fennesz album is listed here because it was such a trendsetter, but I'm also quite partial to 2008's Black Sea.

Best Rock, Electronic, & Folk Albums of the 2000s, Pt. 1

bjork_volta.jpgGround rules: No compilations. Nothing recorded significantly earlier than 2000 but not released until the period under consideration. Albums on which artists re-record their hits are not considered, which also means no live albums unless they consist largely of new material. Genre definitions are the broadest; jazz and classical will be covered separately. Don't take the order TOO seriously; while I'm absolutely sure that I prefer #1 more than #25, from day to day the order of the top 5, or any range of similar size, could completely reverse.

Vic Chesnutt R.I.P. 11/12/64 - 12/25/09

Vic_ChesnuttVic Chesnutt, one of the greatest songwriters of our time and as charismatic a concert performer as Springsteen despite being confined to a wheelchair, committed suicide through an overdose of muscle relaxants. His tragic life was inextricably intertwined with his art. At age 18, driving drunk, a car crash left him paraplegic; never much of a reader before that, he started reading voraciously. He also began to take music-making much more seriously, and his reading eventually influenced his lyrics. His physical abilities varied from night to night; how well he functioned could determine his set lists, and for a while he played with his guitar pick superglued to his fingers. Overcoming adversity, from 1990 through this year he had 14 albums released under his own name plus two as brute. in a collaboration with the band Widespread Panic.

The King of Christmas Past

elvis-christmasThe pregnancy hadn’t been an easy one. Due to her size and his shake, rattle & roll, the King’s mother thought she would have him around Christmas. But she didn’t go into labor until January 8, 1935. At her bedside were her husband, the midwife, and the doctor whose $15 delivery fee would be paid by the state of Mississippi. Her husband, Vernon, had just finished building their shotgun shack with a $180 loan. He was a carpenter, a moonshiner, and 19 years old. Out in the yard that frosty, starlit, predawn Tupelo morning were the family chickens and their cow. After a long, hard labor, Gladys Presley delivered a stillborn child. A half hour later came his tiny live twin, Elvis.

Best New Rock & Electronic Albums of 2009

Mulatu_AstatkeWhen critics complain that it wasn't a good year for music, I just think of how hard it was to narrow my best-of-the-year list down to twenty, though admittedly it wasn't quite as much of a struggle this year as it's occasionally been. In compensation, I especially enjoyed 2009 because the post-punk and shoegazer revivals are lasting much longer and bearing greater fruit than I ever would have guessed, with the post-punk crowd now reaching far beyond the simple-minded disco beats of The Rapture to instead mine the angular weirdness of more obscure late '70s/early '80s practitioners. And the Afrobeat revival, though largely a reissue-driven phenomenon, brought some thrilling surprises thanks to Strut's collaborative Inspiration Information series, including my #1 choice that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the year's offerings.

The Beatles' Holiday Break-Up

beatles-xmasIt was thirty years ago that newlyweds John Lennon and Yoko ran their holiday message to the world in a full-page New York Times ad: "GIVE PEACE A CHANCE." The couple also posted "WAR IS OVER! If You Want It" on billboards in eleven cities around the globe. At the same time, an unseasonable war was escalating among the once harmonious Beatles. In September 1969, Lennon had told the others that he was breaking the group up. McCartney begged him to delay a public announcement so as not to jeopardize sales of their imminent release, Abbey Road. His songwriting partner begrudgingly agreed. At the end of the month, John recorded what was to become his first solo holiday hit, "Cold Turkey," about his heroin withdrawal. In explaining his and Yoko’s addiction, he later told an interviewer, "We took H because of what the Beatles and others were doing to us."

Partying on the Soul/Funk/Hip-Hop Tip

Daptone_GoldWe're well into the holiday party season, and of course no party's complete without music. Some of you will go with Christmas songs, but the funkier folks out there will want to get down while imbibing their eggnog. Here are seven new mix albums you can get down all night to. Various Artists: Daptone Gold (Daptone) This has popular album tracks, offering a good introduction to Brooklyn's finest soul label, but it's the outtakes and 45-only releases that are the real treat: