My List for 2013

Holy shit, it’s a blog post. I actually forgot how to log into this thing it’s been so long.

Anyway, gonna keep this relatively simple. Fairly certain the days of me writing anything more than a sentence or two on music are over. Bummer, I know.

My top 8 records of 2013-ish:
8. Bad Sports – Bras
7. Bottomless Pit – Shade Perennial
6. Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio – Gala
5. Diarrhea Planet – I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
4. Mikal Cronin – MCII
3. Superchunk – I Hate Music
2. Radioactivity – Radioactivity
1. Deleted Scenes – Lithium Burn

(Cheating a bit, as the Deleted Scenes record isn’t out until February, but I’ve been listening to it nonstop since October. Best thing I’ve heard this year. BUY IT when it comes out.)

My favorite records from former members of Silkworm:
Bottomless Pit – Shade Perennial
Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio – Gala

My favorite Austin record of the year:
Wiretree – Get Up

My favorite Baltimore record of the year:
Roomrunner – Ideal Cities

My favorite Chicago record of the year (other than Bottomless Pit):
Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backward

My favorite DC record of the year:
Tereu Tereu – Quadrants

My favorite LA record of the year:
LA Font – Diving Man

My favorite albums that made me feel like I was in 8th grade again:
Queensryche – Queensryche
Stryper – No More Hell to Pay

My favorite 2010 album that I discovered in 2013 that also makes me feel like I’m in 8th grade again:
Bad City – Welcome to the Wasteland

My favorite shows of the year:
Diarrhea Planet – Saw them 7 times, all great, though best was the Volcom show at SXSW. My favorite show of any kind of 2013.
Dismemberment Plan / Deleted Scenes @ 9:30 Club – Two of my favorite bands. And Deleted Scenes may have put on the better set.
The Evens @ Logan Hardware – So fantastic.
Living Colour @ Park West – First time ever seeing them. Sounded amazing.
OBN IIIs @ some plant store in Austin/SXSW – Saw them 5 (?) times this year, and this was the best.
Rocket From The Crypt – Saw them at Riot Fest and at the Double Door. Fucking incredible. Must see them many more times if at all possible.

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Tuesday 31 December 2013 at 5:45 pm

My Favorite Records of 2012

2012 was an odd year for me musically, and I largely blame Spotify. The only physical musical media I buy these days is the LP, and I really only do that to help touring bands that I like and to buy reissues of my favorite albums. I still buy a lot of digital-only releases too, but when it comes to actually listening to music, I tend to rely mainly on Spotify. (Or a few specific radio shows.)  Especially at work.

And that’s a problem, at least in terms of building a relationship with an album. Because there is SO much music on Spotify, and because I always try to listen to something new or to older albums that I might have missed, I really don’t end up spending a lot of time with specific albums. In the “old” days, I’d have a stack of the same 5-10 favorite CDs sitting on my desk at work for weeks at a time, and I’d listen to them over and over again. Now, not so much.

As a result, my list is largely impressionistic this year. I’ve only got a handful of records that I truly spent enough time with to fall in love with, but I’ve got a bunch more that I really, really liked, and would probably like even more if I spent more time with. So I present this list as a movable picture. Lots of my honorable mentions easily could have been Top 10s, and vice versa. The only think I’m really, positively sure about are my top 5 records, which you should buy immediately if you have not done so already.

On to the list.

Honorable Mention
Barreracudas, Nocturnal Missions – I think these guys are made up of most or all of Gentleman Jesse’s Men. I don’t love Jesse, but this band put out one of the catchiest records of don’t-call-it-bubblegum garage punk this year. I could do without the recorded belch, though, fellas.

Beachwood Sparks, The Tarnished Gold – An amazing return to form after nearly a decade away. This album alone has me considering moving to California. Hope this wasn’t just a record to work off their record deal and then call it a day.

Calm Blue Sea, Arrivals and Departures – So happy this band got back together. A stunning album that should probably be in my Top 10 if I hadn’t spent so much of my year listening to louder, sloppier punk rock.

Diarrhea Planet, Loose Jewels – Fun, loud, stupid rock and roll. And they tour with like 4 guitarists. Awesome fucking band.

The Explorers ClubGrand Hotel – Another really wonderful record of songs that would have been huge hits in the 60s. Wish more people had listened to them in the 10’s. But it’s not too late. Go find em, and start with the excellent “Go For You.”

Forgetters, S/T – Goddamn good to have Blake back. This album is everything I hoped it would be, and probably more. I just wish it had come out earlier in the year, because I’m pretty sure if I’d listened to it more this would be rated higher.

Milk Music, Live at WFMU – Their only 2012 release I believe. This band has the potential to be fucking huge. Their set at the Empty Bottle blew me away like few bands have done in years.

Mystery Jets, Radlands – A very different record from what appears to be becoming a very different band, but I still loved this record, even if some of you (coughtTHLcough) did not. And “Lost in Austin” is possibly the most epic track I heard in 2012.

Steve Adamyk Band, Forever Won’t Wait – When you’re “only” my 4th favorite Dirtnap Records release of the year, you’re still fucking amazing. You people need to discover this band.

Toys That Kill, Fambly 42 – Another Todd Congelliere/Recess Records album, another record of hit after hit after hit of punch you in the face rock and roll. Not quite as good as his Underground Railroad to Candyland records of the past couple of years, but still awesome.

Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse – If the whole album were as amazing as the first 3 tracks, this would probably be near the top of my list. As it is, the rest of the record is “just” really good. But those first 3 tracks, man.

Top Ten

#10: Neil HalstedPalindrome Hunches

Likely the most beautiful record I listened to this year. And a record that likely always remind me of gray Autumn days driving in Iowa working for the Obama campaign this fall.

#9: Takka TakkaA.M. Landscapes

This is a band that deserves a hell of a lot more attention than its gotten lately. Each album keeps getting better, and this new record – released quietly a couple of months back – is easily their best. It’s textured and patient the way few albums are these days, but there’s real songs and melodies underneath it, separating it from so much of the “indie” these days which values mood and quirk over actual songwriting. Highly recommended.

#8: Henry Clay People, Twenty Five for the Rest of Our Lives

Los Angeles’ Henry Clay People have truly become the Best Rock Band In America That No One Is Talking About. This band has not put out a bad album (or EP) in nearly a decade of existence, and managed to put out the best record of their career this year. And as good as they are on record, they’re even better live. I sure as hell hope that the band survives the departure of their drummer (who’s playing his last show with the band on New Year’s Eve 2012/13). America needs them.

#7: Mind SpidersMeltdown

Somehow only ranking as my third favorite Dirtnap release of the year, this album makes clear not only that Mind Spiders are Mark Ryan’s primary songwriting vehicle now, but that it’s some of the best music he’s ever written. I just wish they’d tour with the two drummers they use on the record. Oh, and the three new songs they played at the Empty Bottle the other night (12/29/12) promise more great things to come.

#6: Dinosaur Jr.I Bet On Sky

Much like my favorite album of the year, Dinosaur Jr.‘s third post-reunion record is, to my ears at least, their best, and ranks among the best records they’ve ever released. Jay’s tracks are as great as ever (and he wails as much as ever on guitar), but the real surprise to me is how good Lou’s songs are, “Rude” especially, which might actually be my favorite track on the album. Thank fuck this band is back.

#5: Mean Jeans, On Mars

I didn’t quite like On Mars as much as Are You Serious?, but Mean Jeans still managed to make the most fun record of the year. And they played one of the best sets of music I saw all year at the Dirtnap Records showcase at SXSW, where the crowd went so nuts (myself included) that we nearly knocked down the entire soundsystem and speakers. The venue actually had to call in extra security to handle us. I am proud of this, though less proud of the overzealous security guy who nearly killed me during Bad Sports’ following set.

#4: Bob Mould

In a year that saw him tour behind his 1992 Sugar class, Copper Blue, Bob Mould managed to release an album that is nearly that record’s equal. In fact, the two times I saw him this year, I preferred the portion of his set dedicated to the new songs than the portion dedicated to that album. In a year of welcome “comebacks” (though Bob never really went anywhere), this was one of the most deserved.

#3: Redd Kross, Researching the Blues

Redd Kross was one of the first indie/punk/whatever bands I discovered when I exited my metal phase back in 1991 or so (thanks Brad S.!), but I admit that after a brief love affair with the band in the 90s, I kind of forgot about them. The fact that their last record was in 1997 didn’t help. But then I saw them at this year’s HoZac Blackout Fest in Chicago, and then this new record came out, and I’m a believer all over again. Really hope they stick around for a while.

#2: Sonic Avenues, Television Youth

I haven’t found anyone that agrees with me yet, but this album sounds to me like the second album that The Exploding Hearts sadly never got to make. I probably listened to this record more than anything else in 2012, and will likely continue to listen to it a ton in 2013 and beyond. Would have easily been my #1 record of the year had Guided by Voices not put out one of the best records of their career.

#1: Guided by Voices, The Bears for Lunch

GBV returned this year with three records. To my ears, each was successively better (though each had some great gems), but only The Bears for Lunch reached the level of “classic” GBV album. I personally think it’s the band’s most consistent, and best, record since Under The Bushes Under The Stars. And Tobin Sprout’s contributions may be some of the best songs he’s ever written. I cannot recommend this album strongly enough.

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Monday 31 December 2012 at 6:03 pm

My Favorite Albums of 2011

Too lazy to do much in the way of discussion of this list. Besides, you’ve likely already read about 300 top-whatever lists. So I’ll just say a couple of things. First, this list is, of course, entirely subjective, and simply a list of my favorite albums of 2011. Second, if you haven’t heard Quiet Company yet, you’re missing a band that has put out two of my favorite albums of the last few years. I have no idea how they’re not better known at this point (well, lack of touring has something to do with it), but if they can manage one or two more albums at this level, we’re looking (IMO) at one of the great modern American bands. No pressure, guys.

OK, that’s it. Here’s the list.

#1: Quiet Company, We Are All Where We Belong

You, Me & the Boatman by Quiet Company

#2: Apex Manor, The Year of Magical Drinking

Apex Manor: Southern Decline by TheMusicFile

#3: Crooked Fingers, Breaks In The Armor

#4: Title Tracks, In Blank

Clench Your Fist (A Little Closer To Me) by Title Tracks

#5: Centro-matic, Candidate Waltz

Only In My Double Mind by Centro-matic

#6: Leatherbag, Yellow Television

02 Yellow TV by Leatherbag

#7: High Tension Wires, Welcome New Machine

High Tension Wires – Backbone by stereomacko

#8: Fucked Up, David Comes To Life

#9: Wild Flag, Self-Titled

#10: Wussy, Strawberry

##10-20 (un-ordered):
David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights, Left by Soft
Jason Isbell and the 500 Unit, Here We Rest
Maritime, Human Hearts
Mind Spiders, Self-Titled
Office of Future Plans, Self-Titled
The Wrong Words, The Wrong Words
The Heavenly States, Oui Camera Oui EP
More Humans, Demon Station EP
Tereu Tereu, NW EP
Wye Oak, Civilian

Honorable Mention
The Caribbean, Discontinued Perfume
The Cheniers, Drift EP
The Dears, Degeneration Street
Deleted Scenes, Young People’s Church of the Air
Fucked Up, David’s Town
J Mascis, Several Shades of Why
Low, C’Mon
Pangea, Living Dummy
The Poison Control Center, Stranger’s Ballet
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Sunday 1 January 2012 at 11:20 am

My Favorite Albums of 2010 [##10-1]

Dammit.  I’ve been so damn lazy on this list this year.  Well, I guess I can’t even say “this year” anymore, because I waited a full month to post my top 10 after my 11-20 (you can see albums 20-11 here).

Anyway, pushing my laziness a little further, here’s 10-1 with no commentary whatsover.  Yay blogging!

#10: Harlem, Hippies
#9: Mystery Jets, Seratonin
#8: The Capstan Shafts, Revelation Skirts

#7: The Henry Clay PeopleSomewhere On The Golden Coast
#6: Meursault, All Creatures Will Make Merry
#5: Title Tracks, It Was Easy
#4: The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

#3: Medications, Completely Removed
#2: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks

#1: Superchunk, Majesty Shredding
Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Monday 17 January 2011 at 12:04 pm

Assorted Other 2010 Lists

Before I get to my Top 10 albums of 2010, I figured now is as good a time as any to run through a few other quick lists. As long as I’m ranking shit, why not keep going?

Best of the best (or worst of the worst, where applicable) are in red.


CONCERTS

The Clean @ Matador21, Las Vegas NV [10/3/10] [pix]
The Frames @ The Vic, Chicago [11/23/10] [pix]
Guided By Voices @ Matador21, Las Vegas NV [10/3/10] [pix]
Guided By Voices @ Riviera, Chicago [10/13/10] [pix]
Hey Rosetta! @ Paradise, Austin TX [3/19/10] [SXSW pix]
Medications & Deleted Scenes @ Ronny’s, Chicago [7/28/10] [pix and pix]
Patrick Watson @ Schubas, Chicago [5/17/10] [pix]
Quiet Company @ Elbo Room, Chicago [9/20/10] [pix]
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists & Title Tracks @ Bottom Lounge, Chicago [3/13/10] [pix and pix]
Teenage Fanclub @ Lincoln Hall, Chicago [10/6/10] [pix]


DISAPPOINTING ALBUMS

Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks
The Hold Steady, Heaven Is Whenever
Lightspeed Champion, Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You
Midlake, The Courage of Others
The National, High Violet
Ryan Adams, III/IV
Shout Out Louds, Work

Not necessarily bad albums, just not as good as I wanted to them to be. I can’t listen to that Hold Steady album, though.


HONORABLE MENTION ALBUMS

The Heligoats, Goodness Gracious
Kathryn Calder, Are You My Mother?
The Light Footwork, National Historic Landmarks
Retribution Gospel Choir, 2
The Soft Pack, The Soft Pack
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor

Stuff I really liked this year but didn’t quite make my list.


FAVORITE EPS

Carlos, I’m Pregnant, EP
Juniper Tar, The Howl Street EP
Quiet Company, Songs For Staying In
The Roadside Graves, You Won’t Be Happy With Me


ANTICIPATED 2011 ALBUMS

And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Tao of the Dead
The Caribbean, Discontinued Perfume
The Dears, Degeneration Street
Juniper Tar, TBD
Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, TBD
Low, C’mon
Miracle Fortress, TBD
The Night Marchers, TBD
Office of Future Plans, TBD
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing
Tereu Tereu, TBD
Title Tracks, TBD
The Twilight Singers, Dynamite Steps
The Wrens, TBD

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Sunday 19 December 2010 at 11:45 am

My Favorite Albums of 2010 [##20-11]

Well, here it is… my Favorite Albums of 2010 list. We’ll start with albums ##20-11 (in alphabetical order, because any ranking of these albums would be kinda meaningless), and then follow up in the next few days with ##10-1, which will be ranked.

A quick disclaimer — this is, of course, a completely subjective list. There will be many, many albums that aren’t on this list, and perhaps many albums that are more “artistically deserving.”  However, this is a list of the ten albums that I personally enjoyed the most this year, pure and simple. That’s why there’s no Arcade Fire, no Kanye, no Beach House (I nearly fell asleep just writing their name), no National (though it kinda breaks my heart that I didn’t much care for High Violet), etc. etc.

I should also point out that this list might very well have been different had a certain little radio station not ceased to exist back in March. I started discovering new music on 97X/WOXY back in high school in Cincinnati, and I never really stopped relying on it to help keep me up to date. I found that the last few years were particularly fruitful, given the combination of the station’s focus on discovering new music and the relatively wide spectrum of music favored by each of the station’s DJs. Since the station’s demise, I honestly feel like I’ve been out of the loop musically. I still read blogs, listen to band submissions, and try to dig around for new stuff as much as I can — but none of it has brought me anywhere the amount of great new music as WOXY did. They are sorely missed.

And that brings me to one last point — can we stop with all the “gaze” and “core” sub-genres? None of them are any good. That’s another reason this was a down year for me musically — I hated most of what was being released.  What the hell happened to rock and fucking roll?

Bottomless Pit, Blood Under The Bridge

Another fantastic album by a group that, in one form or another, has been putting out excellent music for more than two decades.  One of my favorite things about living in Chicago is having the chance to actually see these guys play more than once every year or two.  If you do nothing else today, you need to listen to the song “38 Souls” from this album — if I were doing a “Favorite Songs of 2010” list, it would almost certainly be in top 3 or 4.

Broken Records, Let Me Come Home

This was a very late entrant into my Top 20 list — I’ve had it for a couple of months, but finally started listening to it closely just in the last few weeks.  It’s fantastic.  If you’re a fan of sweepingly brooding Scottish rock (think Twilight Sad, earlier Frightened Rabbit, My Latest Novel, etc.), it’s a very good bet you’ll like this record.  It actually doesn’t come out in the U.S. until early next month, but I recommend you pick it up when it does.

Male Bonding, Nothing Hurts

One of my favorite new discoveries of 2010.  There’s very little “new” about this album, but it manages to combine catchy, fuzzy, and noisy in a way that few other bands do these days.  And, most importantly, it’s exciting — the album moves along at breakneck speed (and their live shows are even breakneck-ier, if that’s a word), and there’s always a sense that the whole thing could come crumbling down any second.  rock and fucking roll, indeed.

Megaphonic Thrift, Decay Decoy

The final band introduced to me by WOXY (thanks, Joe!), and what a way to go out.  Sure, they owe a lot to Sonic Youth, but, honestly, in a world of Real Estates and Beach Houses and the like, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  This album kicks about as much ass as anything I’ve heard this year, and live they’re even better.  My ears still hurt from their show at Habana Calle 6 during SXSW this year.

The Parting GiftsStrychnine Dandelion

Greg Cartwright doesn’t fuck around, does he?  The guy’s been putting out great, 60’s-inspired garage/blues/rock for years as part of Reigning Sound, The Oblivians, and The Compulsive Gamblers, to name a few, and now he’s got another great band, The Parting Gifts, alongside Coco Hames of The Ettes.  The album is everything you’d expect from a Cartwright album, and I even like Coco’s songs (I’m not much of an Ettes fan).

Robert Scott, Ends Run Together
I guess this is technically a 2011 release here in the U.S. (click the album cover for a pre-sale link), but I’ve had it for 3 or 4 months now, and I’ve listened to it enough in that time that I’m gonna include it on this year’s list.  Much like the new Teenage Fanclub record (see below), Ends Run Together shows an old master still at the top of his songwriting game.  Song 5, “Messages”, may just be the prettiest song I’ve heard this year.
Sharon Van Etten, Epic

This album just barely missed out on making my Top 10 list.  The album’s short length (7 songs, 33 minutes) and the fact that I didn’t start listening to it until the end of the year are the only things keeping it from being higher. As I’m typing this, I kinda want to find a way to get it in the top 10.  But I’m too lazy to bother. Seriously, though, this album is absolutely stunning. Sharon could probably sing the menu from Chilis and it would be haunting.

Teenage Fanclub, Shadows

One of my favorite bands of all time returns with an album which, while not their best (that would be Bandwagonesque… or maybe Songs From Northern Britain… or perhaps Grand Prix), shows that they still have a lot of life left.  By and large the band’s songs have become more deliberate, and less immediate, over the years, but when they want to they can still craft absolutely perfect 3-4 minute pop songs.  See:  “Baby Lee” and “When I Still Have Thee”

The Whigs, In The Dark

These guys have had the strangest career. They came out of the gate in 2006 with a fantastic, rip-roaring debut, put out a solid, well-received followup a year or so later, and then started touring regularly with Kings of Leon.  You’d think they’d be pretty big by now, right?  Their label certainly thought so, and this year’s In The Dark has all the hallmarks of the “big” breakthrough album, except for the whole “breakthrough” part.  Yet despite some over-production issues, it’s still a damn fine album, with some of the band’s best songs to date, including the dark, slightly menacing “I Am For Real”.

Woods, At Echo Lake

I liked a few songs off of Woods’ last album, Songs of Shame, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d like At Echo Lake.  The album kicks off with one of the catchiest little songs of this or any year, “Blood Dries Darker,” and never really lets up.  It’s not the loudest, most exciting album of the year, but it’s one of those understated albums that sinks its hooks in you (literally and figuratively) and makes you want to listen to it again and again.

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Friday 17 December 2010 at 5:37 pm

My Best of 2009 List

If you couldn’t tell by the silence around here the last week, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from the blog for the holidays. I plan on getting back into the swing of things next week, but for now I figured I may as well get around to doing my “Best of 2009” list. However, since my “Best of the Decade” list was such a time-consuming endeavor, I’m gonna keep this one simple.

So, without further ado, here are my favorite 12 albums of the year, with absolutely no discussion whatsoever, and in no particular order. Why 12? Because I’d hate to leave any of these albums off the list.

Oh, and if this list looks at all familiar, you may be remembering my mid-2009 list. Guess this means that the second half of 2009 kinda underwhelmed me. If you look at everything on that list that didn’t end up making this list, those album would essentially be my “Honorable Mention” albums.

Finally, if I had to pick an overall #1, odds are I’d pick The Century of Self. Welcome back, fellas.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, The Century of Self
The Antlers, Hospice
The Deep Vibration, Veracruz
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Seven-Mile Island
The Jet Age, in “Love”
Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, Loomings
My Latest Novel, Deaths and Entrances
The Rest, Everything All At Once
Sean Walsh and the National Reserve, Homesick
Tereu Tereu, All That Keeps Us Together
The Twilight Sad, Forget The Night Ahead
We Were Promised Jetpacks, These Four Walls

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Wednesday 30 December 2009 at 5:43 pm

My Favorite Albums of the Decade (##1-10)

So here we are. It only took me a month to unveil my top 50 albums of the decade. And by “only” I mean – what the hell is my problem?

In case you missed it, the first part of the list (##31-50) is here, the second (##21-30) is here, and the third (##11-20) is here.

Let’s get this over with, shall we?

#10: Future Clouds and Radar, Future Clouds and Radar (2007)
The fact that I haven’t seen this album mentioned on any other Top Whatever list for the decade bothers the hell out of me, and, I assume, can only mean that people simply haven’t listened to it. Because, if they had, they’d know that Robert Harrison provided us with one of the most moving albums of the decade that also doubled as possibly the best pop (with a healthy dose of psychedelia) album of the past 10 years. If John Lennon were alive and making music today, it would sound a lot like Future Clouds and Radar.

#9: Hey Rosetta!, Into Your Lungs (2008)
I first discovered Hey Rosetta! via Battering Room Chris, who told me that if I liked The Frames, I’d like Hey Rosetta!. He couldn’t have been more right. Like The Frames, Hey Rosetta!’s music is epic – the songs build and build and build until they finally explode into a musical catharsis. In that sense, they also share a lot in common with the Arcade Fire and, more recently, Fanfarlo, yet for some reason can’t seem to get even a tenth of the attention of those – in my opinion – far less deserving bands. I can only hope that the band’s next album (its third), will bring the band the attention it sorely deserves.

#8: Shearwater, Palo Santo (2006)
I hadn’t listened to much of Shearwater’s music before this album came out, and to the extent I had, I’d always preferred the Will Sheff songs. So the first time I hit play to listen to the album, I wasn’t expecting much. Boy was I wrong. This album is absolutely stunning. I know they released a remastered version of the album in 2007, but I’m sticking with this version. Hell, I never even listened to the remastered version, because I simply do not believe that this album could be made any better.
#7: Miracle Fortress, Five Roses (2007)
Along with my #6 album, Five Roses was very much the soundtrack to my first six months or so living in Washington, D.C. in 2007. And I think that’s pretty appropriate. After 11 years living in New York, and after 8 years in the same job, I had uprooted my life to move to a new city to start a new business; it was all very surreal. So the dreaminess of the album fit my mood well. Guess that’s probably why I’ve been listening to it a lot recently, after moving yet again to Chicago.
#6: Earlimart, Mentor Tormentor (2007)
I’ve been a fan of Earlimart going back almost ten years now, but as much as I liked their earlier albums, I honestly had no idea that they had an album as good as Mentor Tormentor in them. A lot of it has to do with the expansion of Ariana Murray’s role in the band, including taking leading vocals on several songs and increasingly piano-driven nature of their songs. All in all, this might be the prettiest album on this list.
#5: Low, The Great Destroyer (2005)
I consider myself a fan of all of Low’s discography, but this is the only album of theirs that I truly love. The Great Destroyer found the band turning away (slightly) from its slow-core roots to deliver a guitar-rock album akin Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Yet what makes this album truly special is that it’s not just a guitar rock album — it manages to marry loud, distorted guitars with the band’s trademark musical deliberateness and patience. As a result, the album maintains all the weight an emotion of the band’s other work, but just does it in a much louder way.
#4: Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
I’m not sure there’s much I can say about this album that hasn’t been said by every critic, blogger and even casual music fan over the last 7-8 years. It was both the band’s artistic peak as well as its breakthrough record; and it’s the last album from the band that I truly loved. For many years I was sure that this would easily be my favorite album of the decade, but, to be honest, after seeing the band upwards of 25-30 times this decade, I’ve grown sick to death of most of the songs and can barely bring myself to listen to this album anymore. But considering how much I used to love it, and for how big a role it played in my life this decade, I honor it with a placement as my #4 album.
#3: The Antlers, In the Attic of the Universe (2007)
The band’s fantastic 2009 release, Hospice, may be the album that "broke" The Antlers, but this was the EP that first turned me onto the band (thanks, again, to Chris), and it remains my favorite Antlers release to date. It’s pretty amazing listening to this album today – I knew at the time it came out that it was the statement of an incredible young musician, but couldn’t have guessed how quickly that talent would continue to blossom, or how soon the rest of the world would notice. It’s truly been a joy to see the band’s success over the last year, and I can’t wait to see how many albums they have on my Best of the 2010’s list.

#2: The National, Boxer (2007)
It’s kind of amazing how The National’s music grows on you, and digs into your head. When I first heard Boxer, I was pretty disappointed. It didn’t have the rock songs like "Mr. November" or "Abel", and, on first listen, the slower songs didn’t grab me as much as the slower songs on Alligator ("Daughters of the Soho Riots", etc.). But with repeated listenings, the songs started to take hold, and pretty soon I couldn’t get them out of my head. And soon enough it had surpassed Alligator as my favorite album by the band – easily. Oh, and on a completely different tpic, and I can’t hear "Mistaken For Strangers" without missing living in New York.

#1: The Wrens, The Meadowlands (2003)
I briefly considered putting Boxer as my #1 album of the decade, but on a 6-hour drive to Cleveland last month for Thanksgiving I listened to both albums back-to-back, and, by the time The Meadowlands had ended, I had no choice but to (a) move it to my #1 spot, and (b) listen to the album again. This album is everything I want from an album – beauty, emotion, musicianship and a healthy dose of flat-out rock and roll. There has not been a time in the seven years since this album came out that I didn’t feel better (even if I’d felt good in the first place) after listening to this album. And that, to me, is what great music is supposed to do.

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Monday 21 December 2009 at 11:00 am

My Favorite Albums of the Decade (##11-20)

Here’s the next installment of my favorite albums of the decade. Sorry for the lengthy delay between the first two posts and this one – holidays, job interviews, blah blah blah.

Anyway, expect the final 10 sometime between now and January.

#20: The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday (2005)
I love The Hold Steady, and I doubt that they’ll ever release anything that I dislike, but I also have a feeling that they’ll never again reach the same heights as they did with Separation Sunday. The stories of Hallelujah, Gideon, et al. were still fresh; the band itself was still young enough to relate to its characters and the dirt and confusion of their lives; and we all still thought that Franz’s moustache was ironic. Their followup albums have been excellent, but to me this marks the last album where the band was truly the "best bar band in the world."
#19: The Delgados, Universal Audio (2004)
Sadly, I didn’t get into The Delgados until this, the final album of their career. And when the band hit New York during its final ever US tour, I was stuck working in Japan. And when, miracle upon miracle, they actually came to Tokyo while I was there, they played a club in Shibuya where shows started at 7pm – two hours before I got out of work. But while I never got a chance to see the band, this album became the soundtrack to my time in Japan, and I can’t listen to it without thinking of shitty banks, Don Quixote, the 42nd floor bar, or David Brent. And, no, I don’t expect anyone to know what I’m talking about.

#18: Silversun Pickups, Carnavas (2006)
This is probably the most commercial album on my entire Top 50 list (although, according to the Grammy’s, the band didn’t exist before 2009), and while that usually scares me off from albums, I absolutely adore Carnavas. Yeah, the Smashing Pumpkins comparisons are pretty accurate, but I don’t care. I loved the Pumpkins’ early output and I can only listen to Gish so many times. And if I were doing a "Top Songs of the Decade" list, "Melatonin" would be very, very high.

#17: The Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns (2008)
Kinda funny to think that this album didn’t even make my top 10 for 2008, though to my credit I did caveat its placement by saying that, if I’d had more time to listen to it, I’d likely have put it in my top 5 for the year. Looking back now, there’s a good chance it might have been #1. More than a year later, I still listen to the album every few days, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. Can’t wait to hear album number two.
#16: The Twilight Singers, Powder Burns (2007)
The Twilight Singers have put out several excellent records since forming in the late 90’s (around the time of the demise of Greg Dulli’s prior band, The Afghan Whigs), but to me, this was the first album that reached the same level of the Whigs’ earlier work. It’s huge sounding, emotional, and absolutely devastating. Its sole downside (IMO) is that it’s a tad over-produced, but not so much that it makes it anything other than an incredible album.
#15: Interpol, Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)
I’ll admit, I haven’t listened to this album in a couple of years. Not because it’s not a fantastic album. It is. But if I had to guess, I’d say that’s because of what this album has come to stand for to me — even though it didn’t come out until 2002, this album, more than any other, reminds me of what it was like to live in New York during and after 9/11. It’s dark; it’s moody; it’s the musical equivalent of the detachment from normalcy that I (and many others) were feeling then. Yet there’s a resiliency to the music, something akin to hope bubbling up beneath the darkness, that was exactly what we were looking for at that time. It truly was the perfect album for 2002. And maybe that’s why I have such a hard time listening to it now.
#14: Lightspeed Champion, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge (2008)
I still can’t believe this album came from one of the guys behind Test Icicles. To go from that band’s spazzy noise-punk to the perfect Americana pop of Falling Off The Lavender Bridge – and to do so in less than two years – is just astounding. Pitchfork described the album as a mix of Brit pop and country-rock, and that pretty much hits the nail on the head, although it fails to impart the absolute beauty – and the emotional core – of these songs. I have no idea how Dev possibly follows up this album, though I suppose we’ll know soon enough, when Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You comes out in February.
#13: The Frames, For The Birds (2001)
The album that first introduced me to my favorite "active" band in the world. (I sure hope those quotation marks aren’t necessary much longer.) It’s also far and away the best album that the band has released, combining many of the band’s best songs ("What Happens When The Heart Just Stops", "Headlong", "Santa Maria", etc) with incredible production from Steve Albini. Whereas much of the Frames’ recorded output suffers for its failure to capture the essence of the songs that the band brings out in a live setting, For The Birds succeeds precisely because it doesn’t even try. Instead, it turns the dials down and lets the songs speak for themselves. And do they ever.

#12: And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Codes (2002)
This was supposed to be the album that re-made underground rock and roll in America. Yeah… not so much. But even though it didn’t quite set the world on fire, it still holds up as an amazing disc, doing everything that a rock and roll album is supposed to do – it’s loud; it’s dangerous; it feels like it’s about to collapse at any second yet nevertheless manages to push to even greater heights with each song. And, most importantly, it sounds just as vital in 2009 as it did in 2002.

#11: The National, Alligator (2005)
I’m still a little surprised that this album didn’t make it into my top 10. It’s the album that introduced me to the band (yeah, I came to the game a bit late), and the album that includes many of my favorite songs from the band ("Abel", "Daughters of the Soho Riots", "Looking for Astronauts"). But despite that I listened to the album pretty much non-stop in 2005 and 2006, it was quickly overshadowed – to my ears, at least – by the band’s followup album… which I’ll discuss a little bit later.

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Monday 7 December 2009 at 12:00 pm

My Favorite Albums of the Decade (##21-30)

So here’s part two of my “Favorite Albums of the Decade” list. Part one resides here.

I think the plan is to take a break on lists after today for the holiday (I’m driving to Cleveland tomorrow… fun), and then pick up again next week. I may actually switch for a day or two to my “Best of 2009” lists, and then pick back up with the end of my decade list at the end of the week. Or not. I really haven’t decided yet. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, enjoy ##21-30… (oh, and yeah, the rest of the lists will go in descending order… not sure why I did this one this way.)

#21: Bright Eyes, Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002)
This was the album that raised Conor Oberst from "emo kid" to "next Dylan" status, and rightfully so. Although I had been a fan of Fever and Mirrors, it wasn’t an album that you wanted to listen to all that often, lest your wrist accidentally fall into a serrated knife while listening. Lifted, on the other hand, while not the cheeriest album in the world, showed an ambition and growing range in Oberst’s music that hadn’t been evident before, including a hint ("Make War", "Laura Laurent") at the alt-country/Americana leanings that would start to dominate his music over the coming years.
#22: Blueline Medic, The Apology Wars (2001)
As discussed below (see #30), 2001 was pretty much the end of my 7-year love affair with all things emo/post-punk (which had begun with my purchase of Diary in December 1994). But what better way to go out than with The Apology Wars, an album that picked up where Jawbreaker’s Dear You had left off five years earlier — loud guitars, singalong anthemic choruses, a singer who sounded like the brother of Blake Schwarzenbach… what is there not to like? Oh, and they were Australian, which explains why you’ve never heard of them.
#23: The Dears, Gang of Losers (2006)
This album deserves to be on this list on the strength of its first single ("Ticket to Immortality") alone, which I can’t hear without thinking of the final days of WOXY.com Mark 2, when this song was getting a ton of play. But, amazingly, the rest of the album is just (or nearly) as good, finding Murray and the rest of the band (most of whom are now gone) paring back the arty ambitions of their earlier work and creating a beautiful, powerful rock album with nods to Blur, The Smiths and more.
#24: Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova, The Swell Season (2006)
More than any other album on this list, this pick conflicts me. When I first picked up the album – essentially marketed as a Glen Hansard solo album on its initial release in 2006 – I fell in love with it. While not boasting the big, anthemic sound of Glen’s work in The Frames, it was possibly the most powerful, honest and heartwrenching music of his career. And then came the (very good) movie, and with it the hordes of NPR listeners more interested in lifestyle music and gossip over the relationship between Glen and Marketa. As a result, until the other day, I hadn’t listened to it since 2007. But on listening again, it was clear that, despite everything, it’s still a fantastic album. And that’s why it’s on this list.
#25: Alkaline Trio, From Here to Infirmary (2001)
Along with The Apology Wars (#22), the Alkaline Trio’s From Here to Infirmary was one of the last emo/post-punk albums that made up my "emo phase". There’s nothing fancy about the album, nothing that separates it sonically from a lot of other post-punk bands of the era – yet it manages to be one of the catchiest albums of the decade. And, more importantly, it’s catchy without being sugary. Just the opposite, the album is punishing, barely letting up on the throttle, and addresses topics of death, depression and loss. Pretty much everything that 25/26 year old EmoStew was looking for in a rock band.
#26: Wussy, Funeral Dress (2005)
I use the term "underappreciated" several times throughout the course of this "Best Of" list, but I’m not sure it applies to any band or album as well as Cincinnati’s Wussy. The band has released three exceptional albums filled with catchy, fuzzy, brutally-honest post-Americana, yet is barely known outside of their hometown of Cincinnati. If you haven’t already, you need to listen to this band now, and you need to start with this, their first album. It’s incredible.
#27: Lucero, That Much Further West (2003)
When I discovered this album in 2005 (after hearing the band’s followup, 2005’s excellent Nobody’s Darlings), I remember describing it to people I knew as a companion piece to Whiskeytown’s Stranger’s Almanac. Listening to it again, it’s almost uncanny – it’s almost as if Lucero took the Whiskeytown album, rearranged it, and added Ben Nichol’s much gruffer vocals to the mix. And, honestly, I’m ok with that. Unique or not, it’s a beautiful, powerful album, and one that I still listen to regularly.
#28: Bloc Party, Silent Alarm (2005)
There was a time that I absolutely adored this album, and this band. And then they put out their second album. And then their third. And it became very easy to forget just how good Silent Alarm had been. It’s moody, it’s tense, it’s even dancey. And, when it wants to, it absolutely kicks your ass. Such a shame that they haven’t been able to recapture the magic of this first album since.
#29: Guns n’ Roses, Chinese Democracy (2008)
You knew this was coming. And you know both that (a) I’m serious, and (b) I’m right. Set aside the album’s back-story, set aside the jokes about Axl’s hair plugs and personal gurus, set aside the dude with a bucket of fried chicken on his head. The simple reality is that this album fucking rocks. And if Slash had been on this album – with no other changes to the album whatsoever – the rest of the world would agree.
#30: Nothington, All In (2007)
Although I was at one time a huge fan of late-90’s era guitar-driven emo/post-punk, by 2001 or so the genre had kinda run its course – every band sounded like a carbon copy of the last, or chose to go the "pop punk" path of Blink 182 (ick). So I was pretty surprised when, six years later, I heard All In, an album that reminded me of everything that I’d loved about late-90’s emo, and felt as vital as anything the genre had produced a decade earlier. It’s loud, it’s anthemic, it’s powerful… everything a great rock and roll album ought to be.
Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Tuesday 24 November 2009 at 12:58 pm

My Favorite Albums of the Decade (##31-50)

You know, I kinda hate putting together “Top __” lists, and especially when it comes to music. I find it unbelievably difficult to compare one album to another, and to try to decide whether I like an album from 8 years ago more than one from 2 years ago. And, to be honest, my decision often changes from day to day (or even minute to minute).

As a result, much of what you’re about to see – i.e., my “Favorite Albums of the Decade” list – is pretty fluid, and subject to change depending on exactly when you ask me.

That said, there are only a few albums that I think might move completely out of the list if I were to sit down and go through this process again in a month (god forbid). What would be pretty likely to change, however, is the exact order and placement of the albums on the list. (The only exception being my 1-10 list, which I feel pretty good about.)

So, to give myself a little bit of wiggle room, I’m only going to be giving actual rankings to my top 20 albums of the decade. The rest of the list – 21-30 and 31-50 – are just going to be set forth in alphabetical order. That way I won’t be second-guessing myself nearly as much.

Anyway, without any further ado, here are albums 31 through 50 on my “Favorite Albums of the Decade” list.

##31-50 (alphabetical order only)

Bad Religion, The Empire Strikes First (2004)
Long-running punk band’s best album of the decade – an angry, energetic anti-Bush diatribe that made me remember why I fell in love with the band 15 years earlier. Too bad the dude got re-elected right after it came out.
Chris Mills, Living in the Aftermath (2008)
One of the best pure, unadulterated power pop records of a decade that had little use for power pop. Deserves so much more attention than it got.
Cotton Mather, Kontiki (2002)
Robert Harrison’s masterpiece… until his even better masterpiece a few years later (see higher in list). Absolutely perfect Lennon-esque pop songs.
Crooked Fingers, Dignity and Shame (2005)
I had a hard time choosing among Eric Bachmann’s six releases this decade, but settled on Dignity and Shame if for no other reason than it included the sublime “Sleep All Summer”. I listened to this album a ton while I lived in Tokyo in 2005.
Damien Rice, O (2002)
There was a period in late ’02/early ’03 (I got the Irish import) where this was pretty much the only album that mattered to me. Then, like many albums, I overplayed it; then it got huge; and then I completely lost interest. And then his followup was pretty bad. This is still a great disc, though.
The Decemberists, Her Majesty (2003)
Another band that I lost interest in as the decade wore on, as a result of diminishing returns and increasing pretentiousness and preciousness (and decreasing emotion) of each subsequent release. But the first couple of albums and EP were fantastic, and this album represents the band’s peak for me.
The Delays, Faded Seaside Glamour (2004)
Talk about underappreciated. The Delays released three excellent pop albums this decade, but got almost no attention whatsoever on this side of the Atlantic, with the exception of some airplay on WOXY for this, their first (and best) album.
Devin Davis, Lonely People of the World, Unite! (2004)
Another WOXY discovery, and another lost power-pop classic akin to Chris Mills’ Living in the Aftermath. He’s been working on a followup for the past few years, but as of now there’s still no release date or other info. I’ll keep waiting.
The Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic (2002)
One of the truly tragic stories of the decade. Young punk band in many ways the second coming of 70’s-style power pop/punk (a la The Undertones). Put out this incredible album and, while touring, flipped their van, killing three of the band’s four members and the band’s manager. They are missed.
Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight (2008)
The second album from young Scottish band (led by two brothers) in less than a year was a huge step forward, marrying the grandiosity of modern Scottish rock with a folkier, generally cheerier disposition. Their live act is even better than their albums.
Jay Bennett and Edward Burch, The Palace at 4am (Part 1) (2002)
This was the album that first proved to me how much of a pivotal role Jay Bennett had in making Wilco my favorite band in the world in the late 90’s and early 00’s. All of Wilco’s subsequent albums have continued to prove that point, in increasingly pointed fashion. You are missed, Jay.
The Jet Age, What Did You Do During The War, Daddy? (2008)
Quite possibly the most underappreciated true “rock and roll” album of the decade. This album – a concept “rock opera” about political disillusionment and homegrown terrorism – showcased both a musicianship and songwriting skill surpassing the vast majority of the bands on this list (or any list). If this album had come out in 1994, it would have been huge.
The Long Winters, When I Pretend to Fall (2003)
I honestly don’t know how John Roderick isn’t a rockstar. He writes absolutely amazing, intelligent, catchy pop songs, and more importantly he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen on a stage. And his dispatches from Bonnarroo a couple of years ago were utterly hilarious. Maybe the next album will finally be his breakthrough? One can hope.
Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos, The Dust of Retreat (2006)
Sometimes you just need to hear some really pretty, sad music. And this album is about as pretty, and sad, as any album as I heard this decade. If I were doing a “Favorite Songs of the Decade” list – and I don’t think I am – “Skeleton Key” would be very near the top.
The New Pornographers, Mass Romantic (2000)
This is still pretty much the only New Pornographers album that I listen to. The band’s subsequent albums have been good (though Challengers didn’t do much for me), but none has felt as fun or loose as their debut. And it’s the only one where I’ve found Dan Bejar’s songs to be endurable. (Sue me – I don’t like the guy.)
Okkervil River, Down the River of Golden Dreams (2003)
I assume that most people would pick Black Sheep Boy or The Stage Names – both excellent albums – as their favorite Okkervil River albums ahead of this one. But I find this album the most consistent, and the most emotionally honest, of the band’s discography. And Will’s plaintive delivery of “It Ends With A Fall” – where it almost sounds like he’s on the verge of breaking down mid-song – is absolutely stunning.
Pela, Anytown Graffiti (2007)
While I liked this album the first time I heard it, it’s one of those few albums that I’ve come to like more and more with each listen, and with each year. In fact, if I’d made this list last year, Anytown Graffiti probably wouldn’t have been on it. Along with Ted Leo’s Tyranny of Distance and an album that features in my Top 10, this album makes me feel like I’m back living in New York. I’m still pissed they broke up.
Rocket From the Crypt, Group Sounds (2001)
I, for one, loved 1998’s RFTC, but by 2001, there were a number of Rocket From the Crypt fans wondering whether the band would ever return to the tightly-wound, angry (yet ready to party) form of its earlier albums. The fact that the band had signed to pop-punk/emo label Vagrant Records only raised further questions. Thankfully, though,Group Sounds found the band in a fierce, fighting mood. Possibly my second favorite album from the band after Scream, Dracula Scream!
Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (2000)
Ryan’s first solo album, and possibly the pinnacle of his musical output in my opinion (though Stranger’s Almanac is close). Everything after this album – both the good and bad – seemed too self-conscious and too weighed down by Ryan’s eccentricities and ego. This album, though, was simply the sound of an amazingly talented musician whose heart had been utterly shattered honestly laying everything out on disc, more concerned with his art (and heart) than his press.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Tyranny of Distance (2001)
I had a hard time deciding between this and 2003’s Hearts of Oak. While the latter was the album that got me into Ted’s music, this was the first album of his that I truly fell in love with. I can’t hear this album without thinking of walking around the Lower East Side, or without wanting to move back to New York as soon as humanly possible.
Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Monday 23 November 2009 at 3:43 pm

Checking In At The Half-Year Mark

Editor’s note: I meant to post this a couple of weeks ago, but got bogged down with some work stuff. If I were writing this now I’d probably add a couple of albums, but since this is technically a mid-year list, I’ll stick with the January-June period.

Holy crap has 2009 been a great year for music so far.

I can’t remember a year where I discovered as many great new bands, heard so many great new albums from established bands, and even watched as a once-great band rose from near-ashes to release what just might be, if I were forced to choose, my favorite album of the year so far (that would be The Century of Self, if you were wondering).  And we’re only half-way through the year.

Thankfully, though, I make the rules around here, and instead of doing a “Top 10” or “Top 5” or whatever list, I figured I’d do things a little differently. Basically, I have a handful of friends who I talk to every few weeks or so and, among other topics, we talk about what we’re currently listening to. Over the last month or so, I’ve probably had this conversation 5 or 6 times, and I’ve found myself answering the question in categories. Instead of just saying “I’m listening to A, B and C”, I’ve been telling people “Well, there have been a couple of great new albums from Scotland… and there are three new Canadian bands I’m really excited about… and it sure seems like there’s an alt-country renaissance right now… .” You get the idea.

So rather than try to create some sort of arbitrary order for these albums – and because there are so many albums that I’ve loved so far this year – I figured I’d split them up for you the same way I’ve done it for my friends. Not that you aren’t my friends. You totally are. I love each and every one of you. Well, maybe not you. But most of you.

Two quick notes about the list. First, a handful of the albums listed below actually came out in 2008, but I didn’t discover them until 2009 – I’ve noted those with stars (**). Second, I’ve also bolded the albums that, if forced to choose, I’d probably put in my Top 10.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the music that I think has made the first half of 2009 just about the best 6 months of music that I can remember.


Best Albums From Established Acts
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of The Dead, The Century of Self
Dinosaur Jr., Farm
The Drones, Havilah
Silversun Pickups, Swoon
Wheat, White Ink, Black Ink
Wussy, Wussy

Best Albums From Young Americans
The Antlers, Hospice
**The Henry Clay People, For Cheap or For Free
Mittenfields, Demos
**Motel Motel, New Denver
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, S/T
Tereu Tereu, All That Keeps Us Together

The Alt-Country Renaissance
The Beanstalk Library, Demos
The Deep Vibration, Veracruz EP
Frontier Folk Nebraska, Pearls (see also: WOXY Lounge Act)
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Seven-Mile Island
Sean Walsh and the National Reserve, Homesick

The Canadian Invasion
Dark Mean, frankencottage EP
The Rest, Everyone All At Once
**The Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns

From The U.K./Ireland
Favours for Sailors, Furious Sons
Future of the Left, Travels With Myself and Another
**Let’s Wrestle, In Loving Memory Of
My Latest Novel, Deaths and Entrances
So Cow, So Cow
We Were Promised Jetpacks, These Four Walls

Best WOXY Lounge Acts
The Antlers
The Dears
The Deep Vibration
Frontier Folk Nebraska
Future of the Left
The Rural Alberta Advantage
Wussy

Disappointments
A.C. Newman, Get Guilty
Bishop Allen, Grrr…
Bon Iver, Blood Bank
The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love
Wilco, Wilco (The Album)

Eagerly Awaited Late 2009 Releases
Grand Archives, Keep In Mind Frankenstein
Magnolia Electric Co., Josephine
The Jet Age, TBA
The Temper Trap, Conditions
The Twilight Sad, Forget the Night Ahead
Title Tracks, TBA (probably)
Vandaveer, Divide & Conquer

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Wednesday 15 July 2009 at 5:33 pm

My 2008 List (Odds and Ends)

A few final bits and pieces to throw on the year-end list. I may add more to this as I think of it.

5 Good Albums That Didn’t Get Mentioned In My Top 20
Birdmonster, From The Mountain To The Sea
Dead Confederate, Wrecking Ball
Parts and Labor, Receivers
R.E.M., Accelerate
The Secret Life of Sofia, Seven Summits

5 Favorite Concerts of the Year (i.e., yeah, June was pretty good)
Drive-By Truckers, 9:30 Club [5/10/08]
Frightened Rabbit, Black Cat (backstage) [6/30/08]
My Bloody Valentine, Roseland Ballroom, NYC [9/22/08]
Lightspeed Champion, Black Cat (backstage) [6/3/08]
Waco Brothers, Rock and Roll Hotel [6/5/08]

5 TV Shows I Obsessed Over this Year
30 Rock
Generation Kill
Lost
Presidential primary and general election coverage
The Wire

6 Things I’m Looking Forward to in 2009
Going through the AFF program
Lost, Season 5
President Barack Obama
Terminator Salvation
Wilco, Album #7
Wussy, Happiness Bleeds

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Monday 22 December 2008 at 2:57 pm

My 2008 List (Books)

Edited 1/1/09: So I managed to finish one more book right before the end of the year, and I’ve added it to the list (at #10). So only three David Mitchell books after all. Yay.

This year was a little unusual for me when it came to books. There were two reasons. First, much like my experience with music this year, I haven’t really read anything since before I joined the Obama campaign in September. So my overall numbers were down a bit this year.

And second, of all of the books I read, about 2/3 of them were written by one of two authors – Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell. In fact, I went through both authors’ entire collected novels in the past year. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’ll be damned if most of Murakami’s stuff doesn’t all blur together for me now.

So I’ll do my best to try to put these books in some sort of order. I’ll gonna leave out the Murakami books that don’t really stand out for me. I liked them all quite a bit, but I figure if I can’t remember much about them, then that means they don’t really have a place on the list. Right? Right.

So, without further ado, the books I read in 2008, in order of how much I liked them.

1. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
2. Ghostwritten, David Mitchell
3. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
4. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
5. Number9dream, David Mitchell
6. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon
7. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
8. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
9. Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami
10. Black Swan Green, David Mitchell Gun, With Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem

Notably, I’m also in the middle of two other books right now – Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem; and Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. There’s a chance I finish one (but not both) of them before the end of the year, and if I do, I reserve the right to stick it into this list if so no other reason than to drop the list down to just 3 David Mitchell books.

Oh, and one quick honorable mention goes to Nick Hornby’s Slam. It wasn’t great, but it didn’t suck either, and coming after A Long Way Down, that’s saying a lot. Here’s hoping his next book continues the upward trend.

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Saturday 20 December 2008 at 5:31 pm

My 2008 List (Top Albums)

And so here it is… the stunning climax to my 2008 “Best Of” list.

And by climax I mean that I already posted what was supposed to be the final post in this series. And I mean that I may go back and add one or two more albums to my “disappointment” list. And I mean that I reserve the right to post a few additional lists, including favorite concerts of the year, favorite books read, etc. etc. Because, seriously, I know you really care about these things.

So without any further ado…

Ten Albums That Renewed My Faith In Humanity,
As Well As Music’s Ability To Heal The Human Soul,
And Made Me Wish (As I Always Do) That I Knew How
To Write A Damn Song And/Or Play A Freakin’ Instrument

Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago [buy]
Not a surprise, I assume. Seems like everyone’s into this album these days, even my much-hated NPR. (Yes, I’m that much of a cultural snob that I even look down on NPR. Congratulations to me.) But there’s no denying how raw, powerful and real this album is. And it’s one of those few albums that can function both as a make-out album (see: “Skinny Love”) and devastatingly depressing drink-yourself-comatose music (see: “The Wolves (Act I and II)”). So it’s kinda got everything.

Chris Mills, Living In The Aftermath [buy]
Someone needs to explain to me why no one knows who Chris Mills is. And someone needs to explain to me why I had to accidentally discover this album through eMusic, rather than through Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan, or any of the today’s other leading purveyors of rock music taste. If you’re a fan of actual rock songcraft and songwriting, and hooks, and flat out rock and roll, do yourself a favor and get this album ASAP.

Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight [buy]
There was a period there that I really thought this would be my #1 album of the year. Who knows, if I were actually ranking albums, maybe it would be. Few things excite me more in life than heart-on-your sleeve, shamelessly earnest, catchy rock and roll (there’s a reasons that The Frames are my favorite band). And this album has that in spades. And their live show is pretty spectacular too.

Grand Archives, The Grand Archives [buy]
Pretty much the definition of the “sad sack” album. With maybe one exception (the Broken Social Scene-esque “The Crime Window”), the songs on this album are pretty, breezy, and entirely without testicles. But there were times this year that that’s exactly what I needed, and this album fit the bill to a T. There are very few albums in my collection that are better to listen to while sitting on the couch putting out resumes via email. (Feel free to use that in your PR materials, fellas.)

Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy [buy]
Let’s get this out of the way – this ain’t Appetite for Destruction; this isn’t the greatest rock album ever made; this is a grandiose, overproduced testament to Axl’s ego. But, honestly, I don’t give a crap – it’s a spectacular album. The 1-2-3 punch of “Chinese Democracy”->”Shackler’s Revenge”->”Better” that opens the album is among the best examples of true rock and roll of the decade. And songs like “Street of Dreams”, “There Was A Time” and “Prostitute” are the logical followups to “Estranged” and “November Rain” (both of which I love). And then there’s “Catcher In The Rye”, which I already mentioned is one of my favorite songs of the year. So, yeah, make your jokes, tell me how it’s not GnR without Slash and Duff, and tell me that Axl is a crazy, ego-driven jerk. I don’t care. This album rocks.

Hey Rosetta!, Into Your Lungs [buy]
So Chris over at The Battering Room has sadly been a little quiet this year in terms of blogging, but he still had a massive affect on my year in music by introducing me to Canada’s Hey Rosetta!. As Chris told me, if you like The Frames, you’re gonna like Hey Rosetta!. In other words, if you like songs that start soft and build and build and build to huge resolutions, and (here’s that term again) wear their hearts on their sleeves, well, you kinda need to introduce yourself to this band. Start with Into Your Lungs, but be sure to get their excellent first disc, Plan Your Escape, too.

The Hold Steady, Stay Positive [buy]
Almost as soon as I named The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America as my favorite album of 2006, I regretted it. I liked the album a lot, but in retrospect I think I kinda felt like I owed it to the band after years of being a fan. If I had to rewrite that list now, Gang of Losers would be my easy #1. So I’ve been very careful with Stay Positive since it came out this summer, and tried to make sure that I didn’t overpraise it or be too standoff-ish with it. Looking back on the year, though, I’m now confident that Stay Positive is a fantastic rock album from start to finish. And, more importantly, it’s a true album, where you actually need to listen to the whole thing to truly enjoy it. So this is a pick that I’m not gonna regret down the road.

The Jet Age, What Did You Do During The War, Daddy? [buy]
I mentioned the other day that Julie Ocean’s album is one of the two or three best albums that you hadn’t heard. Without question, What Did You Do During The War, Daddy? is another. If there’s one word that sums up this album, it’s power: powerful guitars; powerful bass; unbelievably powerful drums; and a powerful message – the story of one man’s search for meaning in an increasingly-crazy and violent world. I honestly don’t think there was an album released this year that will kick your ass as hard as this album. And I’m not just saying this because I know these guys. This is a legitimately great disc.

Lightspeed Champion, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge [buy]
Who knew that one of the guys who used to be in Test Icicles would turn out to be an amazingly talented songwriter with a taste for orchestral Americana-inspired indie rock? Definitely a front runner for my #1 album of the year if I were actually doing real rankings.

Mystery Jets, Twenty One [buy]
It took me a while to get into this album. Its 80’s-inspired feel is a drastic departure from the band’s proggy debut, Making Dens. But once I took a step back and accepted the album for what it was, I started to love it. Considering how many dour, depressing albums made my list this year, Twenty One’s youthful exuberance was the perfect antidote. Not a bad song on the album.


SeeqPod – Playable Search

Posted under Babystew Home,Best Of Lists by Steve on Saturday 20 December 2008 at 3:00 pm

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