The Best of 2010 part 5

This is it.  If you’ve taken nothing from all of this:

5.  Past Lives – “Tapestry of Webs”

Former members of Seattle’s Blood Brothers releasea paranoid trip that would make “Rosemarry’s Baby” blush.  Over slow-building music, we hear about a woman – probably the opening song’s namesake — “Paralyzer” of the title.  A song about the ultimate anxiety and, well, paranoia you get when you meet a girl you like.  Reminiscent of the now departed early 2000s art-metal gods, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Past Live infuse desperate guitars and driving rhythm with a jazz thing.  We get an oboe, sax and a crippling austerity  of emotion behind what really really is northwestern punk rock.  It’s a gorgeous record.

4.  Sleigh Bells – “Treats”

He’s a punk rock mainstay.  She’s a school teacher.  Together they’ve had a hell of a year.  You’ll either love the electro-proto-metal-dance-punk thing.  Or you’ll hate it.  Frankly though, it’s kind of impossible not to love.  Beneath the distortion, and mind-numbing mid range piled on top of bass and treble, what you really have is a dance record.  With James Murphy and MIA obviously lending influences, so do AC/DC, and the girl groups of the 50s.  Increasingly funny and clever lyrical takes on doing your homework and getting good grades, we land in the middle of the record on ‘Rill Rill,’ which you could confuse for the latest pop hit by Lady Gaga or Beyonce.  Except when you turn it up, the balanced fuzz and glitter takes you where you want to be.  Later on ‘A / B Machines’ repeats “got my a machines on the table, got my b machines on the floor.”  For 3 minutes.  What’s an a machine?  What’s a b machine?  And respectively, what are they doing on the table and the floor?  Who knows?  What’s “Louie Louie, me gotta go” mean?  Who knows?  Just love it.  ‘Rill Rill’ is one of the songs of the year.

3.  LCD Soundsystem – “This is Happening”

Here’s the thing about James Murphy: he does everything better than your band does.  Eno?  Bowie?  Lou Reed?  Iggy Pop?  Check.  “This is Happening” is a fitting exclamation point on what is probably the last LCD dance/punk joint.  LCD Soundsystem isn’t for writing about.  They are for listening to and talking about.

Just get it.

2.  Surfer Blood – “Astro Coast.”

It’s a testament to a record that comes out in January for it to slip all the way to number 2 after a whole year.  This year’s entry into the “we’re 19 and love 90s bands” like Pavement and Built to Spill club.  This is no road record like last year’s effort from Cymbals Eat Guitars’ ode to Modest Mouse.  This is more like “Crooked Rain / Crooked Rain.”  It’s a tight, smart, expertly crafted, guitar-focused, highly technical love note to nerdy stuff.  The constantly thick bass drives the thing along, while the vocals sound like they were recorded down the hall.  Which is appropriate because the mood reminds me of taking a walk down a long hallway looking at pictures of people you don’t know, in situations you haven’t experienced, but somehow you know what they’re thinking.  ‘Anchorage’ is such a shockingly sophisticated build up of repetitive bass, drums, and guitar over wistful lyrics, and then transitions to a peppy Beach Boys-esque ode to “taking off at the right time, and working it out …. We’ll be alright.  Oooh oooh.”  All the songs are fantastic.  ‘Swim,’ ‘Anchorage,’ ‘Catholic Pagans,’ and ‘Floating Vibes’ all stand out among all of the great songs.

1.  Titus Andronicus – “The Monitor”

“If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher.  As a nation of free men, we will live forever … or die by suicide.”

Celebrating the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Rhodes.  Simultaneously a concept album about the civil war, a bad breakup, and failing to make it in the big city.  We spoke earlier about earnestness and songs meaning what they say.  Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.  Modern rock rules generally don’t allow for that.  Usually we expect irony, apathy, cynicism, and the like from our hip gods.  Well New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus deliver all of that, but with an honest dose and steady diet of reflection upon assholes from your past, lost loves, failure, self-loathing, and simple reflection on what the fuck it was all for anyway.

The scope of “The Monitor” is audacious, brazen, and too foolish to even contemplate for mere mortals.  The record is broken up into bits by grainy, faded readings by Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Walt Witman.  Really?  Oh yes.  And in between the history lesson and poetry 101 we get the constant snarl and desperation of the 20-something bearded-in-chief troubadour, Patrick Stickles.  The songs are unconventional in the sense that there is no verse, chorus, verse.  They are stories.  Many clock in at 7 minutes or longer, and all of them turn on a dime in style and in tone.  Ultimately they are about leaving home, and the path you take to get to your destination, in this case, Boston.  And finding out that you’re not as smart and cool as you think you are.  Titus Andronicus worship at the alter of Springsteen, the Pogues, Billy Bragg, the Clash, and Wilco.  Oh, and hardcore punk.  The opener ‘A More Perfect Union’ is a rousing opus invoking, well all of the above.  The songs have moments rather than parts.  Story-telling that grabs you differently each time.  Stickles sings about hanging “Jeff Davis” from a sour apple tree one moment and the Garden State Parkway in the next.  Unwinnable wars, and getting drunk in Kevin’s basement with all your friends.  Brilliant women who are still just kids, and being prepared to be told that your interests are “gay, dude.”  Pounding anthems one moment, bagpipes and trumpets the next.

“The Monitor” is not just the album of the year.  It is the front-runner for album of the decade.  The aforementioned ‘Perfect Union,’ the epic fight song, ‘Four Score and Seven,’ bar room hymn, ‘Them Song from Cheers,’ and the closing masterpiece (which is even more epic), ‘Battle of Hampton Rhodes,’ are all among the top songs of the year.

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