Pittsburgh Union of Record Geeks electronic

Friday, December 31, 2010

Lou's Top 20 of 2010, Part 3

Here's the third in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2010. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

6.) The Henry Clay People - Somewhere On the Golden Coast (TBD)

The fact that straight-up rock 'n' roll isn't en vogue is well-illustrated by the fact that this platter of classic rock redux sounds so unique in today's musical landscape. These Angelinos' driving, hooky anthems bring to mind the Replacements or an amped-up Pavement, with strong nods to the Velvet Underground on a couple more subdued numbers.

7.) Futurebirds - Hampton's Lullaby (Autumn Tone)

This Georgia band's debut full-length combines soulful Band-esque vocals and authentic pedal steel/mandolin/banjo touches with decidedly non-traditional guitar distortion and propulsive drums that all equally complement a cascade of driving melodies from start to finish. Few bands have come up with such an adventurous concoction, though the late, lamented Canyon does come to mind.

8.) Woods - At Echo Lake (Woodsist)

I'm evidently behind the curve in getting into this band and haven't really had the chance to delve into their back catalog, but I like what I hear on this release a lot. There is a whole melange of '60s/'70s country/folk/psych/pop influences at play here, from Simon & Garfunkel on "Pick Up," to sunshine pop on "Suffering Season," to Neil Young on "Time Fading Lines," to the Airplane on "I Was Gone," all beautifully enveloped in lo-fi fuzz.

9.) Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month - Your Wicked Man (Soft Abuse)

A familiar voice from Skygreen Leopards' addled country-rock, Quinn similarly deconstructs the singer-songwriter here, winding up about where Leonard Cohen meets Syd Barrett. Or maybe just where Tom Waits would have if he had quit smoking early on. It's hard to say which element of this record is more satisfying: the evidently great craftsmanship or the delightfully cracked delivery.

10.) Hudson Bell - Out of the Clouds (St. Ives)

San Franciscan Bell unleashes aching vocal hooks and distorted guitar noise in a combination that can only be described as Young-ian and echoes more contemporary touchstones like Pavement and the Mountain Goats. A couple instrumental tracks do meander a bit, but the heartfelt, acoustic "Into the Morning" offers yet more evidence of Bell's talent for well-honed songcraft.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lou's Top 20 of 2010, Part 2

Here's the second in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2010. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

11.) Horse Feathers - Thistled Spring (Kill Rock Stars)

Singer-songwriter Justin Ringle and cohorts break through the confines of somber indie-folk like a spring thaw through the snow. The melding of bluegrass instrumentation and harmonies with classical strings on "Belly of June" sounds wholly intuitive, while "This Bed" begins as a charming traditional-sounding mountain tune before exploding into an inventive but organic soundscape. This approach continues to beautiful effect on track after track.

12.) Sam Quinn & Japan Ten - The Fake That Sunk a Thousand Ships (Ramseur)

The former co-singer/songwriter of the magnificent Everybodyfields makes his solo debut here. Quinn seemed to be actively stretching that band's boundaries toward the end of its tenure, making me expect that more adventurous material may be in the offing. But for the most part he continues in stride with what his former band did better than anyone: deliver heartbreaking tunes with his affecting Appalachian whine engaging in a tug-of-war with the searing fiddle and pedal steel. Even while mining the same vein, the continuing development of a clear talent and vision is in evidence here.

13.) Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises (Caldo Verde)

Mark Kozelek's new solo acoustic album is no less dramatic, emotional, or powerful than his most grand guitarscapes and shares the unassuming beauty he has consistently conjured over the years.

14.) Damien Jurado - Saint Bartlett (Secretly Canadian)

Calling this album "lush" may be a bit of an overstatement, but stacked up next to Jurado's catalog of mostly stark releases producer/labelmate Richard Swift's production makes it seem just that. A sort of subdued Spector-ness is evident from the fore, complementing the typically unsettling opener "Cloudy Shoes" and then the disarmingly poppy "Arkansas" equally well. On "Throwing Your Voice," Jurado's well-honed mournful coo echoes across a hypnotic rhythm track and into an affecting chorus to create one of the most beautiful and memorable songs of his career. Much of what follows--whether a distorted dirge or a spare, acoustic number--is what we are more accustomed to from Jurado, but well-executed augmentations continue to lend a unique flavor to this album that will help to define it within a career's worth of records with singular personalities.

Jurado and Swift also recorded Other People's Songs, Volume 1, a greatly varied covers collection available for free download.

15.) Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love (Matador)

There's nothing here much removed from the delightful material that has marked what I consider this band's second golden era--beginning with 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress and peaking on 2006's landmark The Life Pursuit. Unfortunately, what seems to stand out on this album for me are the synthetic keyboards that seem to make their way into most tracks at one point or another. Other than that, I don't have any real criticisms of this record, but it just doesn't quite stack up with their best for me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lou's Top 20 of 2010, Part 1

Here's the first in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2010. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

16.) Unbunny - Moon Food (Hidden Agenda)

Unbunny mastermind Jarid del Deo fleshes out his sound somewhat here, which frankly detracts a bit from the stark beauty that made his records some of the best of the last decade but still reveals a uniquely gifted writer and vocalist.

17.) Rusty Willoughby - Cobirds Unite (Local 638

Rusty was an unsung hero of the burgeoning early-90's Seattle scene, leading his bands Pure Joy and Flop through a brilliant series of albums bursting with searing, somewhat off-kilter pop-punk. A resurrected Pure Joy made a couple of more subdued but well-crafted records last decade before Rusty entered acoustic singer-songwriter mode, somewhat jarring to fans devoted to his driving early work. With Cobirds Unite, he has stretched some within this form but perhaps found a new comfort zone. Standup bass, vibes, pedal steel, etc. provide ambiance to somber but still hooky tunes like opener "Wrecker of Hearts" and "Crown of Thorns." Covers of standards "Do Right Woman" and "Streets of Baltimore" represent not so much signposts heralding the new direction but perhaps touchstones leading to the intricate melange of folk, pop, country, jazz and baroque here.

18.) Thee Sgt. Major III - The Idea Factory (Spark & Shine

The current vehicle for Fastbacks/Young Fresh Fellows genius Kurt Bloch makes its second release here with a slightly revamped name and lineup. Bloch's pop-punk nuggets are understandably not quite as edgy as they were in the Fastbacks' heyday, but they are no less hooky--as well-evidenced on "Battery Operated" and "Everything Is New"--and "What Am I Gonna Do?" is about as angsty as can be expected of a 50-ish-year-old guy. Bloch takes a perhaps appropriately more wistful tack on the beautiful "The Forgotten Three." New vocalist Leslie Beattie is well-suited to Bloch's compositions, and YFFs bassist Jim Sangster and monster former Fastbacks and Posies drummer Mike Musburger round out the supergroup.

19.) Mark Olson - Many Colored Kite (Rykodisc

Between last year's long-awaited reunion with former bandmate Gary Louris and an anticipated full-blown Jayhawks reunion in the new year, Mark Olson gives us his second proper solo record. Departing somewhat from the deep debt to '60's and '70's American country-rock that has marked his work all these years, clear nods to British folk of the same era--at once more complex and understated than its stateside counterpart--come to the fore here. Olson's plaintive mourn is not unsuited to this style, but the shifting tempos and musical themes detract a bit from the emotive power that is his strength as a writer. Still, he doesn't fail to dutifully provide a fair share of the beautifully heartrending moments we have come to expect from him.

20.) Timothy Cushing - Telephone Lines (self-released)

There's not a ton of information readily available about this Maine-based singer-songwriter, but he reminds one of the Mountain Goats or a more lucid Daniel Johnston on what is apparently his full-length debut. Delightful country flourishes mark opener "Dandelion Wine" and "Magic Lantern," while "Heather" is a beautiful sad pop tune with tinkling piano and well-suited female harmonies. I hope we'll all learn a lot more about this guy soon.