Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Rub's Best Records of 2010

In the interest of actually posting something on this blog for the month of December (sorry, November!), I thought I'd post my Top 10 Records of the year in advance of the year actually coming to a close. Then I thought I'd also follow that list up with a list of the Top 5 "things" that caught my fancy during the year.

But before doing that, I wanted to share a link to my friend Jairus Tonel's website: Besides being one of my absolute favorite artists here in Sacramento, Jairus is an all-around great guy; hilarious, profane, smart, and, in general, fun to be around (pretty much the opposite of pretentious).  At Jairus' site you'll find the downloadable playlist for my 2010 Holiday Mix-Off compilation CD, Aww, Shitness!, which Jairus graciously did the artwork for.

Every holiday season, my good friend Mark Hamilton and I make mix CD's and hand them out to our friends. Our friends then decide whose mix CD is the best, and the winner gets to claim bragging rights. This year, we're letting our friends vote by anonymous ballots and the winner receives a beer of his choosing at the loser's expense.

Twenty of our respective friends judge our mixes this year on everything from song variety, song flow and even cover art. As you see from Mark's CD cover ("Hello Young Lovers."), the competition this year was fierce; he really went all out with the 70's magazine collage art. Also, he's totally right about that Dave Eggers book.

So anyway, go to Jairus' website, download my Aww, Shitness! compilation and, while your there, purchase some of Jairus' art. The coasters would make a great stocking stuffer or birthday present!

Your walls will be glad you did.

So now, without further ado... The Rub's Top 10 Records of 2010:

10. The Fresh And Onlys Play It Strange (In The Red)
Is it possible to make a "mature-sounding" garage rawk record? With producer Tim Green (Comets On Fire) at the decks, The Fresh and Only's answer that inane question with a resounding "YES!" Call it 60's garage pop subtle epic-ness, if you must. A fuckin' killer.

9. Grass Widow Past Time (Kill Rock Stars)
I missed these ladies when they played The Hub here in Sacramento and have been kicking myself ever since. Oh, and it didn't help that this show was reportedly "legendary." Yeah, well so is this record. Like their all-female contemporaries Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls and Best Coast, Grass Widow make fuzz rawk of the highest caliber. BANG! 

8. Wild Nothing Gemini (Captured Tracks)
Gauzy, gooey shoegaze aplenty here. One of two bands to be featured on this burgeoning Brooklyn record label whose owners apparently have considerably great taste in music.

7. The XX "Crystalised" Single (XL)
Sure, the full length album featuring this single came out last year, but the folks at XL must have realized what everyone else (including the judges for the Mercury Awards) figured out: this song is way too good for last year. Hence, this repackaged edition of a song you can't hear enough of (yeah, well, this and "Fuck You!") Yes, it's that good.

6. Beat Coast Crazy For You (Mexican Summer)
The hell if I ain't in luv with this Bethany Cosentino woman based on her drone-tone-with-a-sting vocal delivery alone. Goddamn! I say goddamn! I think this may be the first album to be both a bittersweet and fun listen all at once. Cha-cha-cha!

5. Spoon Transference (Merge)
Brit Daniel's final entry into the "Ex-Girlfriend" trilogy? Possibly, but what a ride, aye? In a strange way, heartbreak has been good to/for the fellas in Spoon, with ditties like "I Saw the Light" and "Trouble Comes Running." And while Transference isn't the bands best outing, it could easily make a lesser band's career.

4. Beach Fossils S/T (Captured Tracks)
Hazy. Droning. Lush. These Brooklyn kids sound like OMD on quaaludes with a martini chaser prepared by The Telescopes a good way, of course. "Daydream" sounds just like the title suggests, while "Youth" is pretty much the only passenger you'll need for a car trip to absolutely no where (sounds like a good idea right about now, you gotta admit). Just sit back, relax and let Beach Fossils fold the map.

3. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti Before Today (4AD)
I was a huge fan of Ariel Pink's debut, The Doldrums, but leveled-off when it seemed every other band was aping Pink's hazy A.M.-radio-in-a-psyche-ward shtick. But Before Today cannot be denied. It's a fuckin' mammoth-ly brilliant record. All the proof you'll need of this bold statement can be found in the single "Round And Round"; a song that sounds like it was written backwards and performed forwards, with the lead-out in front, and the hooks at the end. Brilliant! In a mammoth way, apparently.

2. Belle And Sebastian Write About Love (Matador)
Enough with this "return to form" bullshit in regard to Belle And Sebastian's new album. Sure, sure; these Baroque Scottish Pop-sters experimented a bit with the Bowie-isms on that last disc six years ago, but making a solidly wonderful album from beginning to end does not signal reinstatement of old familiars. Write About Love is simply a great album - delightful listening on its own terms, which you will find yourself doing over and over again.

1. Beach House Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
It's not because this Baltimore duo managed to make a solidly proper album from beginning to end. Nor is it because they wrote 10 of the absolute best back-to-back songs of the year. Or even the fact that they've done the impossible and delivered one of the best shoegaze albums since Loveless (no, seriously!) Nope, it's all of this and so much more. Beach House have had an impressively shimmering track record in their few short years as a band in regard to output, but on this, their third record (and first for Sub Pop) everything just clicked ...perfectly. Victoria Legrand's Stevie Nicks-meets-Elizabeth Frazier vocals wind dense smoke rings around Alex Scally's weeping guitar work. Drums (both live and of the machine variety) are employed in equal measure, at times in unison, even! This gauzy, dream-like album has the feel of (dare I say?) an actual album; everything from the masterful production (recorded by Chris Coady - in an abandoned upstate New York church, no less!), to the track sequencing, and the long fad-out ("Take Care") seem calculated to give you a complete aural experience from beginning to end, and not just a smattering of one-off songs. And what songs these be! "Norway" is a slithering snake taking it's time wrapping itself around your face, while "10 Mile Stereo" is an epic slow-building sonic deluge. "Lover Of Mine" may have it's narrative teeth stuck in the jugular of some hapless virgin, but it's rhythm is akin to Atari's Space Invaders laying siege to a $3.00 dance club. But the best track on Teen Dream belongs to "Walk In The Park"; a song that is so simply transfixing and brilliant, you'll have no other option but to submit when the keyboard-heavy refrain smacks the lipstick off of your smiling face - over and over again (this entire album is very much a "repeater"). Teen Dream isn't just the best album of the year; it's one of the best albums to come along in, like, forever.

Top-4 Live Shows In 2010 That I Managed To Catch (Or - "I really need to get out and see more shows. I mean, four shows?!? C'mon!"):

1. Pavement
Edgefield Station
Troutdale, OR
Sept. 3rd

Quite simply an amazing, fun-filled show in Edgefield's summer camp-esque outdoor arena. All the ditties from the band's recent greatest hits record were on display, with the crowd singing along merrily, fanatically. Honestly, a few pounds lighter, a little less crow's feet and you'd swear this Pavement's band members (Malkmus especially!) just stepped out of a time machine with return dials set for 1994. This show was an absolute blast, and just thinking about it right now is putting satisfied smile on my face. A great rock show experience will do that to ya.

Guided By Voices
The Warfield
San Francisco, CA 
Oct. 5th

High kicks, an on-stage cooler full'a beer and flouting California's ban on smoking indoors. Fans old and new singing along to every single song this band belted out - a wonderfully drunken chorus of debauchery. Now this was a Guided By Voices show! It seems fitting that this reunion show featuring the original GBV line-up was sponsored by a beer company. Go figure! Legendary, pretty much.

3. Beach House
San Francisco, CA
April 14th

Mesmerizing, entrancing, haunting, and beautiful - all in a nights work for these Charm City dream-gazers. Their translation from album to live performance did not disappoint - as simply stellar as the San Fancisco fog circling the venue. One of the best parts of the show: when someone in the audience yelled-out a request for a song the band just finish playing ("Uh, yeah. We just played that one. Where were you?")  

4. Slumberland Records Showcase 
(feat. Tartans, Pants Yell!, Brown Recluse, Baby Grand, and English Singles) 
Sacramento, CA
Oct. 23rd

I'm so glad to see this twee-gazer record label resurface (did they really go anywhere?) This showcase was an absolute blast, boasting a darling indie-twee-pop line-up and plenty o' merch to salivate over. Oh, and that Black Tambourine reissue (with four brand new tracks recorded by the original line-up, no less!) was/is pretty fuckin' awesome, too! I'm still left with one question oh these many months later, however: when's that English Singles Slumberland 7" coming out?

The Top 5 "Thing" I Really Liked This Year.

1. Clarks Desert Boots
Super comfy, super stylish, and - since their covered in beeswax - super easy to maintain. My favorite part about these legendary and sophisticated-yet-laid-back English chukka boots (aside from the gum rubber soles) is that if you scratch 'em up, all you have to do is rub the leather and the scratches buff right out.  These shoes go with nearly any outfit and improve any article of clothing exponentially.

2. Vintage Marantz 6300 Turntable
Spotted this rig on the eBay and absolutely had to have it. So much so, that I hawked nearly all of my material possessions to buy it. But in the end, it was completely and totally worth it. Goodbye my old Techniques belt-driven. Hello my new vintage Marantz 6300! This thing is pretty much what appears to be: a block of wood with a huge silver strip of silver swathing one side. It sits in a box, under my Christmas tree, waiting to be unwrapped and set loose on my record collection ("Better Can't Make Your Life Better" by Lilys will be first on "the block"). All in good time, my sweet. All in good time.

3. The Fiat 500
Sure, the joke about Fiat is that it stands for "Fix It Again Tony," and its American edition will be made in the same  factory in Mexico that once built Dodge's PT Cruiser (which was retired this year, thankfully!), but just look at this thing. It's like a cute lil' Italian puppy. You can blast Belle And Sebastian in this thing with nary an ounce of irony.

4. The return of Conan O'Brien
Nine months were far too long to go without Coco's manic and hilarious antics beaming into my livingroom night after night. Far, far too long. But after getting the shaft from NBC ("Nothing But Cunts" according to Adam Sandler), O'Brien has reemerged with a newer (and quite frankly funnier) talk show on basic cable's TBS, simply titled Conan. While I miss classic skits like "In the Year 2,000" and "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog," Conan's transition to basic cable has given him much more breathing and throwing space for his brand of edgy comedy. Freed from the restrictions of broadcast television, O'Brien, his sidekick Andy Richter and the show's myriad guests can say and do much more than before (Seth Green's "Humping Robot" and "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer Meets Sarah Palin" come immediately - hilariously - to mind). The set looks great, the jokes, even when they fall flat, are funny (Conan knows how to rebound!) and the entire production feels like it's much, much more inclusive of the fans (you know, the dedicated Coco-head's that supported our lad even while the chips were down). It's always great to welcome an old friend back into your house, especially when that friend is a tall glass of orange juice like Conan O'Brien.

5. Pashley The Guv'nor
I spotted one of these puppies' at Citizen Chain in San Francisco and was instantly smitten. The black rims. The Brooks B17 saddle. The Raleigh-like forks. The inverse handlebar set-up. Homina, homina, homina! This bike is the Keira Knightly of modern retro bicycles. Apparently there's a wait list to buy this thing, but seeing as how it's under a grand to purchase, perhaps patients is a virtue.

Okay, that's all the writing I feel like doing for now. See you next year!