Friday, December 31, 2010

11 songs to ring in 2011

Happy New Year's (Eve)!  This past year has been jam-packed (mostly with work), but I just came back from an exceedingly fun week at home where I had my first Christmas, saw lots of friends, ate my favorite foods, and turned yet another year older.  I came back yesterday to the remaining horrors of Sunday's blizzard, with snowbanks almost as tall as I am blocking in half the cars in my neighborhood.

My parting gift to the year that was 2010 is a little mix - songs to end the year, and a few to bring us into 2011.  I'm ringing in the new year with a large group, seeing more friends, and then perhaps I'll just hibernate this winter...or at least until this snow calms down.

Friday, December 24, 2010

You were bright, like a new day

Last week, on a whim, I bought myself a ticket to see Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr play at Bowery Ballroom (they were opening for Bear Hands).  I showed up just in time to see (the) Tony Castles and there was practically no one in there.  I casually found myself right up front, in perfect position for the awesomeness that is the DEJrJr set design.  They play off the ridiculousness of their name perfectly.  It is all so kitschy and delightfully trashy to look at.  I mean, they have wooden letters with light bulbs spelling out JR JR bookending the stage.  It all stands in great contrast to the sincerity of their sweet lyrics about love and girls (and not car racing). 

"Skeletons" (from their upcoming LP) was a) great, and b) a fun group performance

Oh look, it's me at the bottom right of this photo.  Thanks, BrooklynVegan!

I'm off to the airport now to spend a week back in Chicago.  Yes!  So excited to see my friends and parents and get out of the city for a bit.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Do Ask, Do Tell: My Top 10 of '10

Choosing my ten favorite albums this year has seemed particularly daunting.  Maybe it's because I already knew there would a struggle when a few months into the year my calendar was already overflowing with reminders about album release dates from old favorites.  The inevitability of new bands being noteworthy made things almost too overwhelming to think about.

That being said, here are my favorites.  The albums that have gotten me through this year, the albums that have maintained my sanity.  The albums I wish had come out sooner so I could have that much more time with them.  The albums I desperately want all of my friends to love, too, even if that's unrealistic because when it comes down to it, favorites are pretty freaking personal. 

#10: Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History (US Release: April 13, 2010)
Choosing which album just made it onto this list has been more difficult than I would have imagined.  New vs old?  I felt bad leaving off so many albums from bands that I've loved for so many years.  But, when I look back on 2010, I'm going to remember falling for Two Door Cinema Club, and won't necessarily remember that this is the year that Spoon released Transference or The Hold Steady came out with Heaven is Whenever (deepest apologies to Britt Daniel and Craig Finn, both of whom I hold in the highest regard).  From the moment I heard "I Can Talk" though, I was totally hooked.  Two Door Cinema Club is insanely catchy and I am beyond excited to see them play with Tokyo Police Club in 2011.
You should listen to: "I Can Talk" and "Undercover Martyn Flexin' It" (Passion Pit Remix)"

#9: Frightened Rabbit - Winter of Mixed Drinks (US Release: March 9, 2010)
The Midnight Organ Fight is a tough album to beat, or even to match.  However, I will say that in this particular installment, Frightened Rabbit has brought back their Scottish brogue to another set of songs that have permeated every aspect of my life this year.
You should listen to: "Nothing Like You" and "Living in Colour"
#8: Tokyo Police Club - Champ (US Release: June 8, 2010)
A good portion of this list is very serious music.  Kind of depressingly serious at times.  Full of heartbreaking beautiful moments.  Tokyo Police Club has its quiet, serious moments, but for the most part this album is full of pep and fun which is a refreshing injection into my personal rotation.  It is the perfect kind of catchy.
You Should Listen to: "Favourite Colour" and "Bambi"

#7: Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More (US Release: Feb 16, 2010)
I am and always will be a sucker for a song with a solid climb and build.  And the lilt to his vocals doesn't hurt either.  The slight warble in "White Blank Page" paralyzes me.  But tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart? I'm particularly in love with the balance of their soft moments with their full power crescendo.  There's a raw desperation in the emotional energy that backs every song, and it gets me every time.
You should listen to: "White Blank Page" and "Winter Winds"

#6: Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
This album is an opus.  An odyssey, but she is so much cooler than Odysseus (sorry, Homer).  Her particular brand of aesthetic cool completely matches the suave and soulful nature of her insanely danceable songs.  Every song from the first half of the album was on repeat all summer, and fall, and probably winter, too.  Also, the video for "Cold War" kills me.
You Should listen to: "Cold War" and "Come Alive (War of the Roses)"

#5: The Morning Benders - Big Echo (US Release: Jun 28, 2010--that's my half birthday!)
It should not be at all surprising that this album made my top 5, much less the top 10.  It completely embodies summer for me, both on an auditory level and on a personal temporal level.  Their on-stage charisma is one part endearingly awkward and one part hopelessly engaging.  All I can think when I watch them is how I wish I were their friend and I could go back in time and be in their Yours Truly session of "Excuses."  And how I need to refrain from acting like a 15-year-old girl when I see them off stage.
You should listen to: "Cold War" (bizarre coincidence) and "Excuses"

#4: Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer (US Release: Nov 9, 2010)
I love "Fuck You" - it is a beyond solid song (though awful in its radio-friendly incarnation).  But to reduce The Lady Killer to this viral gem would be a horrible disservice.  Cee Lo's true mastery comes in modernizing soul for today's pop music world.  Yes, it's all terribly catchy, and the themes of love and heartbreak aren't exactly groundbreaking.  "Old Fashioned" could easily be from another era entirely and sounds like an old classic already (slow dance, anyone?)  But what does seem fresh and new that the listener actually feels like he means what he's saying.  There is actual, dare I say, soul building the foundation to this album.  Because, as the man says, "true love doesn't go out of style."
You should listen to: "Bright Lights Bigger City" and "It's Ok" (alright, and "Fuck You")

#3: LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening (US Release: May 18, 2010)
James Murphy, I Love You (and you're never bringing me down).  When "Drunk Girls" and that non-LCD-made video came out, I hated it.  I was nervously disappointed.  Now months later, as I listen to the lyrics of "Drunk Girls," it's kind of a masterpiece.  It's funny and witty and catchy in a way that you can't quite understand completely.  How could I ever doubt LCD Soundsystem??  I've had a different favorite song for every month that this album came out.  It's almost too easy to get lost in "All I Want" or flip flop between relating to either of the anthemic cries of "I Can Change" (I can change vs Never change). I do solemnly swear to never doubt the talent and awesomeness of one Mr. James Murphy ever again.
You should listen to: "I Can Change" and "Home"

#2: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The fight between #1 and #2 on this list has been a debate that I've been having with myself ever since The Suburbs came out.  As far as I'm concerned at this point, Win Butler & co. can do no wrong.  In fact, they are getting better as time goes on, which is a rare feat for bands these days, and especially rarer when you have what many consider to be an absurdly large orch-pop band.  The magic of Arcade Fire for me has always been their larger than life stage presence, which actually has nothing to do with the sheer volume of people on stage and more to do with their insane energy and quirky intensity.  I will maintain that I had a 100+ degree day-induced religious experience at Lollapalooza when I saw them in 2005.  But that has nothing to do with this album.  What is strikingly different about The Suburbs, on a completely personal level, is that I fell in love with this album the moment I heard it.  I didn't need to see it performed live, because it had a life and soul of its own right from the start.  As a fellow former-suburban-youth, I felt an instant relate-ability to the narrative of the album.  And while a band can really only ever have one "Wake Up", Sprawl II is pretty amazing in its own right.
You should listen to: "Half Light II (No Celebration)" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"

#1: The National - High Violet
Matt Berninger does not sound like the happiest musician in the world.  But he really should be, because this year has been killer for The National.  I was fortunate enough to see their show at BAM, captured on film by DA Pennebaker.  Every moment of every song that comes out of them is simultaneously beautiful and crushing.  Maybe their lyrics make you feel like someone is speaking to you in riddles.  Maybe you don't enjoy the guest vocals of the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Richard Reed Perry.  Well, maybe you're just not a person, ok?  Even if The National is never going to win an award for the most cheerful band, they're still winning my #1 because when push came to shove this year, this was the album I wanted to be listening to.  As I walked through the streets and squeezed into the subway like a sardine, the magic of High Violet transported me away from the hum drum and reminded me that I was a thinking, feeling person.  When it was put up on the NY Times as a preview, I didn't close my browser for over a week.  I listened to it non-stop, and have only really stopped listening to it in order to feel like I've given other albums a fair shake this year.
You should listen to: "Conversation 16" and "Bloodbuzz Ohio" (I almost refused to choose favorites for this album because it just feels wrong.  You should, in fact, listen to the whole thing)

And in case you're asking what albums were narrowly squeezed out of this list, I will say to you: the list is so long.  But I'd like to profess that I do have a love of:
* The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
* Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love
* The Black Keys - Brothers
* The Walkmen - Lisbon  
and, Sleigh Bells, Spoon, and the wonders that are She & Him (Zooey!) and Jenny and Johnny (Jenny Lewis!).  I'm also incredibly excited for the Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr LP to come out next year because their EP has won over my heart.  And ok fine, the Kanye West album is growing on me as the weeks go on (and I may have had "Lost in the World" stuck in my head all day today).  Maybe if it had come out earlier in the year, this list would be different.  But, it would never be #1.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Festival of Gifts, Night 8 (the last one!)

Here we are at the end of Chanukah! Just in time, I found this card today which I wish that I had found earlier because I definitely would have sent them out.  Not only is it super adorable, but it's a "gift that gives back" (I'm not really a fan of that phrase, actually, but I can't think of a way to say it better...).

This card are more are available at Goods 4 Good which is both humanitarian and sustainable in its conception, which I think is pretty awesome.

I hope you've all had a wonderful Chanukah, or at least a good week if the miracle of light/oil isn't really your thing.  I'm agonizing over working on my year-end lists and prepping a bunch of playlists, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Festival of Gifts, Night 7

In roughly 10 days, some friends and I are throwing a little holiday party which we are quite excited for.  In anticipation of this event, I've been trolling the internet to find some inspiration for those things that will turn it from average to awesome.
I think I've hit the nail on the head:

I can even make them look a little more like santas or elves I think!

Or, maybe we should just hang this up next to some mistletoe to really set the mood:

 calendar via Fred Flare

Monday, December 6, 2010

Festival of Gifts, Night 6

I was having a pretty Scrooge-y sort of day, and then PMA posted the new Noah and the Whale song "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N."  It's bright and sunny and is bringing me out of my winter doldrums. Also, I may have already bought tickets to see them in March 2011.  Scarily, just over 3 months from now.

Noah And The Whale - L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N by ListenBeforeYouBuy

Speaking of songs that unnecessarily spell out words, this video is still amazing 3 years later:

Hope you're having a cheerful Monday!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Festival of Gifts, Night 5

After spending most of the weekend on the go, today was a nice change of pace.  I slept in, worked on some gift-related projects, and spent the afternoon in the kitchen.  I came in from the cold and listened to a Sam Cooke Pandora station and made beef stew over egg fettucine:

Interesting fact: this Pandora station has played a rather disproportionate number of songs from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. 

I decided to not attempt to top my own Chanukah sweater from a few years ago, and instead I made my very own cheesy polar bear sweater at the party last night.  Everyone's were really great, but I'm waiting for them to post them online.  Until then, here's my little camera phone snap (btw, I was incredibly warm because I put this on over another sweater I was already wearing):
It's hard to tell, but the gold ball at the top is a "disco ball" and it has little rhinestone rays coming out of it.  He's a disco polar bear...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Festival of Gifts, Night 4

Happy 4th Night of Chanukah!  Half way through!

I've been running around all day doing touristy things around NY with some friends who had an out-of-town guest staying with them.  In the process I went by the Columbus Circle Holiday Market and discovered that they have a pretty spectacular set of food stands (not that I ate anything - we had just come from Sarabeth's).  There is a Pies & Thighs booth across from a Fatty Crab booth (also, that splash page on their website is one of my favorite things ever).

I hope that your Chanukah includes a card or gift as wonderful as the one I received today:

Note: this is how you do polar bear merchandise right :-)

Now, I'm off to a holiday sweater decorating party!  Yay!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Festival of Gifts: Night 3

Night #3 of Chanukah is upon us, and I'd like to actually talk about (shocker!) gifts.

For once in a blue moon, Chanukah is actually sort of far enough from my birthday that I could conceivably receive a separate Chanukah present from my birthday present (but I'm not holding my breath).  Something that is certain to not change this year, though, is my love of polar bears.  It seems my favorite (though highly aggressive) (and really really endangered) animal has become pretty trendy lately.  I don't know how I feel about this.  On the one hand, I want all of these things.  On the other hand, it fills me with that defensive "but I've always liked ____" feeling that always comes up when your favorite ___ goes mainstream.

Case in point: Urban Outfitters currently sells two polar bear sweaters:

There's also some killer polar bear wallpaper in (of course) a young girl's bedroom:

But really, as any real polar bear enthusiast would tell you, the best way to love a polar bear (aside from raising one from infancy and being able to hug it), is to shoot some of your holiday fund over towards rescuing them from those depressing commercials where a polar bear is standing on a melting icecap.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Festival of Gifts, Night 2

Here we are, Chanukah night #2.  The first night of Chanukah ended up being not-so-great, as I found myself battling a minor round of food poisoning at around 2am.  But, I went to work and I'm feeling pretty good now.  Positivity for Chanukah!!

I feel like I'm just playing catchup on the last couple of months as I severely fell off the blog-wagon.  To touch briefly on two of the albums that dropped recently:

All Day, Girl Talk
aka, the 3rd installment in the easiest party mix ever.  I strongly feel that this album gets better as it goes on.  I'm not terribly attached to some of the earlier samples, which has a lot to do with it.  Also, I feel like "Wake Up" could have been used in a greater way.  Does it sound like I'm speaking gibberish because you haven't downloaded the album for free yet?  Well, why don't you go do that?  And, then you can also nerd-out and read the list of samples afterwards to test yourself.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
I would like to take a brief moment of Chicago pride here, prior to talking about Kanye himself, and instead talk about how I *love* Top Chef All Stars w/ Anthony Bourdain joining the judges panel, and the Chicago season winning the quickfire??  And then how Mike Isabella got all snarky about them just making "sausage and mustard" but he made pasta.  
Ok, I'm done with that now.  Onto this epically insane Kanye album, post-TaylorSwift/Beyonce moment, and into the era when he like, makes movies and stuff*.  I do really like the album, though I've listened to it maybe 4 times now and I still feel like I don't really know any songs aside from Power and Runaway.  Maybe it will take some time to sink in, but so far I feel like it has much more of an impact as a whole album rather than carving it down into individual tracks.

*Speaking of bands making movies, Arcade Fire collaborated with Spike Jonze to make a really amazing music video.  At first seems really old school Spike Jonze with the kids riding around, but it becomes really powerful.  If you haven't watched it, you really should.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Festival of Gifts, Night 1

 the wine bottle menorah is back for year 2!

Chanukah is about a miracle of light, and of oil.  But this year it is beginning (now!) freakishly close to Thanksgiving, which turned out to be a celebration of...butter.  So much butter.  I'm amazed that none of us keeled over.  I'm avoiding potatoes for a few more days, too, post-Thanksgiving because I cooked mashed potatoes & sweet potato casserole and then took those leftovers home.  I'm a little over starched.

For the next 8 nights of Chanukah, I will have a gift for you all!  And by "gift" I mean post.  Sorry.  Unless you want to send me your home address and I'll send you a leftover pumpkin pie in a cupcake from Thanksgiving because I can't eat anymore of them.

The post I've been meaning to write for the last couple months is the following.  And, I think it means more now that some CMJ hype has died down and I've had more time to settle into this band.

Everyone talks about what a stupid name they have (it's sort of true), but I also like the silliness of it all.  I am, of course, talking about Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr.  "Vocal Chords" has been one of my #1 songs this fall.  If you're unfamiliar with it, you can grab it courtesy of Stereogum

If you're dissatisfied with this, here's what the cupcakes looked like: