Saturday, December 17, 2011

Music Roundup: My Top 10 Albums of 2011

My (Always Subjective) Top 10 List:

Apocalypse - Bill Callahan
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If Bill Callahan puts out a new record, it will be my favorite record of the year. That's not mere dedication to a songwriter I've favored for two decades, but rather an acknowledgment that he gets better with each passing year. I would argue that Apocalypse, the latest from Callahan, is as evocative and frankly spellbinding as any work in the artist's catalog.
Standout tracks: "Baby's Breath" and "Riding for the Feeling"

Undun - The Roots
A percussive, soulful concept album that somehow, impossibly, improves upon the band's prior successes. By my count, this is the tenth Roots record that is an unequivocal classic. Tenth. Can you name another contemporary group with those credentials? I can't.
Standout tracks: This is such a cohesive work, there's little point in highlighting specific tracks.

Bad as Me - Tom Waits
Arguably less ambitious than your average Tom Waits album (there's no song-cycle or high-concept narrative on this one), Bad as Me still offers just about everything you could possibly want from the artist at this stage of his career: guttural crooning, dusty blues, early R&B, rockabilly, and, yes, Keith Richards and Marc Ribot on guitar.
Standout tracks: "Raised Right Men", "Get Lost", and "Hell Broke Luce"

House of Balloons/Thursday - The Weeknd
House of Balloons is The Weeknd's proper full-length debut, and it justifiably received most of the accolades. But the mix-tape that followed it, Thursday, was a compelling listen in its own right. I'm including both in my top ten list, because I can. The lyrics on these recordings range from amusing to clumsy, but the sound is guaranteed to make you woozy. In a good way. (These two albums are only available as digital downloads from artist's Tumblr page.)
Standout tracks: "What You Need", "The Party and the After Party" and "Lonely Star"

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
This self-titled album is the proper follow-up to Justin Vernon's critically acclaimed debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon's gentle voice and impressionistic lyrics are still the focal point, but this record features a much fuller sound. I think I favor the intimacy of the earlier album, but Bon Iver has some excellent songs that benefit from the enhanced instrumentation.
Standout tracks: "Calgary" and "Minnesota, WI"

Black Up - Shabazz Palaces
Remember the '90s rap group Digable Planets? Doesn't matter. Even if you were familiar with that group, you'd probably never have guessed that Shabazz Palaces is the current project for former Digable Planets rapper Ishmael Butler. This is an astoundingly relevant and forward-looking album, particularly as it comes from an artist who has been in the business since the Clinton Administration.
Standout tracks: "A Treatease Dedicated to the Avian Airless from North East Nubis"

Demolished Thoughts - Thurston Moore
A solo outing from Sonic Youth singer/guitarist Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts is essentially a singer-songwriter album that sounds a lot like Sonic Youth. I find that to be a pretty irresistible combination. The songs are uniformly strong on this record, but they reach greatness thanks to the gorgeous production, courtesy of Beck.
Standout tracks: "Circulation" and "Orchard Street"

W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) - Pharoahe Monch
This may be the most focused, concise Monch album yet. His lyrical delivery is always a thing to behold, and his work on W.A.R. just might be up there with his revered solo debut.
Standout tracks: "W.A.R." and "Black Hand Side"

Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2 - Beastie Boys
I never thought I'd be including a Beastie Boys album in my top ten, but here we are. I've enjoyed Hot Sauce Committee more than any Beasties record since...the '90s? This is a record by a group of guys who know their strengths and actually sound like they're having a good time. Bonus points for collaborating with Nas on "Too Many Rappers". I would endorse an entire of album of Nas rhyming over Beastie Boys beats.
Standout tracks: "Make Some Noise" and "Too Many Rappers"

Father, Son, Holy Ghost - Girls
I'll be honest, the big over-the-top climaxes on Father, Son, Holy Ghost don't always pay off. But when they do... If you can appreciate the idea of a decidedly idiosyncratic songwriter going all out, you owe it to yourself to give this a listen.
Standout tracks: "Honey Bunny" and "Love Like a River"

Runners Up/Honorable Mentions:

The Family Sign - Atmosphere

El Camino - Black Keys

Deerhoof vs. Evil - Deerhoof

The Book of David - DJ Quik

No Kings - Doomtree

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive - Steve Earle

Ceremonials - Florence + the Machine

Tell Me - Jessica Lea Mayfield

The Only She Chapters - Prefuse 73

Fear of God II: Let Us Pray - Pusha T

Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang - Raekwon

The Whole Love - Wilco

Wild Flag - Wild Flag

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Concert Review: The National, Wye Oak and Local Natives at the Aragon Ballroom, 12/6/2011

Last Tuesday night, Brooklyn based indie rockers, the National, played a sold out show at Uptown's Aragon Ballroom.

Even though the National has been one of my favorite bands for about six year now, I never quite got around to seeing them live.  At first, it was just pure laziness on my part, but for the last couple of years there have been some serious obstacles in my way: like only playing Chicago for Lollapalooza (port-a-potties and poor sound quality, I think not) or playing the exact same night AND time as my other favorite Ohio rock band- the Black Keys.  Excuses excuses, I know, but I was getting seriously worried I'd never see them live. So when the Aragon gig was announced, I was super excited that not only were the National playing Chicago again (and indoors!), but they had two bands I liked a lot opening for them! 

Baltimore duo Wye Oak started off the evening a little bit before seven.  Their album, Civilian, was one of my favorite albums of this year, but I was even more impressed with their live show. Jenn Wasner's vocals really popped in a live setting and her guitar playing was phenomenal. The band had incredible sound for a two person outfit, especially considering the Aragon's barn like acoustics and that poor Wasner spent most of the set being half- electrocuted by her mike.

Next up were L.A. based indie poppers Local Natives. Out of the bands, they were probably the one I was least excited to see. I enjoyed their album, Gorilla Manor. But they are a little too upbeat and accessible for me to listen to on a regular basis.  But in concert, they were adorable and the audience really enjoyed their set.   Local Natives singer Taylor Rice had an easy going and affable stage presence (and looked vaguely like James Franco with a mustache).  It was probably smart to have them sandwiched in between two more lugubrious acts.  They were the only band that you could dance to and not look weird (though many tried and failed to prove otherwise). 

Before the National set, they had a live video of the band hanging out backstage.  It had a strange effect on the audience.  At first we calmly watched the video, then slowly started cheering louder and louder to cajole the band out of their dressing room- like a pre-concert encore. The band took the stage around nine and played for a solid hour and a half.  Singer Matt Berninger looked sharp in a suit coat, vest, tie, jeans and oxfords.  Casually holding a wine glass in his hand through the evening, he looked like the dapperest man in indie rock (Hamilton Leithauser better up his game).  The band opened with "Runaway" from their most recent album, High Violet.  But their set drew from throughout their career, including tracks from their more obscure early records like "Murder Me Rachael" from Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and "Son" from their self-titled debut. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters (based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell) brings us another ensemble cast that weaves through the mores, class distinction, gossip, and romance that defines British costume drama.

Justine Waddell portrays the central character, Molly Gibson, a sweet and innocent young woman. Her doctor father (Bill Paterson) is loving, but protective as Molly has grown up without a mother since childhood. However, as the main story begins Molly finds herself surrounded by maternal influences. In an effort to supply her with some female guidance her father proposes to Hyacinth (Francesca Annis), a local woman with ties to the Lord and Lady of the county. Molly is naturally upset at the prospect of someone new interrupting their peaceful existence, but Molly does her best to accept her new mother. Molly herself seeks out the companionship of Mrs. Hamley (Penelope Wilton), a more amiable female influence  than her new step-mother (It becomes clear that Hyacinth is, to use a twentieth century term, high maintenance). In the process, Molly also becomes close to Mr. Hamley (Michael Gambon) and their sons Osbourne and Roger. Eventually, Hyacinth's daughter Cynthia (Keeley Hawes) enters the picture and adds to the list of influential women in Molly's life. Although Cynthia has a more negative impact, the two are genuinely attached to each other (not fake-friendly as many young women in that position could/would be).

This mini-series stands out for it's performances. Waddell plays Molly as pure, but not naive. Cynthia can be quite annoying at times and Hawes' performance is accurate in this regard. She is the crazy to the calm and sensible Molly.  Annis captures the haughtiness of Hyacinth trying to create a household to her standards (which is really over-compensation for lack of self-confidence). And, Gambon delivers some of the best lines in the series as the crusty, but lovable Mr. Hamley.

Wives and Daughters
Find it in the catalog!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Movies showing at the library in December

Come to the Dundee Public Library and watch a movie on the big screen. Movies are shown in the downstairs Meeting Room. Plus, enjoy free popcorn and beverages.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (G)
Saturday, December 3 @ 3 PM
Part of Dickens in Dundee

Crazy, Stupid, Love (PG-13)
Wednesday, December 14 @ 6 PM

Cars 2 (G)
Saturday, December 17 @ 2 PM
** We will also hold a drawing at the end of the movie for some Cars 2 movie posters. Each audience member has a chance to win! **

Elf (PG)
Wednesday, December 21 @ 6 PM