Friday, December 31, 2010

Albums of the year 2010.

# 1. Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy
(Dead Oceans, May 11th 2010)

Last year Matthew Houck paid his respects to Willie Nelson. This year Willie Nelson ought to pay his respects to Matthew Houck. Here's To Taking It Easy is the stuff that creates legends. Houck has made four albums under the Phosphorescent-moniker, this being the fourth and also being the first that Phosphorescent has been a real band. God damn, what a band it is. Steeped in classic outlaw-country, Gram Parsons west coast countryrock and seventies Neil Young, Here's To Taking It Easy is a record that will stand the test of time and only get better and better as the years go by.

Easily the album I have played the most this year. Easily the album that gives me those legendary goosebumps. Easily the album that brings tears to my eyes. Easily the best album of 2010.

"It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)" with all it's Stonsy swagger and Memphis horns. The heartbreakingly beautiful "Mermaid Avenue". The On The Beach-y album closer "Los Angeles". I'm in love with this album, and I think I might be a little bit in love with Matthew Houck as well. The way his voice cracks as he utters the words "God damn it Amanda, God damn it all" is bar none the best musical moment in 2010. It's so honest and pure.

It doesn't hurt that the gig the band did in Oslo this autumn was one of the best of the year either.

This is the stuff that dreams and legends are made of. Every song is a classic and every song already sounds like it's been around since the seventies. In my book it doesn't get any better than that.

Phosphorescent - Los Angeles

Albums of the year 2010

# 2. The Coral - Butterfly House
(Deltasonic, July 12th 2010)

This an amazing LP. In a career of only great albums this is the very best that the Liverpool-group The Coral has released. This is the album that The Byrds should have made. It's the perfect mix of the psychedelic sixties that we know from bands like Love and the west-coast harmonies by Crosby, Stills & Nash. The songwriting is timeless, it really does sound like it's a lost gem from the sixties - but it doesn't sound dated in any way. Great production from John Leckie from start to finish.

There are so many great guitar licks and counter melodies on this album that I really don't know where to start. I don't very often get totally blown away by albums, but the more I listen to this record the more impressed I get. It's the kind of album that you really cherish when it has crawled under your skin. Before the recording of this LP one of the bands founding members quit, but if anything that seems to have been a energizer for these guys.

After the big hit "Dreaming of You" from their first album, the rest of the world just seemed to forget about The Coral. Often being mentioned as a one hit wonder. Well, they may only have had that one hit - but go check out the rest of their albums. A lot of hidden gems in this back catalog.

This is also another one of those albums were it's almost impossible to pick a favourite song, because it keeps changing from each listen. Right now I would probably pick "Walking in the Winter". A lot because it just seems like a good fit for the time of year.

Go buy this album, I guarantee that you will love it. If you don't, well go listen to it again. And again. And again.

The Coral - Butterfly House

Albums of the year 2010

# 3. Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song
(Mercury Nashville, September 14th 2010)

The Guitar Song is a real ambitious album from Jamey Johnson with almost as much as two hours of music. The album starts of in the darkness and gradualy goes into some lighter territory. Very nicely done on the triple vinyl edition of the album where the first vinyl is black, the second half black and half white and the third is white. A perfect combination of new songs and some old classics from writers like Kris Kristofferson, Hank Cochran, Vern Gosdin and Mel Tillis.

Jamey Johnson travels in classic outlaw territory of Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. I'm a sucker for the moody ballads that are all over this album, but that the more uptempo booze-fueled songs are also classics. Johnson has done the amazing achievement it is to actually have made a classic country album that also has gotten a warm welcome in the modern Nashville-scene. There's still a lot of really great counry music out there, but more often than not it is drowned under a lot of crap that get called country these days.

The length of the album makes it quite hard to sit through it all in one sitting, but even if you do there are almost no weak spots in there, and that's saying something when you count as many as 25 songs and only three or four cover songs. Johnson is at his very best in the slower songs and that makes this more of a late night record than a record that you would put on for a night of drinking. That said, I for one would gladly just sit and have a couple of beers and some drinks listening to this album. Better yet, to sit at the bar while Johnson and his band were playing them live in the bar. Man, that would have been something. We don't really have any bars like that here in Norway.

My favourites on the album are "Cover Your Eyes", "Playing the Part", the epic "Can't Cash My Checks" and the always classic "Mental Revenge" from the first half of the album. From the second half of the album I would pick "That's Why I Write Songs", "I Remember You" and a great version of "For The Good Times". Still, there are so many more that I could have mentioned.

Hats off to Jamey Johnson, a truly great achievement.

Jamey Johnson - Cover Your Eyes

Albums of the year 2010

# 4. Dylan LeBlanc - Paupers Field
(Rough Trade, August 23rd 2010)

In the music business there has always been a lot of "oh, he's the next Bob Dylan, and he's the new Springsteen" and so on. Now I think I'm going to be the first to say that Dylan LeBlanc might well be the next Ryan Adams. Hah, you didn't see that one coming? Well, I think that a lot of you did.

Paupers Field has been one of my favourites this year as soon as I heard it the first time, and I get that Ryan Adams feeling. It's a kind of Love is Hell but with more twang. Another thing he has in common with mr. Adams is that he has the always stunning and great Emmylou Harris singing backing vocals on his debut album. The hauntingly beautiful song "If the Creek Don't Rise" is this album's "Oh, My Carolina". Well, in a way at least.

The second song and first single from the album "If Time Were for Wasting" is the song that drags you in, with it's jangly guitars and homey feel of the rhythm section, but it's the slow burning heartbreakers that really grips you by the heart. Dylan LeBlanc may only be 20 years old but boy does he know how it feels when your heart breaks. I can feel my tears swelling up just talking about a song like "Tuesday Night Rain". The way his voice almost cracks when he sings the lines:

"And all the liquor in the world couldn't save me
From the pain that you left at the door.."

Man, you shouldn't be 20, and feel like that - but I guess you do, and I probably did too. It hurts, but it makes some beautiful songs.

In "Ain't Too Good at Losing" LeBlanc sings "And if misery was the ocean, I would've already drowned". Not exactly a feel good album this one. That's also what's so great about it. Country music is supposed to hurt. "5th Avenue Bar" is another classic tune. Some of these songs even has a kind of Townes Van Zandt greatness.

Debuts as good as this one are seldom. The already mentioned Ryan Adams had one, and there are some others but to deliver an LP like this when you're only 20. Great things are in store for this guy.

Dylan LeBlanc - Tuesday Night Rain

Albums of the year 2010

# 5. Midlake - The Courage of Others
(Bella Union, February 1st 2010)

Four years after the fantastic album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, Midlake returned this year with another outstanding album. Where The Trials of Van Occupanther was steeped in classic seventies AOR like Fleetwood Mac and America, The Courage of Others has quite a different feel. Tim Smith has said that he discovered a lot of early seventies british folk bands like Fairport Convention, Pentangle and The Incredible String Band and that resonates in the music.

The seventies AOR sound isn't all gone, but The Courage of Others is a lot darker and more woodsy. The use of flutes in almost every song took some while getting used to, but now I wouldn't have it any other way. A classic album without any real standout tracks, each and everyone are as important as the next one.

A truly outstanding album, almost sacral in a way. It's one of those albums that just transports you to another place, in this case a whole different era. The songs are quite filmatic so I can kind of see my self walking a long in a very green but dark forrest. Also one of the most played albums this year at home. From it's release in February to December I think it rarely has gone a week without listining to this album.

Midlake - Acts of Man

Albums of the year 2010

# 6. Teenage Fanclub - Shadows
(PeMa, May 31st 2010)

Shadows is the first new album from Teenage Fanclub in over five years. Five years where the chances of a new album have seem small since the band has been on a hiatus of sorts. So believe me when I say that I'm incredibly happy that not only did we get a new Teenage Fanclub album, but we got a really really good one. This is one of those albums that just seems like they've always been around. The first single, Norman Blake penned "Baby Lee" already is a classic Teenage Fanclub song.

The three songwriters in the band have written four songs each and all of them are almost equally great though I usually fall for Norman Blake's songs first. He has always been the songwriter that I like best in the band because of his hum-a-long catchy melodies. That said, both Gerard Love (the second strongest writer) and Raymond McGinlay's songs are great.

"Into the City" is one of the real highlights of the album, with it's almost Big Star-y melody and harmonies that The Beach Boys would have been proud of. "Shock and Awe" is another classic Fannies song penned by Love. McGinlay's songs are often of the more reflective kind, my favourite on this album being "Today Never Ends" which sounds just the way a rainy day sounds - that being in a good way.

But the top of the list highlights for me are once again the sheer beauty and simpleness of Norman Blake's songs "Dark Clouds" and showstopper "When I Still Have Thee" with it's great lyric - "The Rolling Stones wrote a song for me, it's a minor song in a major key..".

A great "comeback" for a truly fantastic band that has grown older with such dignity - meaning less rockers but still great and catchy tunes.

Up there with their classic albums Bandwagonesque, Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Brittain.

Teenage Fanclub - Dark Clouds

Albums of the year 2010

# 7. Jenny and Johnny - I'm Having Fun Now
(Warner Bros., August 31st 2010)

Jenny and Johnny are the two lovebirds, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice. Both with two solo-albums in their bags before this collaboration. Still, Jenny Lewis being the vocalist and main songwriter in Rilo Kiley, she's definitly the best known of the two. That being said, this album in many ways have more in common with Johnathan Rice's own albums. A mix between his albums and Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight.

This is a pop-album with hints of americana but never more than a hint. A classic her and him album as the two artists trades lines and verses between them. More than anything the album really lives up to it's title - you can hear that this is music made by somebody having fun. This isn't music to fill up a record deal or anything like that, it's music that just had to be made. Often the best music are being made by people going through hard times so it's really great to hear such a joyous album. Not that everything on this LP is all joyous - you still get your more melancholy moments.

It's clear for me that Jenny Lewis is one of the best pop-songwriters in modern music, she has a great touch for the timeless qualities and really great hooks. Her songs almost reminds me of the classic records and songs Tom Petty has made over the years. And her beau Johnathan Rice isn't far behind either. Especially not since every song on this album are credited to them both.

My absolute favourite song on the album are the near perfect song "Animal" which the young mr. Rice beautifully sings with great harmonies by Lewis. Other great songs are "Big Wave" and "Just Like Zeus" though essentially every song on the album are great.

I love this album, it's great from the get go - and it only becomes better with each listen. To quote Jenny and Johnny, I'm having fun now.

Jenny & Johnny - Just Like Zeus

Albums of the year 2010

# 8. Monzano - By This Time Last Year Everything Will Seem Younger
(Spoon Train Audio, February 15th 2010)

Yeah, OK, I know these guys. They are some of my best friends, but just forget that fact for a moment. If I never even had met the guys in Monzano I would still love their music. One of Norway's best and most underappreciated bands - they should be huge, but I guess they're still obscure.

By This Time.. is the band's second album and a great big leap forward. That's not to say that the first album wasn't great, because it were, but the band has developed a lot both in their playing, writing and especially production details. The first album was a kind of classic lo-fi indie album while this one is more sophisticated and more adventurous.

First single, "Cold Waters", became a sort of radio hit - well deserved. Interestingly that song is quite different from the rest of the songs with it's almost traditional build-up. These guys doesn't usually follow the verse - verse - chorus tradition, more often than not the songs don't have any chorus - still they are catchy as hell.

This album is packed with potensially big indie-hits with smart lyrics and great melodies. What do you say to lyrics like:

"Oh I never thought that it would come to this,
I've read every page of The Economist.."
("Yes, We Can't")

"I've got thirteen syllables boiling in my mouth,
I should have swallowed them,
but four words forwards,
and you'll just want to get out.."
("Sleeping on Sleepers")

"Now there's a tug-o-war straining on your vocal chords.
And only spite is slipping out.
But forgive those foul and bitter nouns.
Forgive the verbs you can't pronounce.
Forgive the buildings, then the trees.
And forgive me. I can still breathe.
Though there's this rattling in my spine that I can't shake or put at ease.
And forgive them.
They're still your friends.
Send those memories into orbit, let us watch while they burn as they descend."
("The Buildings, Then the Trees")

My favourites on the album are "Yes, We Can't", Death Cab For Cutie-ish "Grand Siblings", the almost Built to Spill referencing "Sleeping on Sleepers" and the achingly beautiful album closer "The Buildings, Then the Trees".

Monzano - Yes, We Can't

Albums of the year 2010

# 9. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
(Brown Records/Fat Possum/Columbia, May 18th 2010)

Band of Horses is a recurring band in my end of the year lists. Needless to say, they are one of my absolute favourite bands in newer time. Infinite Arms is as the first two albums were a solid and really good album. Maybe a little more rural this time around and not as epic as especially Cease to Begin were. More of the country-rock elements of the debut are back and the band themselves has produced the album.

It is also the first album were the band really has been a real band with the same members from start to finish. Ben Bridwell has gone through a lot of line-up changes but it seems that he have found players he really feels home with now. More collaborative songwriting, and other members even take the lead for a couple. A long time live favourite "Older" by piano/keys-man Ryan Monroe is one of the standouts on this record. Guitarist Tyler Ramsey (a recording artist in his own name) also sets his mark on this album.

I also was so lucky that I got to see the band play in a intimate live radiosession with about an audience of 50 people this year. That was a stripped down set and it was a really incredible experience.

Infinite Arms is the third album from Band of Horses, but in a way it seems like their debut. This is the sound of a band eager to set their mark on the world and they seem to want to do it with lots of good humour and a down-home feeling.

They all seems like guys you really want to hang out with and then have them go onstage and play in your local bar. Though it's more likely that you have to go to huge arena show to catch them live nowadays.

Band of Horses - Laredo

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Albums of the year 2010

# 10. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
(SideOneDummy, June 15th 2010)

The last effort from The Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound, were in the top three of my countdown of 2008. American Slang isn't all the way up there but it's still a really good album. I remember feeling a bit dissapointed when I first heard this album, that feeling has luckily passed and now this seems like one of those albums that just have been around for a long long time.

Some of the songs don't really come into their own before you have heard them live - which I have two times this year. When I revisited the album for this countdown I suddenly realised that I could sing a long to almost every lyric - I must have been listening to this album more than I thought I had done.

A natural progression from The '59 Sound, this album has a lot of the same qualities yet the sound is someplaces more epic and other places more mellow. It seems like the band really has found their voice. Still lots of hints to bands and artists like Springsteen, Petty and sixties Stax and Motown soul - but never so much that you lose the Gaslight Anthem-sound.

Key tracks for me are "Bring it On", "The Diamond Church Street Choir" and "Boxer". "The Diamond Church Street Choir" gives me a feeling of listening to some early Van Morrison or maybe a litte Otis Redding. Great stuff.

The Gaslight Anthem - The Diamond Church Street Choir

Albums of the year 2010.

# 11. The National - High Violet
(4AD, May 10th 2010)

Ohio-band The National are now living in the New York area. Their last couple efforts has been written and recorded while they where living in Brooklyn. In this album you can hear in Matt Berninger's lyrics that he has moved out of the city.

The band's songs are both quite dark and uplifting at the same time. Often built around an almost krautrock-drone the melodies builds and builds to climaxes of sheer beauty. Lyrics also plays a big role in The National's songs, melancholy lyrics about life which almost could have been whole novels.

The song "Sorrow" is utter brilliance.

"Sorrow found me when I was young,
Sorrow waited, sorrow won.
Sorrow that put me on the pills,
It's in my honey, it's in my milk.
Don't leave my hyper heart alone
On the water,
Cover me in rag and bones, sympathy.
Cause I don't wanna get over you.
I don't wanna get over you."

Moments like that one are all over the album. High Violet is the band's third masterpiece in a row and although maybe Alligator or The Boxer are a tiny bit better than this one that is a list that changes from day to day for me. Right now nothing can push this album from the top.

The National - a reflective, sensible Joy Division for the grown-ups. Lots of angst and despair here.

The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio

Albums of the year 2010.

# 12. Painted Hills - Painted Hills
(Bird Song Recordings, 2010)

Painted Hills is the new band lead by Josh Schwartz who played in both Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde. Two fantastic bands who both played sundrenched California music. Painted Hills is a natural way for Schwartz to continue. Other members of the band features Joe Bourdet from the outstanding band Whispering Pines who released their debut Family Tree last year.

Allmusic says this in the review of the album: "On their self-titled maiden voyage, Painted Hills pursue a style that feels like a natural progression from the cosmic Americana of Schwartz's former projects, making music that seems designed for trudging through the underbrush of 1970 Laurel Canyon in cowboy boots and bellbottoms, or frolicking in the Pacific Ocean while your hastily discarded poncho gets blown all across Big Sur by the summertime breezes."

So perfectly said that I really can't say it any better myself. A standout track for me is the extremely hooky "Kaleidoscope Eyes".

This album gives me the same longing for Los Angeles and Laurel Canyon as the classic albums by The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And of course the fantastic Beachwood Sparks.

Sunshine and sundazed pictures all around.

Albums of the year 2010.

# 13. Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson - s/t
(How Is Annie Records, 2010)

Norway's best post-rock/old-school emo band? Of course they are. They are in fact one of the best bands in Norway in any genre. On their own site they tell you that you can call them a dreamy Band of Horses or a noisy Death Cab For Cutie. Both are true, but they are more in kin to a band like Explosions in the Sky in my opinion. Comparisons aside, Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson don't really sound like anyone else.

A perfect combination of dreamy soundscapes, classic emo-guitars, intricate drum-patterns and vocals that range from mumbling to screams.

Youth Pictures.. triggers a lot of nostalgia for me, I can't really explain why but there is something timeless but still retrospective about their music. I sometimes explain some of their guitar sounds as the sound of stars blinking in the sky. Somebody get it, while others just stare at me like a just said the most stupid thing ever.

This is the band's second album, it's self titled but the double album are in two parts called The Puzzle and The Detective. The two parts of the album has four songs each - I don't really know if there are any story all the way through but the album flows really well.

The album art is also really something else as the album is a 32-page art-book in the A5 format. The Bergen based artists Hans Hansen and Hanne Grieg Hermansen has done a brilliant job.

A truly outstanding album. Produced by Sjur Lyseid (Monzano, The Little Hands of Asphalt).

Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson - He Can't Be Dead, I Got His Autograph Last Week

Albums of the year 2010

# 14. Neil Young - Le Noise
(Reprise, September 28th 2010)

Good ol' Neil Young has found himself a new playmate. Producer Daniel Lanois, hence the pun in the title, has given Young back some of his sonic playfulness. This is a real Neil Young solo-album, every sound you hear are made by Young's voice or guitars.

Still you could almost call it a collaboration, since producer Lanois is the mastermind behind the sound on the album. A great production with lots of details to pick up on when listening. There is a lot more going on than it first seems like here. Guitars har panning from speaker to speaker, some strings can be heard in the right channel while others appear in the left channel. Mr. Young and Mr. Lanois has crafted an album that really can't be reproduced the same way live.

I'm a huge Neil Young fan and I almost always find somethings I like whenever he releases stuff, but this is a real classic Neil Young-album. It reminds me of the feeling in the soundtrack for the film Dead Man, but these are real songs - not just soundscapes. Probably his best since, well perhaps, Sleeps With Angels. Rough songs that work really great in the solo-format. Some places I can almost hear Crazy Horse in the background but I don't actually miss the rhythm section anywhere. There's more than enough going on to keep the ears occupied.

Standout tracks for me are "Love and War", "Angry World" and the epic "Peaceful Valley Boulevard".

Neil Young - Angry World

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Albums of the year 2010

# 15. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs - God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise (RCA, August 17th 2010)

Mr. LaMontagne's fourth album is in my opinion his best. This being the first he has released where a band has been credited. Still there's not a huge difference in the sound from his previous albums. Ray LaMontagne's story is a classic one, he has built himself a following by just playing his songs and releasing a string of beautiful albums.

He has in interviews stated that he is largely influenced by Stephen Stills, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko - this is some truly great influences and you can clearly hear them in his music. Still I would say that Van Morrison is the artist that first comes to mind when I listen to Ray LaMontagne.

God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise is a great collection of songs and it has this classic rural Woodstock-sound. The fantastic pedal-steel playing of Greg Leisz is all over it and it also somewhat reminds me of the collaboration between Allison Krauss and Robert Plant. A really great sounding album - one of the best produced this year I would say. My favourite song are "New York City's Killing Me".

Ray LaMontagne - Beg, Steal of Borrow

The year in review: Best albums 2010.

Well, the time has come. The only really certain thing on this blog is the end of the year lists of the best albums. 2010 are of course no exception, but before we get started on the top 15 I thought I should make room to mention some really good albums that didn't make the final cut for my top 15. Without any further ado here are some honorable mentions:

John Grant - Queen of Denmark
(Bella Union, 2010)

The former Czars vocalist returned with an album backed by Midlake. It reminds me somewhat of both Czars and Midlake, but also Rufus Wainwright. Great sophisticated seventies AOR/MOR sound all the way. In a way a natural follow up to Midlake's The Trials of Van Occupanther. "Where the Dreams Go to Die" are one of the truly outstanding tracks of the year. A great album.

Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me
(Drag City, 2010)

Joanna Newsom released nothing less than a tripple album this year. Quite a feat, and especially since it is a truly great album all the way through. Maybe not an album you will play from start to finish that many times - but a good album it is. In a time when downloads and streaming seems to be the way the record business wants to handle things it is refreshing that a young artist like Joanna Newsom does the complete opposite. On her way to become our generation's own Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush?

Citay - Dream Get Together
(Dead Oceans, 2010)

One of the albums that I have listened to most this year. A truly outstanding gem of great musicianship and hum-a-long-melodies. Really sounds like themselves and not any other - still you can hear the influences from the San Fransisco of '68, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac around '71 - ' 73. Great gig at small club MONO in Oslo also.

Motorpsycho - Heavy Metal Fruit
(Rune Grammofon, 2010)

One of my favourite bands released yet another good album this year. A sort of spacerock-opera with elements from classic rock, westcoast and lots and lots of prog. They kind of disappear somewhat up their own asses, but still in some strange way get away with it.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
(Merge, 2010)

Anticipated and great, but I still haven't quite gotten my head around this one. I have a feeling that it's an album I will be listening to also the next couple of years. It has that classic feel to it, but it isn't quite what I was hoping for. Great nonetheless. And it's a grower. I can feel it.