Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

RIP Vic Chesnutt

Kristin Hersh's comment on Chesnutt's passing:
What this man was capable of was superhuman. Vic was brilliant, hilarious and necessary; his songs messages from the ether, uncensored. He developed a guitar style that allowed him to play bass, rhythm and lead in the same song — this with the movement of only two fingers. His fluid timing was inimitable, his poetry untainted by influences. He was my best friend.
I never saw the wheelchair—it was invisible to me—but he did. When our dressing room was up a flight of stairs, he'd casually tell me that he'd meet me in the bar. When we both contracted the same illness, I told him it was the worst pain I'd ever felt. "I don't feel pain," he said. Of course. I'd forgotten. When I asked him to take a walk down the rain spattered sidewalk with me, he said his hands would get wet. Sitting on stage with him, I would request a song and he'd flip me off, which meant, "This finger won't work today." I saw him as unassailable—huge and wonderful, but I think Vic saw Vic as small, broken. And sad.
I don't know if I'll ever be able to listen to his music again, but I know how vital it is that others hear it. When I got the phone call I'd been dreading for the last fifteen years, I lost my balance. My whole being shifted to the left; I couldn't stand up without careening into the wall and I was freezing cold. I don't think I like this planet without Vic; I swore I would never live here without him. But what he left here is the sound of a life that pushed against its constraints, as all lives should. It's the sound of someone on fire. It makes this planet better.
And if I'm honest with myself, I admit that I still feel like he's here, but free of his constraints. Maybe now he really is huge. Unbroken. And happy.


Hudson's Best of 2009, Part 3: The Top 20 Albums of The Year

The experts are almost unanimous in saying the days of the album are dead. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Ok, the label-created ultra-commercial acts can’t give away a full album…and they shouldn’t. Not even a pre-teen believes that Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Adam Lambert, or the Black Eyed Peas can create a seamless collection of tunes. Fans of that type of music are just going to log on to their parent’s iTunes account and download the couple of hits (or acquire them through other means).

Outside of the pop spectrum, though, the album is still alive. If you like Built to Spill, Sonic Youth, or The Decemberists, you’re the type of person who wants to hear more than a couple of tunes. In some respects, it’s almost like the early 70’s has returned. The pop stars I listed earlier are the current versions of 7” single stars like The DeFranco Family and Paper Lace, while Wilco is today’s Band and the Flaming Lips are the new Pink Floyd…and Dylan is still Dylan.

The problem is that consumers of both groups are just not buying enough singles or albums. Record execs would love for you to believe that it’s all because of downloading, but that belief is way overstated. The fact is that as the economy is going down the tank, the amount of disposable cash is shrinking. The little money that is left after bills are going to video games, DVD’s, laptops, and other consumer goods. When the latest Call of Duty game grosses over $550 million in its first five days of release, and the latest Batman sells three million in ONE DAY, that doesn’t leave much money for CD’s or downloads.

Obviously, there are fewer of us who have that disease of NEEDING the latest great releases, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t worthy material. Here are some of the albums that rocked my iTouch this year:

1.      20.  Black Lips, 200 Million Thousand. The world needs more bratty, snot-nosed, beer-stained garage rock. Known for their ramshackle live shows, their albums are always full of the sweaty swagger and debauchery they bring to the stage. 200 Million Thousand continues in that vein to an extent, but the tighter production brings about a much more coherent, more musically competent overall sound.

1.      19.  Elvis Costello, Secret Profane and Sugarcane. Every few years Costello says he’s no longer interested in recording. Generally, a few months later he changes his mind and releases his best in many years. This is one of those years. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, Costello’s latest was recorded in three days, and sees him return to the country-tinged acoustic sounds of 1986’s King of America.

1.      18.  Yo La Tengo, Popular Songs. One of the most intriguing bands in indie rock, Yo La Tengo have relased sixteen albums over their 25-year career. Unlike most bands with this type of longetivity, you still never know what you’re getting with each release.Their latest is possibly their most varied yet, jumping around from mellow pop to extended guitar workouts to even a tad of Motown-ish soul.

 1.    17.   Langhorne Slim, Be Set Free. With Ryan Adams apparently sitting at home these days writing awful poetry while watching his actress/pop star wife (Mandy Moore) bring home the paycheck, we must now look to Langhorne Slim for widely varied, gospel-tinged Americana.

1.      16.  Andrew Bird, Noble Beast. Take a bit of Rufus Wainwright’s croon, along with the whimsy of Badly Drawn Boy and set it to classic chamber pop (along with lots of whistling). Voila! You have multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird.

1.      15.  Monsters of Folk, S/T. Although this much-hyped collaboration of indie singer/songwriter stars (Conor Oberst, M. Ward, Jim James, and Mike Mogis) didn’t quite live up to the publicity (it was definitely NO modern-day Traveling Wilburys), nobody can claim that egos took over the project. The foursome indeed gel as a real band, and while nothing on this record tops anything they’ve produced in their “day jobs”, the result is a pleasurable collection of captivatingly catchy tunes.

1.      14.  Telekinesis, S/T. If the Beatles were a one-man indie rock band, they just may sound like Michael Benjamin Lerner. Producer Chris Walla and Lerner reportedly recorded and mixed this wonderful set of sugary goodness in just one day, but the result is a surprisingly layered, precisely constructed collection.

1.      13.  A.C. Newman, Get Guilty. The leader of The New Pornographers turns up the volume a bit more than usual on this quirky collection of baroque pop. Newman has always been a witty writer, but lyrically he’s never been more devious.

1.      12. Vetiver, Tight Knit. There are times one needs a lush, laidback collection of cozy, 70’s-ish West Coast pop. When that happens, just pull out this wonderful album.

1.      11. Olson & Louris, Ready For the Flood. After playing on each other’s solo albums, the founding fathers of the Jayhawks (Gary Louris and Mark Olson) finally collaborate on a primarily acoustic disc that reminds us just how beautiful their voices complemented each other on albums such as Hollywood Town Hall.

1.      10. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, S/T. I’ve always been a sucker for noisy pop, and this Brooklyn band combines the best elements of My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, and, most notably, The Jesus and Mary Chain.

 1.    9.   The Avett Brothers, I And Love And You. Renowned in alt-country circles for their harmonies, producer Rick Rubin tightens up their sound for their major label debut. Longtime fans may be a bit dismayed by the slick production, but it’s easily their best collection of songs to date.

1.      8.  Art Brut, Art Brut Vs. Satan. How can I not love an album that includes a tribute to the Replacements? “Second hand records are cheaper/Reissues CD’s, extra tracks”. Besides that track, it’s hard not to love this sort of modern day version of The Fall.

1.      7.  Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. French pop that actually works? No way! This is easily the fun, guilty pleasure of the year – pure pop/rock with a touch of synth and dance elements.

1.      6.  The Flaming Lips, Embryonic. As Oklahoma’s strangest (and greatest) band gradually entered the homes of mainstream America, the “weirdness” that marked their early days quickly evaporated. Embryonic shakes the faintly strange but primarily conventional pop of the last album and replaces it with a much darker sound that’s full of weird twists and turns.

1.      5.  Sonic Youth, The Eternal. On their latest album, Sonic Youth not only returns to their indie label roots but the supercharged sound recalls their late 80’s SST heyday. Twenty-five years after their formation, Sonic Youth remains one of the most essential bands of our time.

1.      4.  Built to Spill, There Is No Enemy. After a couple of albums that were considered disappointing, Built to Spill rebounded this year with this album that marked a return to the sprawling, yet elegant, guitar wizardry of their 90’s heyday. Besides his incendiary guitar work, leader Doug Martsch’s songs are among his best ever.

1.      3.  Bob Dylan, Together Through Life. There’s no doubt that the comeback of the decade belongs to the greatest songwriter of the last couple of generations. Dylan’s latest release continues in the old-style, minstrel-ish style of his last few albums, but is highlighted by Tex Mex-ish accordion provided by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. It’s also the most relaxed Dylan album in quite some time, and many songs reveal a rarely exhibited sense of humor.

1.      2.  The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love. Green Day wasn’t the only band to release a rock opera in the last few years. Unlike American Idiot, though, The Hazards of Love actually told a coherent story, which probably shouldn’t be surprising as Decemberists leader Colin Meloy is more of a traditional storyteller than Billie Joe Armstrong. That’s not to say this isn’t a challenging album, especially since few individual songs stand out, but is a rewarding listen if you can handle an elaborate story centered around a woman who is ravaged by her “shape-shifting lover“.

1.      1.  Wilco, The Album. After a couple of somewhat lackluster albums, Sky Blue Sky and A Ghost Is Born, Wilco responded this year with their finest album since 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Sure, the somewhat restrained sounds of those two releases are present here, but Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting has never been better and renowned guitarist Nels Cline is now fully integrated (he had joined shortly before 2007’s Sky Blue Sky).Wilco began the decade with the album of their career; they came close to topping it at the end.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Ledge: Episode 2

Hopefully, there's a bit of improvement in my latest podcast. Click on the heading to listen to Episode 2 of The Ledge. Here's the tracklist:

1. Replacements "Here Comes a Regular"

2. Big Star "September Gurls"

3. Feelies "She Said She Said"

4. Paul Westerberg "Ghost on a Canvas"

5. Telekinesis "Coast of Carolina"

6. A.C. Newman "Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer"

7. Vetiver - "Everyday"

8. AA Bondy "I Can See the Pines are Dancing"

9. Langhorne Slim "Say Yes"

10. Boston Spaceships "Let it Rest For a Little While"

11.Grand Duchy "Black Suit"

12. Fucked up "Do They Know it's Christmas"

Hudson's Best of 2009, Part 2: #40 - 21

40. The King Khan & BBQ Show, Invisible Girl. How can you not love anthemnic garage rock with traces of an unlikely love of doo-wop. Mixing Little Anthony with the Seeds (or the Big Bopper with Otis Redding), Invisible Girl is an album to crank up while downing triple shots of whiskey.

39. Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels. Fans of Fleet Foxes should enjoy this Canadian group’s dreamy, folk-inspired yet hauntingly ambient sound. Slow and spare, Lost Channels is one of those albums that creeps up on you.

38.  Metric, Fantasies. Part of the incestuous Toronto indie rock scene (Broken Social Scene, Stars, etc.), Metric’s latest may be their glossiest release to date but it’s hard to resist their blend of 80’s new wave and 90’s alt-rock. "Who would you rather be? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?", they ask on “Gimme Sympathy”, but I have a feeling their answer is neither.

37. Japandroids, Post-Nothing. One guitar, one set of drums, and two voices all set to maximum volume. Nothing more needs to be said.

36.  Chuck Prophet, Let Freedom Ring. Recorded in a rundown studio in Mexico City during a pandemic, the underrated Prophet has said his latest album is a colleciton of “political songs for the non-political”. After a couple of albums that experimented with  loops, Let Freedom Ring’s tales of the underclass are brought to life due to a resurging interest in a more traditional dual-guitar sound.

35. Boston Spaceships, Zero to 99. Following the dissolution of Guided By Voices, leader Robert Pollard has continued to flood the market with product. Generally, each of these releases, whether under his name or a handful of band monikers, have been highlighted by a couple of tracks but little else. On his third album under the Boston Spaceships name, Pollard and friends return to the British Invasion-influenced power pop that made his former band so legendary.

34. Bad Lieutenant, Never Cry Another Tear. Former Joy Division/New Order guitarist/vocalist Bernard Sumner’s new band shines due to a renewed emphasis on jangly guitars. Synths are still present, but this is a far cry from the disco-y sounds of the latter days of New Order.

33.  Grand Duchy, Petits Fours. What a surprising musical turn for Pixies leader Frank Black! Paired up with his wife, Violet Clark, Black sets aside his normal dissonant sounds in favor of melodic synth-pop that ranks right up there with anything Black has released since the heyday of his former band.

32. Lucero, 1372 Overton Park. On their seventh album, this Memphis band added a little bit of hometown history to their patented punk-influenced Southern rock sound. Soulful horns may not appear to be a viable complement to their sound, but they perfectly fit leader Ben Nichol’s tales of booze and lost love. (Plus, I have to love an album that mentions late night listens to Pleased to Meet Me.)

31. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone. While I’ve always been a fan of Case’s larger than life vocal stylings, there’s always seemed to be something missing from her previous albums. Middle Cyclone finally gets it right by letting her voice carry the day. Guest appearances by members of The Band, Los Lobos, Calexico, and her bandmates from the New Pornographers create an epic backdrop to her trademark “country noir” vocals.

30. Morrissey, Years of Refusal. Typical Morrissey – sarcastic, pissy, melancholic - but also a bit more rocking than we’re used to from the King of Mope.

29. A.A. Bondy, When The Devil’s Loose. Formerly the leader of Verbana, Bondy’s second solo album is the sort of slow-burning moodiness that’s perfect for those late night moments of melancholy. Intimate yet powerful, Bondy’s weary vocals are reminiscent of Heartbreaker-era Ryan Adams.

28. Dinosaur Jr., Farm. Another comeback that is not an embarrassment to their 80’s origins, J. Mascis doesn’t mess with the formula. Loud, distorted walls of guitars accompanying catchy hooks that continue to reverberate long after that final chord finally fizzles away has always been the playbook, and Mascis’ songs are every bit as strong as in their heyday.

27. Mission of Burma, The Sound The Speed The Light. It may have been over twenty years between their first two albums, but Mission of Burma have now released more music since their reformation in 2002 than they did in their entire original incarnation. Many would argue that they’re an even better band today than they were in the early 80’s, and this punchy release doesn’t dispute that claim.

26. Son Volt, American Central Dust. Although the Kerouac project received more publicity, the latest album by Jay Farrar’s primary gig deserves an equal airing. On their best album in years, Son Volt retreats back to the Stones-meets-Flying Burrito Brothers sound that so captivated the alt-country crowd in the 90’s.

25. Ben Gibbard & Jay Farrar, One Fast Move & I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur. Over a decade ago, Wilco and Billy Bragg were unlikely collaborators on two albums of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics. Now Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy’s former collaborator in Uncle Tupelo has gone a similar route by working with Death Cab For Cutie leader Ben Gibbard on putting Jack Kerouac’s words to this set of primarily laid back country-rock.

24. Brendan Benson, My Old-Familiar Friend. Primarily known as Jack White’s songwriting partner in the Raconteurs, Benson has quietly released a number of albums that deserved much more attention. His latest continues in the McCartney-ish power pop of the past, but it’s also clear that he’s invested some of that Raconteurs cash in studio time as the production is a huge advance over his past efforts.

23. Ike Reilly, Hard Luck Stories. Sort of an American version of Billy Bragg, Reilly combines vivid storytelling with dark humor to vividly portray the hard luck stories of the so-called “heartland”.

22. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career. With Belle and Sebastian on an extended hiatus, Camera Obscura is now clearly Scotland’s best artist, as evidenced on this wonderful collection of eloquent, heartbreaking pop.

21.  Girls, Album. One of the more intriguing stories of the year. Girls leader Christopher Owens reportedly grew up in a cult that forced his mother to prostitute herself. After running away from the cult, he eventually ended up in San Francisco where this narcotic-assisted ode to an obviously brutal romantic breakup was written and recorded.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hudson's Best of 2009, Part 1: EP's, Reissues, Etc.

Best EP

1.      1. Paul Westerberg, PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys. Once again, the reclusive genius snuck another collection of home-recorded songs onto Amazon with zero notice. Once again, the crudely recorded tunes are chock full of quirky twists of common phrases that has become his specialty.

2.       2. Superchunk, Leaves In the Gutter. After a seven-year hiatus, the owners of Merge Records returned to celebrate their 20th anniversary with this short collection of the joyous guitar clatter that made them such an iconic presence in the 90’s.

3.      3.  Modest Mouse, No One’s First and You’re Next. As a bit of a teaser while they continue to record their next album, Modest Mouse released this set of newly recorded outtakes from We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank and Good News For People Who Love Bad News sessions (along with a couple of rare b-sides).

4.      4.  Yim Yames, Tribute To. My Morning Jacket leader Jim James’ tribute to George Harrison was actually recorded way back in 2001 immediately after Harrison’s death, and his haunting vocals are perfect for the somewhat mournful melodies of “All Things Must Pass” and “Long Long Long”.

5.      5.  Spoon, Got Nuffin’. While we wait for the release of Transference in early 2010, this EP indicates that the band isn’t straying too far from their lean, biting sound. Why fix something that clearly isn’t broke?

Best Reissues

1.     1.   The Beatles Stereo and Mono Catalog. The much hyped reissue of rock and roll’s richest catalog is well worth the praise, as the meticulous handling of the master tapes brings out nuances never previously heard. The White Album, in particular, is a completely different album now that we can actually experience what the band intended for us to hear.
      2. The Radiohead Catalog. Yes, EMI reissued the Radiohead catalog to cash in on a band no longer on their roster. At least they did it right, though, as each of their albums was accompanied by a bonus disc of outtakes, remixes, radio sessions, and live tracks.

3.      3.  The Feelies, The Good Earth/Crazy Rhythms. Two of the most underrated albums of the nascent indie rock scene of the early 80’s are given the treatment they deserve. Heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground, this Hoboken band set the template for almost every indie band who claims to love VU.

4.      4.  The Who, Sell Out. Tommy gets all the credit for being the Who’s first concept album, but this tribute to pirate radio preceded it by two years and is sadly overlooked by most fans.

5.      5.  The Stone Roses, S/T. The “Madchester Scene” of the late 80’s/early 90’s was jump-started by this wonderful set of rhythmic pop-rock. Without The Stone Roses, there would have been no Oasis, Blur, or Pulp…but don’t hold that against them.

Best Box Set

1.     1.   Big Star, Keep An Eye On the Sky. The old cliché about the Velvet Underground is that everybody who heard them formed a band. The same could be said about Big Star – Alex Chilton and Chris Bell created a body of Beatles-influenced-yet-soulful guitar rock that stands proudly next to anybody who came before or after them. Besides the majority of their three albums, this box also includes the usual demos and live material, along with a handful of recording made by Chilton and Bell before Big Star’s formation.

2.       2. 13th Floor Elevators, Sign Of the 3 Eyed Men. Limited to 5,000 copies, almost every note ever recorded by Roky Erickson’s legendary band is crammed onto these ten discs. Sure, it’s a bit of overkill but much deserved for any band that can somehow inspire both R.E.M. and ZZ Top.

3.       3. Neil Young, Archives. This giant package has been promised for well over a decade, but Young has continued to tweak this compilation of the first ten years of his career. It’s well worth the wait, however, as we not only get remastered versions of his Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, and solo highlights, but even a handful of demos recorded as a teenager in Canada.

4.       4. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Live Anthology. It says a lot about Tom Petty and the members of the Heartbreakers that the recently recorded tracks on this five-disc box are indistinguishable from those recorded way back in the late 70’s. Besides the obvious hits, obscure covers and album tracks are sprinkled throughout the 62 tunes, and few of them don’t deserve an airing.

5.      5.  Lloyd Cole, Cleaning the Ashtray. The title is pretty accurate – the veteran British songwriter went through his personal collection of DAT’s, reel to reels, and cassettes for demos, outtakes, and other tracks that he reportedly barely remembered recording. Yet the four discs are full of gems.

Best Compilation

1.     1.   The Jayhawks, Music From the North Country. Two discs – one a “greatest hits”, the other outtakes and rarities – of Minneapolis’ legendary alt-country heroes.

2.       2. Morrissey, Swords. Although he’s distanced himself from this collection of B-sides, there is no doubt that Morrissey has always understood the collecting aspect of singles and EP’s. Many of his best songs have been hidden away on these types of releases, so it’s great for us non-collectors to be able to nab them all in one purchase.

3.       3. V/A, Score! 20 Years of Merge Records. To celebrate their twentieth anniversary, Merge Records recruited the likes of Ryan Adams, The Shins, and Broken Social Scene to cover the highlights of their catalog. There’s a dog or two on this double disc set, but overall this is a pretty great modernization of 90’s alt-rock.

Best Live Album

1.     1.   R.E.M., Live At the Olympia. While recording last year’s Accelerate, R.E.M. booked a handful of dates in Dublin to try out their new, more rocking material in front of a live audience. Freed from the usual demands of their greatest hits, they also tore into plenty of gems from their back catalog, most notably tunes from Chronic Town, Murmur, and Reckoning.

2.      2.  Tom Waits, Glitter and Doom Live. Recorded on his 2008 tour, this live collection relies primarily on wacky, carnivale-esque tunes from the handful of albums he’s released on Anti.  Obviously, that means some of his greatest tracks from the 70’s and 80’s are missing, but the set also highlights the high quality of his sometimes overlooked recent material.

3.       3. The Hold Steady, A Positive Rage. Today’s best bar band recorded in a bar. Nothing more needs to be said.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Ledge, Episode 1

I've jumped on the podcast bandwagon. Episode 1 of The Ledge has just been uploaded. I realize it sucks because I'm a mumble-mouthed jackass, but hopefully you'll find it entertaining.

You can listen to it at  mevio.

Here's the tracklist:

1. Replacements, "The Ledge".

2. Paul Westerberg, "Gimme Little Joy".

3. Get Up Kids, "Overdue".

4. Idle Hands, "Loaded".

5. Yo La Tengo, "Nothing To Hide".

6. I Was a King, "Step Aside"

7. Soft Black, "I Am An Animal".

8. Girls, "Lust For Life".

9. Pains of Being Pure At Heart, "Come Saturday".

10. Reigning Sound, "Break It".

11. Lucero, "Smoke".

12. Dark Mean, "Happy Banjo".

13. Wintersleep, "Archaeologists".

14. Art Brut, "The Replacements".

15. The Drums, "Don't Be a Jerk, Johnny".

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hudson's Best of the 00's (Part Five)

10. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (2002). After a disastrous major-label stint that nearly dissolved the band (chronicled on the scathing “The Agony of Lafitte”), Spoon signed with the more artist-friendly Merge Records label. On their second Merge release, they put together their greatest album by actually subtracting elements of their sound. Empty spaces drove the band’s Kinks-meets-Wire sound, emphasizing subtle elements such as handclaps, background vocals, and the greatest use of a tambourine since Phil Spector’s heyday.

9. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002). Nobody who latched onto Oklahoma’s greatest band way back in the 80’s could have predicted they’d become commercial darlings. Yet after occasionally flirting with the alternative rock charts in the 90’s, they found themselves hitting the mainstream with this weirdly beautiful, electronic collection of melancholy, psychedelic bubblegum. Sure, it’s a bit disconcerting to see “Do You Realize” used to hawk products on TV, but I’d rather a deserving act get some commercial cash than the usual Beyonce/Black Eyed Peas garbage.

8. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday (2005). It’s amazing that in a decade where the album all but disappeared in favor of shuffled individual tracks, so many bands released their own Tommy-ish semi-concept albums. On their second album, The Hold Steady mastered their gritty Replacements-ish bar band sound. While the story is pretty vague - it involves lead singer Craig Finn, an addicted born-again prostitute, her pimp, and a skinhead and their hard-living travels around the country - Finn’s Jim Carroll-ish delivery and unusual song structures (no typical verse/chorus/verse here) are complemented by the band’s classic rock delivery.

7. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (2001). A little personal story on this inclusion. I woke up so excited on the day this album was released. It was my birthday, and I couldn’t have been more pumped that the greatest songwriter of my life was releasing an album on my special day. By the time I made it into work, though, the world had changed as news that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I still hit the record store that day, though, and sat in tears that night as I listened to Bob’s musical and lyrical ode to the “old, weird America”. Clearly his greatest album since “Blood On The Tracks”, and it sits rather nicely next to his holy trilogy of albums released almost 40 years earlier.

6. The Wrens, Meadowlands (2003). In some respects, The Wrens are The Feelies of this decade. Like the Feelies, the Wrens came out of Jersey with an underrated release but spent a number of years in limbo before releasing new music that rivaled or excelled their original material. In the case of the Wrens, they made the mistake of signing with a label, Grass Records, that had dreams of becoming major players in the music business. Grass became Wind-Up Records, and made millions with the godawful Creed. After being in limbo for seven years, The Wrens were finally allowed to record and release the album of their career. Not surprisingly for a band in this situation, much of the album concerns personal hardships and failings, delivered with perfect pop melodies and shimmering guitar goodness.

5. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells (2001). It’s not always easy ranking the catalog of the bands you love. The reality is that The White Stripes catalog is strong enough that you can’t really argue with anybody who claims that Elephant or De Stijl (or any of the others) is their best album. My reason for choosing White Blood Cells as their greatest release is primarily because it was the first one I heard, and due to that reason it’s the freshest slab of noisy garage rock they ever released. Plus, “Fell In Love With a Girl” may be the single of the decade, and tracks such as “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and “Hotel Yorba” aren’t far behind.

4. Paul Westerberg, Folker (2004). “Westernerds” have different opinions as to Paul’s greatest release of the decade. Most choose the garage-y/folk-y mix of “Mono/Stereo”, while others choose the mega-medley of “49:00” or the traditional varied song cycle of “Come Feel Me Tremble”. For me, however, it was Folker and its song cycle of adult issues (infidelity, midlife crisis, parental loss) that emotionally captivated me. Just as Tim captured the feelings of a young adult unsure about his future way back in 1985, twenty years later Folker did the same for the forty-something set. Plus, I love the fact that “Folk Star” is such a biting tirade against younger artists who made a lot more money off the Replacements’ sound than he did.

3. Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004). It’s the ultimate sleeper album on this list. Although it was in my collection shortly after its September, 2004 release, I was originally under whelmed. In fact, Funeral didn’t even make an appearance in my roundup of that year. Over the course of the next few months, however, it was rarely far from my stereo. In some respects, though, this should be no surprise, as the album is a haunting, yet eventually uplifting look at death (various band members lost loved ones during the recording). It’s also one of the most unique indie rock albums of the past few albums, with unlikely instruments bashed together in a cacophonous racket that drives leader Win Butler’s desperate yelp.

2. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). The story of this historic album is well-known - acclaimed roots rock band enters studio to record material unlike anything they’ve previously recorded. Dissension occurs, and two members, including the co-writer of much of the material, are eventually replaced. Although the band is proud of their finished product, the label rejects the project. The band negotiates a buyout, and while waiting for a new label begins streaming the album on their website. A new label is eventually found (and turns out to be a subsidiary of the same company as the original label), and the album becomes the most successful release of their career. Oh yeah, and all of this is captured by a documentary crew. Described by many as “Hillbilly OK Computer”, leader Jeff Tweedy and the rest of Wilco utilized feedback, loops, and even stray short-wave radio transmissions to add tension to some of the Tweedy’s most beautiful songs. The story behind the album may be a record company morality play, but this is one case where the hype is much deserved.

1. Radiohead, Kid A (2000). Radiohead began the decade in a unique position. Having just released the seminal OK Computer in 1997, the band could have coasted for the next few years with second-rate copies of that same sound. Instead, they ditched everything the band was known for in favor of explorations in sounds, song structure, and studio wizardry. While band members have expressed that there was some dissension in the initial recording sessions, this belief in pushing the boundaries of writing and recording became the band’s standard for the entire decade.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hudson's Best of the 00's (Part Four)

20. Nick Cave, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (2008). It’s clear that the raw, noisy  sound of Cave’s side project, Grinderman, was the major influence of this Bad Seeds follow-up. The familiar themes of faith and devotion are present, but there’s an raucous energy on this album that’s usually missing on his releases. Sure, the sound is much more expansive than on the Grinderman album, but this collection is much more looser and humorous than what we usually see from Cave.

19. Bright Eyes, Lifted Or the Story Is In the Soil (2002). Out of all the articles and reviews I’ve read about Conor Oberst, Nebraska’s biggest rock star, I really can’t top this line from Amazon - “this precocious singer/songwriter croons with the astonished intensity of a homeless Robert Smith singing for his supper”. Although he may have spread himself a bit thin over the course of the decade, ala Ryan Adams, when Oberst is good he’s one of the best, and this is one of those albums where he pulls it all together.

18. Beck, Sea Change (2002). To put it simply, this is Beck’s version of Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks. Supposedly inspired by what was obviously a horrible breakup, Sea Change is a lush, primarily acoustic album of personal devastation, but by dropping the usual gimmicks and wackiness we finally see Beck as a pretty talented songwriter.

17. The Strokes, Is This It (2001). While it’s commonplace for the British media to build up an act based on only a handful of shows and a 7” or two, it’s rare to see that happen in America. Partly due to a resurgence in the New York rock scene, The Strokes found themselves on multiple magazine covers long before the release of this debut album. Luckily, in this case the hype was deserved, as Is This It is an exciting collection of songs that isn’t afraid of showcasing their love of the poppier side of The Velvet Underground.

16. Wilco, The Album (2009). After a couple of somewhat lackluster albums, Sky Blue Sky and A Ghost Is Born, Wilco responded this year with their finest album since 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Sure, the somewhat restrained sounds of those two releases are present here, but Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting has never been better and renowned guitarist Nels Cline is now fully integrated (he had joined shortly before 2007’s Sky Blue Sky).

15. The Libertines, Up the Bracket (2002). Leader Pete Doherty may be known more these days for his excesses, but this first blast onto the music scene was one of the greatest debuts in recent history. Produced by Clash’s Mick Jones, Up the Bracket is a raw, punk-inspired collection of power pop that teeters, but never completely falters, on the edge of disaster. Just like Ray Davies in the mid-60’s, Doherty conjures up a vivid image of life in London.

14. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (2006). Most people were surprised that when this purely left-of-center band was signed by Capitol Records. Would the label force an overwrought producer on the band? Would their literary-influenced, high-concept ideas be allowed? Surprisingly, the least hip major label let the band to their own devices, and they responded with what is arguably the album of their career. Sure, there’s nothing as purely melodic as Picaresque’s “16 Military Wives”, but it’s the richest, deepest work of their career.

13. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (2000). Shortly after he finally buried Whiskeytown, Adams corralled a handful of friends into a studio and bashed out this remarkable album in just twelve days. The influences of R.E.M., Uncle Tupelo, and the Replacements were completely tossed aside, with Dylan, Steve Forbert, and the Band the new touchstones. In fact, “Too Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” is quite possibly the most overt Blonde on Blonde copy ever released. The highlight of the album (hell, Adams‘ career), however, is “Come Pick Me Up” - “I wish you would come pick me up, take me out, fuck me up, steal my records, screw all my friends, they’re all full of shit, with a smile on your face, and then do it again”.

12. Paul Westerberg, Stereo/Mono (2002). After a three-year silence, Westerberg finally returned in the guise of the “cranky old man recording in his basement”. One disc (Mono) is the most fiercest rock ‘n’ roll he’s recorded since the glory days of the Replacements, while the other disc (Stereo) is primarily acoustic singer/songwriter tunes of the “Born For Me”/”Here Comes a Regular” variety. Yes, there are limitations to the one-man band style that’s become his method for the entire decade (and his drumming does indeed stink), but it’s also clear that after a disappointing decade Westerberg was again inspired.

11. Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007). It was obviously big news when Radiohead announced that they were going to release this album on a “pay what you want” basis, but in the long run it wouldn’t matter if the actual album was middling dogshit. Thankfully, that’s not the case with this wonderful collection. After a decade of sonic experimentation, In Rainbows was a return to (almost) straightforward songwriting and production. In fact, the album is easily the warmest, most subdued of their career.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hudson's Best of the 00's (Part Three)

30. Built to Spill, There Is No Enemy (2009). After a couple of albums that were considered disappointing, Built to Spill rebounded this year with this album that marked a return to the sprawling, yet elegant, guitar wizardry of their 90’s heyday. Besides his incendiary guitar work, leader Doug Martsch’s songs are among his best ever.

29. Cursive, The Ugly Organ (2003). Bright Eyes may have brought attention to Omaha, but Cursive deserves as much acclaim. The Ugly Organ, a concept album exploring not only love and casual sex, but also the ongoing fight every indie act has between creating art and commercially appealing recordings. “Keep turning out those hits! Till it's all the same old shit!"

28. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (2007). After a stunning debut that made them the darlings of the Pitchfork set, the pressure was on for Canada’s favorite sons and daughters. Recorded in an abandoned church, Neon Bible was certainly more grandiose and layered than Funeral, but didn’t quite match the overall strength of its predecessor.

27. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (2003). The Shins’ debut album, Oh Inverted World, may have made Natalie Portman to proclaim “this band will change your life”, but it was this follow-up that cemented their place as indie’s biggest pop stars. Elements of Neutral Milk Hotel and Village Green-era Kinks remain the major influences, coupled with intriguing song structures and more expansive production.

26. Paul Westerberg, 49:00 (2008). Radiohead and NIN may have made headlines with their groundbreaking online distribution, but Paul Westerberg went one step farther. With no fanfare other than a post on a message board devoted to his work, Westerberg released this 49-minute mishmash of completed songs, fragments, covers, and “Revolution #9”-ish interludes as a forty-nine cent download. Since its release, he’s continued to surprise his fans with periodic EP’s with virtually no notice.

25. Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills (2001). Renowned for creating the “lo-fi” movement of the 90’s (along with Sebadoh and Pavement), GBV began integrating some polished studio recordings on their last few albums of that decade. On this album, not only did they finally utilize a “real” studio for the entire album but also enlisted big-time producer Rob Schnapps (Beck, Foo Fighters) for arguably the most consistent album of their career.

24. Bob Dylan, Together Through Life (2009). There’s no doubt that the comeback of the decade belongs to the greatest songwriter of the last couple of generations. Dylan’s latest release continues in the old-style, minstrel-ish style of his last few albums, but is highlighted by Tex Mex-ish accordion provided by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. It’s also the most relaxed Dylan album in quite some time, and many songs reveal a rarely exhibited sense of humor.

23. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (2008). There’s admittedly not a lot of difference between the four Hold Steady albums. Leader Craig Finn’s half spoken/half sung tales of love, drinking, and the road are pushed forward by arguably the quintessential bar band of our time, but why even attempt to modify a formula that works so well?

22. The White Stripes, Elephant (2003). On their giant commercial breakthrough, Jack and Meg White continued to refine the bare-bones bluesy garage rock while adding other interesting elements and instrumentation. Piano, bass lines (albeit played on guitar), more refined acoustic tunes, and even a vocal spot by Meg culminated in one of the most interesting albums to sit near the top of the charts.

21. The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love (2009). Green Day wasn’t the only band to release a rock opera in the last few years. Unlike American Idiot, though, The Hazards of Love actually told a coherent story, which probably shouldn’t be surprising as Decemberists leader Colin Meloy is more of a traditional storyteller than Billie Joe Armstrong. That’s not to say this isn’t a challenging album, especially since few individual songs stand out, but is a rewarding listen if you can handle an elaborate story centered around a woman who is ravaged by her “shape-shifting lover“.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Hudson's Best of the 00's (Part Two)

40. Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene (2005). Toronto was the surprise capital of this decade’s indie rock scene, and its incestuous scene found members of a handful of bands working on each other’s albums. The centerpiece of this scene was Broken Social Scene, which at times included over fifteen musicians and vocalists. Almost any of their albums (or spin-offs) could take this place in the list, but I’ll take this self-titled collection of dreamy mini-symphonies.

39. Get Up Kids, Guilt Show (2004). This Kansas band is quite often lumped into the dreaded “emo” category, but their love of power pop and the Replacements puts them far removed from the whiney annoyances of most of that genre. Guilt Show was their final release (although they reunited for a short tour last year), and while it may not be as powerful as their first recordings in the late 90’s, it’s one of the better finales in recent rock history.

38. Ryan Adams, Gold (2001). This release was supposed to be the album that catapulted the former Whiskeytown leader to worldwide fame, yet even with a song and video (“New York, New York”) that could have raised the spirits of post-9/11 New York City the album failed to meet retail expectations. While a bit overlong, the highlights (“Firecracker”, “Answering Bell”, “The Rescue Blues”) rank with anything Adams has ever recorded.

37. The Decemberists, Picaresque (2005). Although they’re not as well known, The Decemberists’ output of the last decade deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as anybody else. Picaresque is the album where I first noted their “folky pirate” sound, even if I don’t have anywhere near the expansive vocabulary of leader Colin Meloy.

36. Steve Earle, Transcendental Blues (2000). While Earle’s output of the past decade has not quite equaled the standards of the previous ten years, this collection of folk, Celtic, country rock, and Beatles-ish pop tunes is easily his most varied and catchy album of his career.

35. The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site (2003). John Sampson is one of the most interesting characters in today’s music scene. Besides running his own publishing company, he splits his time between two bands that couldn’t be farther apart. Best known for the recently reunited agitprop Propoghandi, Sampson showcases his melodic side in the Weakerthans. Reconstruction Site is their crowning achievement, a beautiful collection of folkish, almost alt-country pop songs.

34. My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves (2003). If there is one band that has captured the spirit and versatility of The Band it has to be My Morning Jacket. Leader Jim James’ heavily reverbed rustic vocals are as soulful as Rick Danko, yet the guitars are more reminiscent of Neil Young’s collaborations with Crazy Horse. The influences don’t stop with these iconic acts, though, which is why MMJ is as comfortable playing a jam-band festival as they are with folk or alt-country bands.

33. Elliott Smith, Figure 8 (2000). On his final album before his tragic death in 2003, Elliott Smith traveled to London to record at the famed Abbey Road studio. The result was his most varied album of his career, combining the sparse, dark sound of his first solo records with more layered, almost psychedelic tunes that showcased his love of the Beatles and Beach Boys.

32. Morrissey, You Are the Quarry (2004). Fifteen years into a mostly disappointing solo career, the former leader of The Smiths finally delivered the album his fans had been waiting for. Accompanied by a spiky twin-guitar attack, Morrrissey’s pointed barbs attacked American imperialism, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, lesbians, lovers, and even Mexican biker gangs.

31. The Postal Service, Give Up (2003). A word of advice to those who have jumped on the Owl City bandwagon - toss that record in the dump and pick up this side project of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Nothing against the Owatonna, MN “electro-indie rocker”, but his entire sound is based on this record that is one of Sub Pop’s biggest sellers ever.

People of Walmart Pic of the Day

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hudson's Best of the 00's (Part One)

For the past twenty or so years, I’ve concluded every year with a list of my favorite albums. The first ten years or so, these were prepared for Tempest Magazine, but sometime in the late 90’s I also used these essays to put together compilation albums for friends and family.

Tempest may have folded at the beginning of this decade, but that didn’t stop me from compiling my year-end epic rundown of my favorite albums of the year. The CD project expanded along with the scope of these writings, from single disc compilations in the early years to last year’s insane four-disc “box set”.

Since I have no life, I’ve decided to add to my workload this year with a “Best of the 00’s” report. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been knee-deep in my CD room going through pile after pile of the music I’ve accumulated for the past ten years.

Besides the actual discs, I’ve also re-evaluated the compilations and essays from this time period. It’s interesting how time has changed my opinion of so many albums. Some discs that topped my “chart” don’t appear in this list; others that lingered at the bottom of that year’s list found themselves much higher. One album that almost topped this list was never even recognized the year it was released.

Over the next few days, I’ll unveil my 50 favorite albums of the decade. We’ll start today with the bottom ten (#50 - 41).

50. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Global a Go-Go (2001). Joe Strummer’s sudden death in 2002 was easily the saddest musical loss of the decade, especially given the fact that after over a decade in semi-retirement he was finally creating new music. Global a Go-Go was the second of these albums, and it was a stunning melting pot of music styles from all around the world.

49. Pete Yorn, Musicforthemorningafter (2001). Although he’s usually lumped into the singer/songwriter category, Pete Yorn is really a power-popper at heart. This debut combines the usual classic influences (Beatles, Dylan, Nick Drake, etc.) with mid-80’s college rock (Smiths, R.E.M., Smithereens)  to create a driving, jangly collection of pop goodness.

48. White Stripes, De Stijl (2000). On their second album, Jack and Meg White truly begin their decade of world domination. While the Detroit rock/classic blues template of their debut is retained, the production and songwriting had grown by leaps and bounds…and would continue to improve throughout the first half of the decade. Yes, there will be more appearances by the Whites on this list.

47. Modest Mouse, Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004). Sometimes good things happen to those who deserve it. Modest Mouse had been around for quite a few years before “Float On” became the surprise hit of 2004, and while many may prefer 2000’s The Moon and Antarctica, this is the album that has stayed on my play list over the last few years.

46. The Jayhawks, Smile (2000). Like many of the alt-country leaders of the early 90’s, The Jayhawks had moved away from their trademark twang by the time the decade ended. Produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Kiss, Lou Reed), Smile found the band refining the slicker, poppier sound they had introduced on 1997’s Sound of Lies.

45. Spoon, Gimme Fiction (2005). The follow-up to 2002’s breakthrough Kill the Moonlight found Spoon expanding their sound to include elements of Bowie, Jagger, Prince, and even Plastic Ono Band-era John Lennon. Yet it still worked, as did every thing this band touched over the past decade.

44. Camper Van Beethoven, New Roman Times (2004). While many reunions work in a live setting, it’s a rare thing for a reunited band to match their glory days on record. Not only does New Roman Times close to as good as anything in the CVB catalog, it’s a concept album to boot.

43. Sonic Youth - The Eternal (2009). On their latest album, Sonic Youth not only returns to their indie label roots but the supercharged sound recalls their late 80’s SST heyday. Twenty-five years after their formation, Sonic Youth remains one of the most essential bands of our time.

42. Marah, Kids in Philly (2000). Combine the loose swagger of the Replacements and the drunken, Irish roots of the Pogues with the sentimentality of Springsteen and the rocking twang of Uncle Tupelo and you have this underrated classic.

41. Muse, Black Holes and Revelations (2006). There’s no true valid reason for me to enjoy Muse. After all, their main influences are Rush and Queen, and their albums are much more polished than what’s generally found on my ipod. Sure, it’s bombastic prog-rock, but, unlike most albums of that genre, Black Holes and Revelations is chock full of catchy melodies.