28 December 2011

Year End Round Up - My 3 Top Albums Of The Year

It's been a strange year for releases. Lots of my favorite artists released albums that didn't even show up on my radar (British Sea Power, Tech N9ne, They Might Be Giants). Even more bands that I thought didn't make music any more released albums (Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden, The Human League). There were releases that I should have paid more attention to (Tyler The Creator, Eddie Vedder's ukulele album, Hugh Laurie). A bunch of very good singles were released ('Blue Tip' by The Cars, 'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster The People, 'Shake It Out' by Florence And The Machine). Also, I spent a good portion of the year playing a lot of musical catch up on certain artists (Mumford And Sons, Vampire Weekend, Jónsi) and missing out on releases from some of my favorites (Duran Duran, Blink 182, Blondie). And don't even talk to me about what a disappointing rehash Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' was.

All that being said, I have not been able to find 10 albums for a top list this year, so I will present to you my Top 3 Albums For 2011. It speaks volumes that all my top albums this year were from female singer/songwriters, and from 3 different countries at that. Take note, Gaga.

3. BIC RUNGA - BELLE
While it's probably true that Bic Runga could release album of the sounds of gastic surgery and I would still buy it, this is a fantastic follow up after a fairly lengthy absence. In that time she collaborated the experimental Kody & Bic, did some soundtrack work, released a retrospective album, did a tour of New Zealand winery shows with Tim Finn and Dave Dobbyn, and has been moving from Paris to New York to London and back to New Zealand with her little family. After all that, she released the sublime Belle. What can I say about a Bic Runga album? Just listen--it's nearly perfect.



2. LYKKE LI - WOUNDED RHYMES
Sweden's Lykke Li released her sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes this year, and the album was considerably more haunting than her prior work. Not that this is a bad thing. She shed her acoustically bent songs for a more pronounced rhythm, yet kept the music just as intimate and delicate. She out Florenced Florence by a year, and was everything that Björk could have been this year. Thank you to Anglo for drawing my attention to Lykke Li.



1. ZEE AVI -GHOSTBIRD
I was introduced to Zee Avi by my friend Britzel (and eternally grateful for that) about 2 days before Ghostbird came out. There was already some familiarity with her music from a commercial for Wal-Mart or Target or some place, but I didn't know anything about this brilliant Malaysian artist. Once this album was released I didn't stop listening to it (or her prior eponymous release) for weeks. It's the entire gamut of emotions and soundscapes, and no one plays the ukulele quite like Zee (sorry, Eddie). Where as Bic was nearly perfect this year, Zee was truly the perfect album this year. Ghostbird is the perfect way to finish off this year--hopeful, warm, alluring, fun, and always dreaming. As she says on 'Swell Window', 'We're all riding the same waves...' Indeed.


-N.
28 December 2011

21 December 2011

At The Expense Of Christmas.

'Tis the Season and so I figured what better time to share my Top 10 Christmas Songs!

10. SNOW MISER/HEAT MISER SONG
from A Year Without Santa Claus
Start it off right with an oft overlooked Christmas song. I'm really surprised that no one has ever really lifted the sample from the 'Heat Miser' part as it loops really well. This is a song that gets stuck in your head at all times during the year.


9. GABRIEL'S MESSAGE
Sting
From the first 'Very Special Christmas' album. I didn't care for it when I first heard it, but this year it's really grown on me. It definitely sticks out from the usual lot of Christmas tunes.


8. STARÁLFUR
Sigur Rós
OK, technically not a Christmas song, but you know I couldn't have a list without at least one Sigur Rós song. This of all their songs feels like the holidays, the early darkness and cold weather. That may be a regular day in Iceland but it feels like Christmas to the rest of us.


7. TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS
Amy Grant
I went to a Christian school from junior high on and during the holidays this album was inescapable. It's definitely a large piece of my history and I still feel very much in the holiday spirit when I listen to any song off this album.


6. DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?
Band Aid
Again, another junior high school song and the first in the trend of the mega-stars getting together for a charity record. This was the pinnacle of 1980s Pop Music--it was all pre-fab music, Madonna, cheese Rap, and hair Metal from here on out through the rest of the decade.


5. THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Stuck at the end of an already personally revelatory album ('I Love Rock 'N' Roll') this was quite a surprise when I first heard it. Plus, it has that enigmatic line that replaces 'Mary nodded'; I still think she's saying 'joie de hadash' but I have no clue.


4. MUST BE SANTA
Bob Dylan
Another favorite of my youth (the Mitch Miller version rules!), but this one is covered by one of my favorite musicians...and a wig...in a video that involves a chase...and a listing of the reindeer in an interesting way...as a polka. Awesome.


3. CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE
Vince Guaraldi Trio
I don't even know the words, but we all know it from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Anything by Vince Guaraldi exudes Christmas, and this album is one of the best to put on at this time of year.


2. WE THREE KINGS
Traditional
Like 'O Come Emmanuel' or 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' (neither of which are favorites), this one has a very minor key start, but it's that glorious refrain that makes the difference. This was a favorite as a child, perhaps it was being intrigued by the 'Star of Wonder' line. A great caroling song.


1. O HOLY NIGHT
Robert Guillaume
TV's Benson (and an eventual Phantom, but most of you know him as Rafiki) stunned all the viewers with this rendition of my all-time favorite Christmas song. Until then they hadn't really showcased his beautiful voice on the show so it was a big surprise. This version still gives me chills. When asked to sing a Christmas song, this is the one I always choose.


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Honorable Mentions:

2000 MILES
The Pretenders
A beautiful track and a favorite of theirs, but it's never really evoked Christmas to me.


CHRISTMASTIME
Larry Norman
I used to like this song when I was in high school, but I'm surprisingly less pessimistic now.


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Merry Christmas all!

-N.