Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spike's Top Albums of 2011

Tough year. Maybe we say that every year. But it was, again, a tough year to crack the top 10. Kudos to all the musicmakers I love for making this exercise way more agonizing than it ever ought to be. I could, without any trouble whatsoever, compose a top 10 just from Charlie T's also-rans. I could also craft a handful of drastically different lists each with their own compelling criteria (most listened, most likely to still matter to me in 1 or 2 or 5 years, most important, most whatever). I could, but I won't.

And as usual, as if that first paragraph wasn't already a steaming heap of disclaimers, this list could change in the next hour.


10. The Decemberists //The King Is Dead

9. Jim Lauderdale //Reason & Rhyme

I was totally surprised by how often I came back to this album, how many times I found myself singing this album, how many times I referenced this album when working on my own songs. Lauderdale and co-writer Robert Hunter created a timelessly great bluegrass-ish record.


Tom Waits // Bad As Me

7. Joe Henry // Reverie

6. Megafaun // s/t

5. Low // C’mon

Alan Sparhawk with his yearly bid for Song Of The Year (Try To Sleep).

4. Wilco // The Whole Love

3. Gillian Welch // The Harrow & The Harvest

2 people. On every song. Live. This is statement on the power of simplicity (and subtlety and smarts and virtuosity). No bells. No whistles. Just two people playing some finely crafted songs on, most of the time, two guitars with two voices sewn so beautifully that it's impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

2. Fleet Foxes // Helplessness Blues

It has come to my attention that it is no longer hip to like Fleet Foxes, that it is cooler to write them off as "better back then" than it is to like them now. Which makes it all the more logical that I love this album. I listened to it every morning all summer and there are still songs and moments on the record that register goosebumps. I promise: I wanted to be cool; I tried not to like it. But I love its ambition. I love its melodies. I love what Robin Pecknold has to say and how he says it. Of course the harmonies and retro-neo-folkie arrangements are the calling card. But it's a fine, cohesive record that, much like most of the albums on this list (but especially Megafaun), is an argument for THE ALBUM. An experience. Something better in one sitting than cut up into shuffled mp3s. A unified vision that feels like a family of songs, a home constructed on ideas and tones and voices.

1. Over The Rhine // The Long Surrender

Yes, this was #3 on my list last year (and I would still put it behind The National and Justin Townes Earle). I did that, knowing that usually January releases get the proverbial shaft due to the amount of time (and familiarity) they have versus the freshness of later releases. But I love this album as much today as I did this time last year. That says something. One of the musical moments of my 2011, maybe even my life, was listening to Linford Detweiler play an extended outro to "All My Favorite People" that, with no words, moved me to tears. To read what I said about the album last year, click here.

THE NEXT 10 (in no order)

Steve Earle // I'll Never Make It Out Of This World Alive

David Bazan // Strange Negotiations (some of the best songs out this year. why didn't it crack the top 10? Because I pressed PUBLISH.)

Radiohead // King of Limbs

Lisa Hannigan // Passenger

Lucinda Williams // Blessed (her best record, in my opinion, since World Without Tears)

Buddy Miller & The Majestic Silver Strings (if this won't make you re-think Leann Womack, nothing will. she DESTROYS the songs she sings on this)

Milk Carton Kids // Prologue (perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year for me. a real Gillian/David soundalike that didn't feel derivative to me. good playing. good songs.)

Jason Isbell // Here We Rest

Jessica Lea Mayfield // Tell Me

Bon Iver // Bon Iver, Bon Iver (I know: what's my problem?)


Feist // Metals (I have a feeling this one will rank higher years from now)

Dawes // Nothing Is Wrong

Paul Simon // So Beautiful Or So What

Ryan Tanner // Seven Years EP

Blind Pilot // We Are The Tide (the first song is one of my favorites all year)

Foo Fighters // Wasting Light

David Lowery // The Palace Guards (I Sold The Arabs The Moon!)

Wye Oak // Civilian (for once, the hype was right. I liked it a lot. Just didn't get enough listens before list-time. I was late. Sue me.)

Rave On, Buddy Holly // tribute album (especially Jenny O and John Doe's songs)

Adele // 21 (I know...but I liked wee doses)

The Devil Whale // Teeth

Dustin Christensen // Highway Lines

The Jayhawks // Mockingbird Time

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Charlie T's Top Albums of 2011

*This post has been updated with annotations for each album

There were 102 albums released in 2011 that made it onto my listening radar. I managed to give a full listen to 79 of those albums, and partial listens to most of the rest. From that list of 102 albums, there were 35 albums that were inspiring enough to deserve a shot at making the top 10 list. The last weeks of 2011 were dedicated to teasing out the top 10. This was a banner year for music, in my opinion. Many artists from my pantheon of artists threw down the gauntlet and released great, great albums. This didn't make trimming the list down from 35 to 10 very easy. Since they all deserve some recognition, I present both the top 35 and the top 10. The 25 that didn't make the cut are in no particular order. That way if anyone is completely appalled by one album or another not making the top ten, I can always say it was the last album to get cut. But to be honest, every album on the Runners Up list was seriously considered for the top 10 and if I re-wrote this list tomorrow, one of them might find it's way into the top 10. But as of right now, I feel confident that the top 10 are the albums that I liked the most in 2011.

The 25 Runners Up
Over The Rhine - The Long Surrender
The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
Lia Ices - Grown Unknown
The Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart
Low - C'mon
The Low Antherm - Smart Flesh
Radiohead - King Of Limbs
Wye Oak - Civilian
Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
The Kills - Blood Pressures
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - Here We Rest
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Beirut - The Rip Tide
Megafaun - Megafaun
Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
Feist - Metals
Joe Henry - Reverie
Ryan Adams - Ashes And Fire
Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
Battles - Gloss Drop
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
Richard Buckner - Our Blood

The Top 10 of 2011
10. Tom Waits - Bad As Me
This one got in on the strength of the songwriting alone.  Sure there were other great songs written on albums that didn't make the top 10, but these songs really stuck with me, especially New Year's Eve.

9. Little Scream - The Golden Record
It came down to this album and Feist's Metals.  They were similar albums to me, aside fromt he fact that Little Scream backs up Feist on some of the songs, and both got a lot of listens.  But I came across Little Scream from their *Take Away Show and I went back to it for the tie-breaker.  The intro on Cannons was still as strong as the first time I heard it.  And as fresh sounding as I thoguht Metals was, this album had a little something more.

8. David Bazan - Strange Negotiations
This album made a late surge.  I listened to it once or twice early in the year but it didn't take.  I came back and realizzed what I had been missing.  Not only are the songs great, but there is enough fuzz and rocking to keep an edge on the songs.

7. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
I didn't put the debut Fleet Foxes album on my top 10 list way back when.  In hind sight, I probably should have.  I made sure I gave this album the time it deserved, and it gave me back exactly what I wanted; introspective lyrics, crisp harmonies and a chance to give them credit for their efforts.  And to be clear, this isn't a make-up pick.  This album is great on its own.

6. Tune-Yards - WHOKILL
I didn't want to put this album in the top 10 because it had gotten so much hype.  But I couldn't deny the infectious hooks and the enthusiasm, even if it is doused in face paint and ukeleles.

5. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams - Various Artists
I love Hank Williams.  One question I've always asked myself is "If late, great musician X released an album now, like it had been locked in a time capsule, how would it stack up against current albums?"  This was my chance.  It's not Hank singing, but they are his words and they are just as good as ever.  An added bonus is his pedal steel player making an appearance or two to bridge the eras.

4. Gillian Welch - The Harrow And The Harvest
This was one of a couple albums that I thought were top ten albums the minute I heard them.  Not all those albums made the cut, however.  Low, Joe Henry and Wye Oak lost out when push came to shove for the top 10.  But not this one.  This one looked me in the eyes and made me give it a top 4 spot.

3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
I went back and forth a little on this album.  First, I was surprised at how different it sounded.  Then I realized it was still the same sound, just bigger.  I saw them perform almost all the songs live.  I heard the stripped down, piano only version of Beth/Rest.  It was really a journey to a lot of different places, like the track names suggest.  And the fact that it made me work, but continued to reward me for my efforts had to merit a top 3 slot.

2. Wilco - The Whole Love
This album had its own journey, but it was more of a nostalgic journey through the Wilco catalogue.  At least a handful of songs made me reminisce other Wilco songs.  Sometimes I would think the melody was taken from another song, or a lyric was borrowed.  That is evidence that it fits into the tomes of songs from Tweedy and Co. but it also made those other songs sound better and more fresh to me than they ever have.

1. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
This album battled Iron & Wine at the onset of 2011 for early year supremacy.  Usually, albums that come out early and come on strong fade towards the end of the year as casualties of over-listening, stronger competition, or boredom.  Iron & Wine faded despite a number of strong songs.  But this album kept coming and coming.  When it came down to deciding which album should be number one, I felt that an album that could withstand 12 month of listening and scrutiny was worth of the top spot.

*Yes I know Feist recorded a Take Away Show, but it hasn't come out yet.  Sorry, Leslie.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Black Converse's Massive NBA Preview

Like most fans, we are excited about the start of the NBA season. We don't know what is going to happen with this shortened, compressed season. Surely chaos will ensue; there will be surprise teams, veteran teams that don't quite get going, injuries, tanking for the best draft since '03*, and an influx of overseas guys comig back in time for a stretch run. It will be a strange year and but we can all be relieved that there will be basketball**. Here are a list of fake prop bets that we came up with.*** Each bet tries to highlight a different storyline for the season. Enjoy.

Over/Under 2.5 Leg Injuries for the Clippers
Spike: Under
Charlie T: Over

Over/Under 12 playoff wins for the Bulls
Spike: Under
Charlie T: Under

Over/Under 12 playoff wins for the Thunder
Spike: Under
Charlie T: Over

Over/Under 1.5 top 5 picks for the Hornets
Spike: Over
Charlie T: Under

Higher Playoff seed: Lakers or Celtics
Spike: Celtics
Charlie T: Celtics

Higher Playoff seed: Spurs or Knicks
Spike: Spurs
Charlie T: Knicks

Over/Under 1.5 Heat MVP Awards
Spike: Under
Charlie T: Over

Over/Under .5 All-Stars for the Jazz
Spike: Over
Charlie T: Under

Over/Under 2.5 All-Stars for the Heat
Spike: Over
Charlie T: Over

Over/Under 4 combined Playoff wins for Washington, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Detroit, New Jersey, Toronto, Cleveland
Spike: Under
Charlie T: Over

Over/Under 4 combined Playoff wins for Houston, Phoenix, Golden State, Clippers, Sacramento, Minnesota
Spike: Over
Charlie T: Over

Over/Under Black Eyed Peas songs being played on every NBA telecast
Spike: Awesome
Charlie T: Over

There you have it. You can be sure we will forget about these wagers we have made as we get engulfed in the drama of the season. I know it will be one for the ages. And who knows, Spike might come around on Chris Bosh before it's all said and done.

*At least that's what David Stern thinks

**For at most 6 more years...then we're going to get crapped on again.

***We had 12 and had planned on releasing them one per day for the 12 days leading up to Christmas, but that seemed a little douchey since there isn't much substance to each bet. Besides, who doesn't prefer ripping open all their gifts as fast as they can?