Friday, December 24, 2010

Chris Sisson's Best of 2010

Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 9th Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus!  As always, we've selected 18 tracks from our 18 favorite albums of 2010.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.  Let's begin.

1. The Morning Benders “Excuses
Album: Big Echo
Let’s ease into things this year with the opening track from Big Echo. These guys, originally from Berkley and now in Brooklyn (like every other cool band on the planet) have a nice dreamy, orchestral, California sound that was one of my favorites over the summer. I’m told they opened up for Grizzly Bear last year on the road and were opening up for Broken Bells this year. Big Echo spent a considerable amount of time in my CD player this year. Also in consideration for the Bash were their version of a banger “All Day Day Light” and the very pretty “Stitches”.

2. Janelle Monáe “Cold War
Album: The ArchAndroid
Janelle Monáe absolutely blew up this year. This record is all over the map, with guest spots from Saul Williams, Big Boi, and Of Montreal, who she toured with in the fall. ArchAndroid is one of those great records that doesn’t really fit in anywhere on the radio dial, but fits in my ears like a glove, or maybe like a Q-tip. I guarantee once you see her perform live you’ll fall in love with her too. She wears this feminine tuxedo get-up and dances her freaking ass off. Check her out here when she played “Tightrope” on Letterman (apparently P Diddy is a fan as well). Doesn’t she seem way too young and cute to be doing the whole James Brown thing on stage? Maybe, but it works for me.  This girl is going to be a star.

3. Broken Bells “The High Road
Album: Broken Bells
Broken Bells is James Mercer from The Shins and now super-mega-producer Dangermouse. Ever since The Mouse & The Mask, the Birthday Bash has had somewhat of a love affair with Dangermouse produced works. We here have been fans since hearing the infamous Grey Album way back in college and his output has remained pretty impressive ever since. In 2011 he’s set to release some sort of an homage to spaghetti western music featuring Jack White and Norah Jones. Here’s betting that it will be pretty excellent. As far as Broken Bells, it’s 10 tracks of nice and easy head bobbing music with James Mercer (the modern day James Taylor) singing over acoustic guitar and typically awesome Dangermouse beats. You’ll like it.  Also check out "The Ghost Inside."

4. The Black Keys “Tighten Up
Album: Brothers
Speaking of blowing up, the Keys have been getting bigger and bigger with each record they put out.  I’ve heard “Tighten Up” all over modern rock radio and I just saw that they'll be the musical guest on SNL January 8th.  Plus they’ve been nominated for a couple of Grammy’s.  I got to see them at Crossroads KC this summer with Zentz, Cory, and Jacqueline Onassis Wilson. They were fantastic. I was amazed at how the opener had like 7 or 8 pieces, yet just Patrick and Dan sounded more complete. Actually they did have a second guitar player and a bass player come out on stage for a couple of the new songs, but had them standing way off in the background. Brothers was recorded down in the historic Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama which Birthday Bash listeners may associate with the father of Drive-By Truckers’ frontman Patterson Hood as he was a session musician at that facility for many a great record. Apparently Rolling Stone ranked Brothers as their #2 album of the year. Check out the video for “Tighten Up” as it is quite humoroous.  Also check out “Next Girl", “Too Afraid to Love You”, and “Howlin’ for You”.

5. Earl Greyhound “Ghost and the Witness”
Album: Suspicious Package
Earl Greyhound is a three-piece Brooklyn band made up of an obese black drummer, a black female (who I am not 100% sure is not a on the link below and see what you think) on bass and a stringy haired bearded white hippie on guitar and lead vox who looks like he should have been playing on Yes albums in the 70’s. I discovered them when they managed to get “Ghost And The Witness” on the KEXP song of the day podcast. Upon hearing it I immediately sought out Suspicious Package, which I ended up having to buy from their website since it was not available in stores, or even on iTunes (just checked and it is on iTunes now). A few days after I ordered it I got a manilla envelope with my handwritten address on it and my life was never the same! I don’t know if I would call this my #1 record of the year, but it is without a doubt the record I have been most excited about. Also check out “Shotgun”.

6. Bilal “Cake & Eat It Too”
Album: Airtight’s Revenge
Whoa! You weren’t expecting that at all were you? Me either. I don't remember how exactly I got clued into this one, but I found it on emusic and have been loving it ever since. Why doesn’t modern R&B sound like this again? I've heard his name several times in the past as Bilal has seemingly made a career out of doing guest spots, but Airtight’s Revenge is his second proper album, with the first (1st Born Second) coming out way back in 2001.

7. Sujan Stevens “Vesuvius
Album: The Age of Adz
The first track on Adz (rhymes with "odds") sounds like any old Sufjan song would; whisper quiet and exquisitely pretty. Then “Too Much” comes on and hits you with these unexpected blips and gurgles and squeals that you'd be more likely to associate with something Trent Reznorish, but certainly not Sufjan. I guess you’d say this record is an experiment to see if Sufjan can combine his delicate sound with somewhat jarring electronic elements. I, for one, think it was a success although at times the blips and knocks sound somewhat tacked on. The electronics do add depth but the songs are still there front and center and still very pretty, even with all the other sounds swirling around. I wanted to give you the title track, “Age of Adz”, but the length of it was a limiting factor. “Vesuvius” gives you a little taste of both old and new Sufjan.  Check him out here playing "Too Much" on Fallon.

8. Kanye West “Lost In the World” featuring Bon Iver
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I always try to stay away from all that “I don’t like him as a person so I don’t like his music” stuff that I hear from a lot of people, but I did sort of write Kanye off after 808’s, which I didn’t like at all. Plus Us Weekly says he’s a jerk so…… As a result, when MBDTF came out I didn’t really think much of it. Then I saw that Pitchfork gave it a 10.  A freaking 10!  That’s their highest score possible, which in itself was enough to send me immediately down to my beloved, and soon to be shuttered Streetside Records in Westport to buy a copy.  I have seriously been playing it on a constant loop in my car ever since. On the All Songs Considered best of the year show, Carrie Brownstien said that it sounded more like an event than an album which I think is the perfect way to describe it. Tons of guest spots (Jay Z, Kid Cudi, Raekwon, RZA, Nicki Minaj), and every song on it is a kitchen sink production. Not a weak track in the bunch. I picked the closer, “Lost in the World” because it takes its hook from the beautifully autotuned "Woods" from Bon Iver’s Blook Bank EP, which loyal listeners may remember made the Birthday Bash last year. "Power" has been all over the year end lists too.

9. Arcade Fire “Ready To Start
Album: The Suburbs
Not quite the same Arcade Fire as on Neon Bible or Funeral, but still very very good. The theme of this one is the glorious benefits/horrors of growing up and living in the suburbs.  Having formerly been a short term resident of Johnson County Kansas, some of it rings true with me. I mean it’s nice that there’s a Target every four blocks, but then again…. Apparently The Suburbs debuted as the #1 record on the Billboard charts, which was supposedly a big success for “indie” bands, but made me wonder if it was more of a commentary on who is still purchasing physical media. I think I’m way more likely to drive out to Streetside and cop (that’s a hip way of saying obtain…I think) a joint (that’s a hip way of saying CD….I think) than a tween who just heard Katy Perry on the radio. So anyway, there’s not as much bombast on The Suburbs, but so what? The tried and true Arcade Fire formula of starting slow but building to a point where everyone on stage is losing their minds is still intact.  Make sure you check out the title track, “The Suburbs.”

10. Liars “No Barrier No Fun”
Album: Sisterworld
Wow. This record came out pretty early in the year and has been creeping me out ever since. Leanna and I saw them open up for Radiohead in St. Louis a couple of years ago and I was far from impressed, but Sisterworld has me second guessing myself.  The one word that kept popping up in reviews was "intense."  Definitely a good option to crank up when you’re angry. Also check out “Scissor” and “The Overachievers.”

11. The Hold Steady “The Weekenders”
Album: Heaven Is Whenever
Spoiler Alert: The Hold Steady will make the Birthday Bash every year they’re eligible as long as they keep making songs that sound as good as “The Weekenders."  Before Heaven came out, Franz Nicolay left the band which was big news in the music press.  Apparently he was their mustachioed keyboard player, but since I've never seen them live, I didn't even know he existed.  I didn't really notice much of a difference on Heaven, so maybe their live show is suffering, but they sound as good as ever on wax.  Also check out "Hurricane J" and their performance of "Rock Problems" on Craig Ferguson.

12. Dessa “Mineshaft II”
Album: A Badly Broken Code
I first heard about Dessa on Tim Finn’s Back to Rockville blog this spring when she was set to play somewhere in Lawrence. She’s a former spoken word artist who got hooked up with the Doomtree Collective in Minnesota, which also produced 2009 Birthday Bash includee P.O.S. You would assume a white girl from the suburbs wouldn't have much to say, and frankly I sort of rolled my eyes when I was originally reading about her, but she really brings it.  Also check out "Dixon's Girl" and "Alibi."

13. Spoon “Written In Reverse
Album: Transference
I’ll bet you forgot about Transference! I think it came out on the first or second Tuesday of 2010. The knock on it was that it wasn’t as melodic as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but I don’t think that's such a bad thing, especially for a band like Spoon.  I guess you might say this is a more stripped down version of Spoon which is kind of hard to believe when they already have such a bare bones approach. 

14. The Black Angels “Bad Vibrations
Album: Phosphene Dream
This is probably more of a lifetime achievement inclusion as I have really dug the slow droning sludgy spacey sound of the Austin's own Black Angels for a few years now.  If you like this track then you like The Black Angels because all of their songs sound like this.  Well, they don't all have that psychadelic warbly keyboard part.  As an aside, I didn't look at a single Best of 2010 list before I made my own this year, and I was sure that nobody else would include Phosphene Dream on theirs.  On the contrary!  Looking at the KC Star's rundown, it is listed on the "best of" lists of at least 4 different local luminaries, including that of Mr. Sonic Spectum himself, Robert Moore.  I guess this city is really into The Black Angels!  Also check out "Telephone."

15. The Roots “How I Got Over” featuring Dice Raw
Album: How I Got Over
How could anyone possibly not enjoy The Roots? Actual instruments. Killer live. MC generally regarded as one of the top 5 in history. Backing band to the world. Plus they’ve added an element of cool to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Seriously, that show is 10 times better than I thought it would be. You should check it out sometime (I hope they’re doing “Wheel of Carpet Samples” when you do!). How I Got Over is just a really solid, head bobbing sort of summer driving record. No all-star tracks, but no filler either. Tons of guest spots too like Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, John Legend, etc.

16. Titus Andronicus “Theme from ‘Cheers’”
Album: The Monitor
First things first, The Monitor is presented as a concept record based loosely (very loosely) on the Civil War, featuring readings of the Gettysburg Address, drum & fife type snares, and lots of lyrical references to that dark period in our history. I was intrigued by their ambition, but I have to admit, it took me most of the year to come around. In the end, the unbridled exuberance of this New Jersey band won me over while I was raking leaves a couple of months ago. “A More Perfect Union” was the obvious choice to give you, but at 7:10 I couldn’t fit it on the Bash. Plus “Theme” is just an awesome drinking song, and while I’m not much of a drinker (wink) I might be moved to imbibe someday if this song is played loud enough.  Also check out "The Battle of Hampton Roads."

17. Menomena “TAOS
Album: Mines
This was a last minute switch, from the Drive-By Truckers’ The Big To Do (some of you may have received a copy of the Birthday Bash with artwork from The Big To Do featured on the cover....I assume these copies will become highly valuable collectors items). No band, not even one of my all-time favorites, gets a rubber stamp from the Birthday Bash! That’s not to say The Big To Do isn’t Bash-worthy. This was just an excellent year for music and I decided to give you a little variety. But anyway, we’re here to talk about Menomema aren’t we? I’ve been digging this “experimental rock trio” from Portland for awhile now and I was really excited to hear Mines. Honestly I did hope for a little more, but it is still a solid effort and they really do have a unique sound. I mean really, how many rock bands feature the baritone sax?  Make sure to check out the very cool video for "Dirty Cartoons" as well as the fabulously earworming "Five Little Rooms."

…..Also, "Evil Bee" from Friend and Foe (2007) is one of my all-time favorite videos.

18. Jónsi “Go Do
Album: Go
Loyal birthday bash listeners will recognize Jónsi as the frontman/lead singer for the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. On this his first solo album he really opens it up and puts the hammer down (your welcome Chiefs fans.....playoffs baby!). Whereas most Sigur Rós tracks start whisper quiet and progressively rock more and more (rock is a relative term mind you), Jónsi skips the whisper quiet part on a lot of Go and keeps it uptempo while setting the joy-meter (I just made up this term!) at 9.5, occasionally spiking out at 10. Check out "Animal Arithmetic."  Jónsi played at Liberty Hall in Lawrence back in April. Here is a snippet of the review posted on Back to Rockville: “When bands play Liberty Hall, they usually park their bus on Seventh Street, on the south side of the building. Prior to Jonsi’s show on Thursday night, that space was conspicuously empty except for two huge generators with power cords running inside the theater. The generators only hinted at the energy Jonsi, lead singer for the atmospheric indie rock band Sigur Ros, would pour into his 80-minute set. The performance culminated with “Grow Till Tall” and the most powerful emotional moment I’ve experienced at a concert……… With a forest scene projected around the band, it felt like the performance was coming from the home of “Where the Wild Things Are.” As the song shifted, autumn settled on the forest and falling leaves swirled around the musicians. The leaves gave way to a gentle snow, which warmed into a hard rain. As the rain intensified so did the performance. Jonsi was bent over at the waist, singing into the floor and the rest of the band flailed as if caught in a terrific wind. Like a roller coaster car inching its way to the top of a hill, the music kept ratcheting in intensity, building past any release point until it became a dense sheet of white noise, and even then it continued to swell. It seemed the only thing that kept the audience from being engulfed by the sound and the building from being torn apart was the fragile magnificence of Jonsi’s voice that penetrated the noise.” Having seen Sigur Rós once (sadly only once) I can say that this guy was not exaggerating. You…all of you….should go see Jónsi the next time he plays within two hundred miles of you, even if you don’t like this track at all. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Others Deserving Recognition

Drive-By Truckers
Album: The Big To Do
Almost made the Bash. Like I said earlier though, I can’t give them a rubber stamp, no matter how much I like them. This is their second album since Jason Isbell left the band and neither the Truckers nor Mr. Isbell have been as good since. In case you were wondering, I was going to give you “This Fucking Job”, but “The Fourth Night of My Drinking” and “Birthday Boy” would also have been good choices too.  Just checked their website and it looks like they already have a new record set to come out on February 15, 2011. 

The Walkmen
Album: Lisbon
I’ve liked The Walkmen for a long time, but I’ve never loved them. They’ve always been just ok for me. I thought maybe Lisbon would change my mind. It didn’t. Good tunes. Nice tempo. Just not my favorite. Anyway, check out “Angela Surf City” if you know what’s good for you.  To give you an idea of why I want to love this band, check out "The Rat" from Bows & Arrows (2004)and "In the New Year" from You & Me (2008).

Album: Black Sands
“Chillwave” shit that I thought I would play nonstop after the first time I heard it. Turns out I didn’t have a whole lot of chill out and listen to Bonobo time in my life this year. Still good though.  Here's "Eyesdown."

Four Tet
Album: There Is Love In You
I’ve never found an artist that enhanced the study experience like Four Tet. Usually bringing the ipod to a study session was a recipe for disaster, but not when I played Four Tet. I always went to him during finals week when I would camp out at the library and cram pharmaceutical information into my brain. Now that I’m finally finished with didactic classroom work I wanted to give him a shout out for helping me out so many times. Also, “Angel Echoes” came in #27 on Pitchfork’s best tracks of 2010 list.

Big Boi
Album: Sir Lucious Left Foot…. The Son of Chico Dusty
This really really really belongs on the Bash, but with what turned out to be an absolutely jam packed field, tough decisions had to be made. Plus the song I wanted to include, “Tangerine” featuring T.I. is soooooooooo misogynistic…..I could just see Caryn with a K’s disappointed expression and I wanted no part of it.  In case you were wondering, yes, Big Boi is one half of the legendary Atlanta duo, Outkast.  You may have heard "Shutterbug" on the radio at some point this year.

Hearts of Darkness
Album: Hearts of Darkness
This was probably KC’s hottest local band in 2010, but despite four different occasions of me trying to get out to see them I still have not witnessed the amazing show I’ve heard they put on. Luckily they put out a self-titled recording. Think afrobeat combined with hip-hop, or better yet, think of The Budos Band featuring the rhyming skills of J Guevara from one of my college favorites, 2 Skinnee J’s. 

Two Seconds To Midnight
Album: Architecture
I found out about this Brooklyn band from someone who called in to Jim and Greg on Sound Opinions after one of their hidden treasure shows.  The song "Opt1m1sm" is fantastic.

Album: Hunger and Thirst
This is another band I first heard of on the KEXP song of the day podcast. They put “White Liars” on and I thought I would love the whole record. It was not to be, but I am looking forward to more from these dudes.

The Gaslight Anthem
Album: American Slang
Let’s be honest here. American Slang is a fine record, but when you’re comparing it to their previous release, The’59 Sound, it, along with almost everything else falls way short. By the way, let me apologize to recipients of the 2008 Birthday Bash. I completely missed the best record of the year. Please do yourself a favor and check out “The ’59 Sound” and “Great Expectations” from The '59 Sound.  "American Slang" is definitely worth checking out though.

Blitz the Ambassador
Album: Stereolive (EP)/Stereotype
Stereotype came out in 2009 but I didn’t discover it until midway through 2010 and I lovvvvvvvvvved it. Stereolive is a 2010 release but I really don’t know what it was supposed to be. It’s just crappy versions of the awesome tracks that were on Stereotype. Whatever, you should check him out. He’s a Ghanaian-American who came to America, went to Kent State of all places, and then moved to NYC after graduation where he got a band together and made some beautiful music.

Pearl Jam
Album: 5/3/2010 Kansas City MO (Official Bootleg)
Cory and I saw this show at Sprint Center and I was blown away. I guess in all these years since high school I forgot how much I loved this band. They’re still tight as a drum and my Gary, those songs still stand up to anything being made today. It was such a great show I had to buy the bootleg and I’m glad I did. You should have been there.

Sleigh Bells
Album: Treats
A bunch of critics went bananas for this record, but I had the same problem with it I had with The Go! Team a few years back. Looks good on paper but there isn’t really much there. It is fantastic workout music though. You will always speed up if any of these tracks come on your ipod when you’re running. Or powerwalking. Or bobsledding.  Here's "Infinity Guitars."

Finally it's time for the Second Annual Birthday Bash Trivia Contest.

To be eligible to participate:
-You must have yourself received or had an immediate family member receive the Birthday Bash.
-You must not be a current student or alumnus of the "University" of Kansas.  Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis.

Here is the question.

One of the 18 artists featured on this year's Bash has a strong historical connection to Kansas City.  Can you tell me who and what it is?  The first person to correcty identify the artist and the connection will win an as yet to be determined prize.  To give you an idea of how awesome your prize might be, last year's winner received a wallet that said "Bad Motherfucker" carrying a value of:  priceless!  Please e-mail your responses with "birthday bash contest" in the subject line to  Good luck.

Update:  We have a winner!  At 10:20 am on January 1, 2011, Jack Wilson sent in the correct response of Janelle Monáe, who was born and raised in Kansas City, KS before moving to Atlanta for collegeWe also received the correct response from Jessica Sand at 11:06 am on December 30, 2010.  However, as an alumnus of the "University" of Kansas, Ms. Sand was not eligible to compete.  Per contest rules, an exception was made for her in the form of a 72 hour penalty.  While we received the correct response prior to the expiration of said penalty period, in the spirit of the holiday season the prize committee has decided to award both Mr. Wilson and Ms. Sand equally awesome, and as yet undetermined prizes.  Contratulations to both and have a great 2011!