Best of 20(!)0

**The new sPikeR(!) music opinion site is here!**

Well I know you’re not going to believe this, because sPikeR(!) and pRocrastinatioN(!) are best buds, but I’m putting out my ‘Best of 2010’ list later than many because I wanted to wait until the year was actually over. No, really.  You never know who’s going to squeak through at the last minute. Cases in point: I found Junip’s Fields in early December (rel. Sept 14), and Duran Duran released their latest on December 21.  One of these two examples made me glad I waited, the other made me laugh when I saw their publicity shots.

You’re probably not going to believe this either, but so as not to influence my decisions, I have yet to read any ‘Best of 2010’ lists (except for Kevin Bronson’s over at BuzzBands L.A., because his is strictly set to L.A. bands). Thus, unlike almost everything else in my life, this compilation is as pure as my late Uncle Kenneth’s triple-distilled moonshine.

Did you believe any of that?  sUckeR(!)

But seriously, my 2010 was one bastard of a year: I lost a brother to heroine, a friend to suicide, and fell into unrequited love.  Not surprisingly, music acted as my evil chaperon through these events, providing an outlet while cruelly accentuating the melancholy. Let me tell you, scoring my brother’s death was a precarious dance.  Chosen, were bold lullabies which emancipated and characterized the pain that could not otherwise be fathomed.  They couldn’t have a ‘hook’ -god help me if I got one stuck in my head and became a slave to it all day, and they had to be songs that I was willing to put away, probably forever.  Essentially, they were doomed to become blood-stained towels…not to be re-used. Alas neither the sacrificial songs, nor the records to which they belong will make my ‘Best of’ list, as they’ve been fitted with cement shoes and thrown into deep, cold water.

On a lighter note, let’s look back at some of the great music that happened in 2010.  I’ll start with my favorite live shows of the year, because when it’s said and done, the band that can knock me dead in a live setting is the one that steals my heart forever. Following that, you will find my favorite records, my least favorite records, and a flagship piece from an old, dusty corner of my music world that shall never again be left in the dark. From the old comes the new……”and so it goes.” -Kurt Vonnegut

Best Live Shows of 2010 (no particular order):

Menomena (Crystal Ballroom, Portland, Oregon)

Harper Blynn (Troubadour, L.A.)

The Felice Brothers (The Echo, L.A.)

A.A. Bondy (Mississippi Studios, Portland Oregon)

Jim Campilongo (Some bar in New York City)

The Ugly Suit (SXSW, Austin, Texas) (I was recently informed that this incredible band “imploded”. They couldn’t cut the lifestyle.)

Local Natives (SXSW, Austin, Texas; Bootleg Theater, L.A.)

Midlake (SXSW, Austin, Texas)

Roger Waters performing The Wall (Staples Center, L.A.)

The Tallest Man on Earth (Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, Oregon)

Best Records of 2010 (After #1, there is no particular order.):

image#1 Record of 2010(!):  Menomena, Mines. Most epic; Most curious; Most genius; Best live show; Best all-around-fucking-band-ever.

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The Walkmen, Lisbon. Best of the “big” Indie bands. Runners up: Band of Horses, Infinite Arms -Best road trip music; Arcade Fire, Suburbs -Best driving home from work music; The National, High Violet -Best just home from work, first drink of the evening music.

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Tame Impala, Innerspeaker. Best background/vacuuming music.

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Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt. Best singer-songwriter.

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Local Natives, Gorilla Manor. Bestbreak-out band.

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Junip,Fields.Most surprising and exotically beautiful.

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Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street. Best re-master.

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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Before Today. Best roller-rink music.

imageHolly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, Medicine County. Best roots music. Runner up: Justin Townes Earl, Harlem River Blues. Great, but I think he can do even better…waiting.

imageDead Weather, Sea of Cowards. Most depressing. I still haven’t been able to listen to this record in its entirety in one sitting.  In fact, most of the time I can’t listen to more than about three songs at once, because it nearly kills me.  That said, my criteria in a “Best of”: an artist/band who goes for broke.  Dead Weather did that with this highly open, infected, oozing piece of agony and beauty.

Best of the Boring in 2010 (music that I’m all kinds of “Meh” about):

Spoon, Transference. Most contrived and disappointing. And yes, I did read about how they made Transference, whichshould have made the record very UNcontrived, but alas, fail.

Black Keys, Brothers. This just didn’t blow my mind. It sounds like a lot of other things that I’ve heard before, which would be cool if it were really hard or really amazing, but it’s just more of the same really unremarkable stuff. Really.

The National, High VioletIt’s not a mistake that they’re on both the ‘Most boring’ and the ‘Best of’ lists.  I couldn’t decide because I think they could have done better.  It’s The National for crying out  fucking loud!  Look, the first time I heard this record, I borderline loved it…and I still like it.  High Violet is beautiful, poignant, and it demonstrates the bands’ maturity but….I just don’t feel like they went ‘balls to the wall’ with it.  When someone is a brilliant ‘A’ student giving you a B- paper, you feel disappointed. They have the catalogue, the talent, and the fan base necessary to take a huge risk and possibly fail, but at least surprise us. Please. Surprise us(!)

Best Discovery in 2010 (Not by any stretch a “new release”, rather new to sPikeR(!) and very much becoming part of my fabric):

imageLee Moses, Time & Place. This recommendation came from a gentleman at Amoeba Records in Hollywood after I walked to the back of the store and asked for something to go along with the blistering summer heat.  I told him I needed music that would make me feel like I was back in time -in the deep South -sitting barefoot on a porch stoop -sipping a julep -listening to revelers in the church next door and hoping they were praying for me.  This is what he gave me: Time & Place by Lee Moses. Rel 1970 on Maple records. And to this I say, “Holy shit”.

Farewell to 2010 (you son-of-a-bitch!) and a sincere thank you to all of the artists whose life work is to expose and express the imperfections that tie us to one another inextricably. Well done.

My blog has moved. Hope to see you there.
Menomena on Last Call with Carson Daly

Re-blogged from Menomena’s Tumblr:

"They’ve been able to fly under the radar for a long time…"

Whatever, Carson.

Band of Horses. Infinite Arms. $5.00.

Menomena the Phenomenon

“Menomena is a scientific musical wonder that layers its deliberate cut-and-paste genius into euphonic sculptures.” - MusicFestNW

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(Photo taken from Menomena’s social networking page.  Obviously, do not try this at home.)

They are the kind of band that causes you to shut up and stare.  You stare at them with your eyes because it’s cool-scale amending to see Justin Harris put down his bass and pick up the line with a baritone saxophone… because it’s gratifying to watch Brent Knopf shrug off the indie-austerity syndrome, smiling while he sings, plays keyboards, glockenspiel and guitar and probably simultaneously writes software programs in his head while he is triggering MIDI samples from his laptop… because it’s heart-stopping to witness the genius of Danny Seim as he staggers around his drum set like a man truly on his last legs, dripping sweat, bare of foot, and literally winding up before knocking the bloody hell out of his cymbal. (After writing this, I realize that portrays him as lacking finesse, which is entirely incorrect.)   

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(Photos taken from Menomena’s social networking page.  Justin Harris with baritone saxophone and bass, above; Danny Seim, middle; Danny Seim’s bloody sticks, below.)

You stare at them with your ears, taking in as much of the amalgamation of sound as possible.  Unlike many bands, Menomena does not play to tracks during a live performance, which in my opinion gives them both credibility and flexibility, however it also limits the extent to which they are able to recreate their recordings. Thankfully, this slightly pared down version of their music (pared down is the absolute last thing that comes to mind during a live show) gives the listener a fighting chance at catching most of the on-stage sonic action. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you stare at Menomena with your brain.  You are rapt, wondering, mesmerized, foraging for patterns, though as soon as you find one and sink your teeth into it, it’s gone and you’re left spinning, searching for another.  The band is always two steps ahead of their crowd, even as they perform familiar pieces, recordings of which have long been memorized (“The Pelican”).  In essence, fathoming a Menomena performance is like playing a raging game of Whack-A-Mole with your senses, but entirely pleasurable, if not giddifying (I made up that word just for this band.)

Not surprisingly, the trio experiences significant opposition as a record is birthed.  After all, they are illuminating a dark corner of music, which must be carefully unearthed and whose inhabitants are as of yet uninterpreted.  To expect only sunbeams and unicorns in the midst of such an ominous task is plain silly. Though it makes for tumultuous times during production, the un-stifled opposition calls forth tracks that are paramount.  To quote Danny Seim on the production of Mines, it is ”the best record that [they] could produce at this time in [their] lives”. I appreciate that.

The catalyst for their other-worldly arrangements is Knopf’s brainchild,  the DLR software program (pronounced DEELER, an acronym for Digital Looping Recorder), which is a recording and splicing tool that is uniquely used by Menomena to create compositions from various loops recorded during jam sessions.  “Dirty Cartoons” from Mines contains pristine examples of phrasing that probably wouldn’t flow in succession during a jam, but when the band chooses loops to be spliced, a super sonic scene is created.  For example, at 2:06 in “Dirty Cartoons”, a monster drum fill has the listener anticipating a scene similar to the opening of the giant doors that lead into the Land of Oz. Instead, the monster fill leads into a scene more like Yoda’s swamp in the Empire Strikes Back.  This is just speculation, but I’m pretty sure that’s a DLR moment. 

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(Photo taken from Menomens’a social networking page.  Brent Knopf with his Gollum hands, left;  Justin Harris, right.)

At MusicFest NW 2010 in Portland, Oregon, Menomena played to a packed Crystal Ballroom with guest guitarist, Joe Haege, from Tu Fawning and 31 Knots. Playing off of Friend and Foe [Barsuk; 2007] and Mines [Barsuk; 2010], the band’s set included “Tithe”, “The Pelican”, “Evil Bee”, “INTIL”, “Dirty Cartoons” and “Five Little Rooms”, the last two being my favorite tracks on Mines.  The anthemic chant at the end of “Dirty Cartoons” echoed through the ballroom as the crowd joined in “I’d like to….. go home…” , but we didn’t really want to, hence the encore and the begging for a double encore. After that show, I will never consciously miss another live Menomena performance (and if possible I will stand where I can clearly see Danny Seim).  If you’re lucky, you may still be able to catch them on tour in the Mid-Western and Eastern U.S. and Canada: Menomena tour dates.

Do your brain a big favor and download Mines on iTunes.  The highly sophisticated, refreshingly unique, yet familiar-enough-to-crave-after-only-one-listen record is a masterpiece and thus far #1 on my 2010 top 10 list.

Check out the 2007 Menomena session on Daytrotter (!) Another session is on the way. I’ll post it here when it is available, or you can get it at Daytrotter.com.

Other links sourced for this article:

Burnside Writer’s Collective. Interview with Menomena’s Justin Harris.

Indie Music Portland presents Danny Seim’s second project: Lackthereof

MusicFestNW 2010 Menomena

MusicFestNW 2010 Menomena. Not-So-Everyday People…

Quirkee.com Interview with Brent Knopf


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