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Eugene Weekly : Music : 12.23.10

 

the procrastinator’s gift guide

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We write about music all year, and yet, when the year winds down, there’s always a mountain of great stuff we still haven’t gotten to talk about. So we’ve asked a handful of EW’s regular music writers for their take on some of the year’s best records (and one DVD that still falls into the music category). We can’t promise there’s something for absolutely everyone on this list, but we can promise that every one of these albums deserves a listen or 12. (Or, in the words of the copy editor reading this intro, “Generic music intro, bitches! Just read the fucking list!”)

Against Me! White Crosses

In a move that was bound to alienate a sizable chunk of this Gainesville, Fla., band’s devout fan base, the boys in Against Me! hired the brilliant producer Butch Vig (of Nevermind fame) and, for their latest album, laid down a series of raved-up, stripped-down, hook-laden anthems that sound about as punk rock as “Born to Run.” But, you know, “Born to Run” is a fucking great song, and on White Crosses singer-songwriter Tom Gabel channels the Boss while still raising the middle-finger salute to everything in society that Tennessee William’s liked to call “mendacious.” — Rick Levin

Darren Hanlon I Will Love You At All

You know how you always think of the perfect comeback in stressful or emotional situations only after the moment has passed? Darren Hanlon’s I Will Love You At All is a collection of perfect and hilarious comebacks set to charming indie folk, telling a pithy tale of lost love and heartbreak. — William Kennedy

The Flaming Lips/Stardeath/White Dwarfs Dark Side of the Moon

Critics and fans were divided on the merits of this wacky, warped but bizarrely faithful remake/reinterpretation of Pink Floyd’s classic album. At first jarring, multiple listens reveal this labor of love — which also features Henry Rollins and Lips singer Wayne Coyne’s brother’s band — to be quintessentially and quite brilliantly a Flaming Lips album, and as such it is courageous, reverent, ethereal and buoyantly playful all at once. Yes, it’s a tribute, but it also exemplifies a long career that has been marked by risk and reinvention and pure, childlike creative abandon. If you thought never was too soon to hear Dark Side of the Moon one more time, think again. — RL

The Hold Steady Heaven Is Whenever

Heaven is Whenever is Hold Steady vocalist and songwriter Craig Finn’s latest entry into the “greatest American album of all time” discussion. Rounding up his usual cast of druggies, dealers, gamblers and drunks, Finn tells a story that is more accessible, emotionally resonant and cohesive than his previous efforts. — WK

Frightened Rabbit The Winter of  Mixed Drinks

“Well, here’s the evidence of human existence / a splitting bin-bag next to two damp boxes.” These aren’t the cheeriest first few lines, but hang on: Redemption is just a few verses away, when Scott Hutchison, in his broken-down voice, insists, “I didn’t need these things / I didn’t need them / Pointless artifacts from a mediocre past.” If Frightened Rabbit’s fantastic 2008 record, The Midnight Organ Fight, was one of the most effectively bruising breakup albums ever recorded, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is — well, not exactly what comes next, but something that comes after. Assertive, expansive, pensive and energetic, Drinks is the charming-Scottish-rock-band equivalent of that stray sunbeam breaking through a foggy bank of clouds, bright and unforgettable. — Molly Templeton

Big Boi Sir Lucious Left Foot ...  The Son of Chico Dusty

Arguably the lesser beloved of the popular duo Outkast — Andre 3000 is certainly the flashier and more lady friendly of the two — Big Boi has spent the past few years embroiled in releasing this solo work, which was rejected by his label Jive Records as “too artsy.” So Def Jam wins. Tough, soulful, streetwise, politically savvy, hilariously nasty and artistically adept, this offering from Sir Lucious Left Foot is a tour-de-force of latter day hip hop, mixing the melodic smooth of Motown with the dizzying assault of classic urban rap. Pure poetry and monster music for a new decade. — RL

Best Coast Crazy For You

If you are blessed with pre-teen children, there’s a good chance the adults in your household are uncomfortably familiar with today’s pop hits. If you now know all the words to every one of Katy Perry’s singles and find yourself humming “California Gurls” against your will, wash your brain out with Best Coast’s Crazy For You. It’s a stunning debut; singer Bethany Cosentino has a voice as clear and true as Neko Case’s, and she uses it just as deftly to create instantly likeable pop hooks that evoke summers on the beach without the taint of Snoop Dogg’s gangsta posse. — Vanessa Salvia

Janelle Monáe The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monáe’s first full-length, The ArchAndroid, veers fearlessly from genre to genre, from the infectious single “Tightrope,” with its sassy, repeating bass, to the bizarre “Make the Bus,” a twitchy, shifty tune that features Of Montreal. ArchAndroid is Suites II and III in Monáe’s epic concept piece about an android character named Cindi Mayweather; the compelling, self-assured, tuxedo-clad Monáe, who’s all of 25, has described it as “a self-realization album.” If that sounds too serious, rest assured it’s not: It’s sharp, smart, pointed, genre-crossing, ambitious fun. — MT

 

The National High Violet

It took a lot of background plays before High Violet suddenly snapped into place: Introspective, oblique, restless and lush, it’s the kind of record where every song is at once a mood swing, a summary and a teasing glimpse at the whole. Resonant piano, mournful strings, precise percussion, the nervous note that drives “Bloodbuzz Ohio” — High Violet is built of the strongest materials, precisely put together, but it’s Matt Berninger’s wistful, deep voice — and his lyrics, which veer toward heart-baring and then twist into affecting images and impossible confessions (“I was afraid I’d eat your brains”) — that glues together this accomplished band’s gorgeous anthems. — MT

 

Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall

New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, located in the French Quarter in a building that dates from 1750, was founded in 1961 to protect and honor New Orleans jazz traditions. The venue is intimate — six benches and a few cushions on a worn wooden floor — and always filled to capacity despite having no running water or air conditioning. This album, released on Feb. 16, 2010 (Fat Tuesday, naturally), features Pete Seeger, Dr. John, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard, Tom Waits and others performing classic New Orleans repertoire with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Proceeds benefit Preservation Hall and The Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program. — VS

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

It could’ve gone so terribly, terribly awry. What the hell would Sex Bob-Omb really sound like once Scott Pilgrim’s band took form outside the pages of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s super comics? In Beck’s hands, Sex Bob-Omb is a fuzzed-out, sloppy frenzy, spilling over the lines of each song like scribbles outside the lines of a coloring book. But this soundtrack gets just about everything else right, too: the Plumtree song “Scott Pilgrim”; the most perfect use ever of Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl”, a couple of classics, not soundtrack-abused; Metric’s pulsing “Black Sheep”; and, of course, an 8-bit version of one of Sex Bob-Omb’s songs. Less ADD than the film but still not quite able to sit still, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best mix CD I didn’t have to make for myself. — MT

LCD Soundsystem This Is Happening

On This is Happening, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy pays homage to everything cool in the past 30 years — post-punk, techno, new wave and synth-pop — and even some things you didn’t know were cool until he pointed it out, firmly securing him as the elder statesman of hipster tastemakers. — WK

Warpaint The Fool

Though two of the members of this L.A.-based quartet are from Eugene, they sadly haven’t played in town since the October release of their first full-length album, The Fool. The record’s nine long, intensely musing songs full of layered, echoing vocals have a disconcerting effortless quality, caught somewhere between dreaminess and precision. Warpaint has an uncompromisingly personal sound that’s intimate, full of space and reaching for the sky. Angular, rumbling, sweet, ominous, romantic — The Fool delivers everything the band’s 2009 EP, Exquisite Corpse, promised. And Warpaint is even better live. Cross your fingers they come home soon. — MT

Sharon Van Etten Epic

On her sophomore release, Epic, Sharon Van Etten sings a “wronged-woman blues” in a wounded and downtrodden alto voice, accompanied mainly by acoustic guitars and sparse arrangements. Her confessional songwriting and emotional delivery make Lucinda Williams at her most bitter, heartbroken and spiteful sound … well, downright chipper. — WK

They Might Be Giants Here Comes Science

Though this album was actually released in late 2009, for kids (or adults) who are too school for cool, these songs will never grow old. They Might Be Giants have reprised their educational and entertaining kids music (previous releases celebrate the ABCs and numbers) with a release focused on scientific theories. Each of the 19 tracks also has an animated video that illustrates the topic, from the periodic table of the elements to why the sun shines, photosynthesis, speed and velocity and the three states of matter. Give kids a leg up in science, or learn some of the fundamental facts you missed out on while you were napping in class. — VS

The Walkmen Lisbon

Inspired by Portugal, the Walkmen’s Lisbon is an album of guitars that stab like picador lances, drums that crash and roll like Atlantic waves against the shore and vocals that are sometimes as hot and dry as the Portugese sun, and sometimes as slow and drowsy as an afternoon siesta. — WK

Superchunk Majesty Shredding

Majesty Shredding, Superchunk’s first record in nine years, isn’t the frantic grasp of a band trying to recapture the olden days — the Superchunk nostalgia is present, but only in the way it’s always been part of their sound, whether in Mac McCaughan’s little-boy yelp or in the melodies that sound like the theme to missing something you can’t quite pin down. Superchunk grew up, but they didn’t grow out of themselves. “Digging For Something” opens with a squeal of feedback; as the album closes, McCaughan offers “a song about nothing and everything at once.” As unpretentious, pogo-friendly and cheerfully heartstring-plucking as ever, Superchunk came back with their best record since 1995’s Here’s Where the Strings Come In. By which I mean: It’s awesome. — MT

R.E.M. Fables of the Reconstruction

The re-release of this 1985 album that once, oh-so-long ago, seemed to split R.E.M. fans in half (there was before Fables, and then there was after, and after which they lost a lot of followers) is a goldmine for those who first fell in love with the kudzu-covered, antebellum Southern folk jangle and Stipean incomprehensibility that almost single-handedly created “college rock” (or indie, or alternative, etc.). Swampy, steamy, almost vegetative in atmosphere, R.E.M.’s third record contains some of their finest songs, including the surging “Driver 8,” the seductive, quietly seditious “Green Grow the Rushes” and the surreal, Man Ray-referencing “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.” A second CD full of demos makes this more than worth the steep price of admission. — RL

The Sound of Music 45th Anniversary 3-Disc Box Set

There are few more cinematically thrilling moments than the opening sequence of The Sound of Music: With a sweeping aerial view, the camera pans over craggy Austrian Alps, a wooded valley, a snow-fed lake and a green meadow, where a joyous Julie Andrews bursts into song. Andrews’ Maria, an outspoken novitiate hired as a nanny, wins over the hearts of seven children and a widowed Navy captain. Together, they outsmart Nazis and escape the Anschluss. Is there any doubt why this movie remains one of our most favorite things? The 45th anniversary edition includes two discs of interactive content, commentary and featurettes. — VS

John Lennon Signature Box Set

Released in October to coincide with what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday, these 11 remastered discs contain nine full albums, from 1970’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band to 1984’s Milk and Honey, plus a disc of singles and a disc of home demos, studio outtakes, alternate versions and non-album singles — nearly all of John Lennon’s solo studio output. What’s missing is significant: three pre-Plastic Ono Band Lennon/Yoko Ono LPs, Live Peace (1969) and posthumous compilations. Still, the set dwarfs 1998’s four-disc John Lennon Anthology, and with the accompanying hardcover book and art print, it’s plenty to please the lucky recipient. — VS

Vic Chesnutt About to Choke

Vic Chesnutt, paraplegic and in chronic pain, took his life on Christmas Day last year, a move that couldn’t much have surprised anyone who’d been paying attention to the work of this masterful singer-songwriter from Athens, Ga. The reissue of his single major label album, 1996’s About to Choke, is a good step toward establishing some sort of legacy for this criminally underappreciated artist. It’s not his best work (give that nod to West of Rome), but with satirical pop corkers like “New Town” and the brooding gallows humor of “Hot Seat,” it serves as a good introduction to the man and his catchy, sad, funny music. — RL

In Mulieribus A December Feast

’Tis the season of overfamiliar musical comfort food,  but the last millennium contains more 12th-month music than the carols and other reheated-too-often fare you hear at the mall, or, too frequently, concert hall. The splendid sounds on this glorious new CD by Portland’s  all-women’s early music group In Mulieribus (“amongst women,”), all associated with December feasts on the Christian liturgical calendar, range from the 13th century to works by contemporary composers Maurice Durufle, Peter Maxwell Davies and Portland early music institution John Vergin.

Many early music groups excel at a single style, but the septet floats through ethereal medieval and modern works as expertly as they soar over more exuberant music by the great Renaissance composers Palestrina and Tomas Luis de Victoria and a full throated “Personent Hodie,” adeptly arranged by Craig Kingsbury. The highlight: the shimmering “Sederunt Principes,” by the great 12th century composer Perotin, whose mesmerizing organum technique creates a rich tapestry of interweaving vocal lines.

The reverberant acoustic of Portland’s St. Stephens Cathedral produces a serene, echoey sound that never lapses into blurriness or gooiness. Director Anna Song so adroitly balances the voices so that we can bask in their rich harmonies while at the same time hearing each distinctive voice clearly, particularly Tuesday Rupp’s supple, bell like alto, which provides a firm foundation. This CD is the musical equivalent of a hot toddy — ideal for a season that makes us crave musical warmth with a little kick. — Brett Campbell